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Argon, Automation And The National Anthem

Friday, March 30th, 2012
The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner

The Spring Management Conference is less than a month away now. If you’re heading to Baltimore for the SMC, you may also want to take time to visit the Maryland Historical Society Museum, where you will find the Star-Spangled Banner in its original form. From the MDHS website:

Currently on view is The Star-Spangled Banner. A Patriotic Song. Published by Carr Music Store in Baltimore in 1814, it is one of the few remaining copies of the 1st edition of the poem set to music we know as our national anthem.

Not only is the Star-Spangled Banner an important part of our country’s history, but the exhibit itself is an illustration of the wonders of the gas industry. That’s because the nearly 200-year-old manuscript is preserved with high purity argon gas.

Of course, the Star-Spangled Banner isn’t the only thing preserved with argon. The inert gas is commonly used in wine preservation, and is even used for preserving other countries’ precious artifacts. Ever wonder what goes into preserving a document in argon? In the video below, the National Archives shows how it keeps a 715-year-old document intact. The precise engineering that goes into preserving the Magna Carta is incredible.

The video also offers a look into the automated machining equipment used to make the case itself. Typically, when it comes to automation, I think of manufacturers that are looking to increase productivity on large runs. This video, however, shows a very different need for automation—precision. Document encasement, far from being a mass production, allows very little room for error. Now that’s a niche market.

Who Is Your Company’s Role Model?

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In business, the best companies often become great by learning from other companies. It’s not crime to steal inspiration on how to run your organization from business leaders and companies that have been successful. For some, that might be the likes of GE’s Jack Welch or Apple under the direction of Steve Jobs; for others, it might be fellow GAWDA distributors and suppliers who serve as inspiration.

When I talked with Norco CEO Jim Kissler recently, he talked about how the Boise, Idaho-based distributor has gained inspiration from other companies within and outside of the industry. “When we were planning one of our fill locations, we traveled to the industry to learn as much as we could,” he says. In turn, Kissler has welcomed industry members to learn from Norco. “It’s the smartest and brightest operators who come here. They put their egos aside and learn by networking within the industry,” he adds.

Outside of the industry, Norco drew inspiration from Shopko and a local hospital for the design of its central warehouse. The results are a one-of-a-kind warehouse that you won’t find anywhere else in the gases and welding industry…at least not yet—maybe this will serve as inspiration for another company. You can get a look inside Norco’s central warehouse in the latest GAWDA Member Profile and in the video below.

Interestingly, Kissler himself was named a “CEO of Influence” by the Idaho Business Review last year. Even the great ones learn from somewhere, and perhaps the ability to give credit where credit is due is part of being great.

Who or what inspires your company? What successful businesses have served as a model for your processes? Share by leaving a comment or send me a message on Twitter to @GasWeldEdge.

Take a look behind the scenes of Norco’s amazing warehouse:

Can “Dirty Jobs” Clean Up Welding’s Image?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The welder shortage has been well documented within the industry, but does the average American know the opportunities that exist for welders? My guess is far more people know of the need for nurses or for science and math educators. Estimates are that there will be 238,000 new and replacement jobs in welding, welding engineering and related fields by 2019. In 2009, maybe, that seemed a long ways off; but now that it’s 2012, are we any better off?

GAWDA members are doing their part, as evidenced by photos of hundreds of students engaged by distributors in “The Image Of Our Industry.” The challenge that distributors and suppliers face is reaching out beyond the industry—beyond the welding labs and Vo-Techs, where the message has already reached—and reaching students who aren’t sold on welding and other skilled jobs as promising career paths.

Thanks to several sources on Twitter and Facebook, I came across this video of Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe testifying before the U.S. Senate on the need for skilled workers. He points out how disconnected we have become from the trades behind everyday conveniences like indoor plumbing, air conditioning, bridges and so forth. “I believe that we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor,” says Rowe, “something that addresses the widening skills gap head on and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.”

Why care? The livelihood of the gases and welding supply business is only a small part. As you know, the country’s infrastructure—everything from transportation to energy—relies on skilled welders. To illustrate this, Rowe talks about the construction of a power plant that could not move forward due to lack of qualified welders. Some have criticized the rejection of the proposed Keystone XL project, which was projected by TransCanada to create thousands of jobs. But with a shortage of qualified welders across the country, how much pipe welding business would distributors really have had to look forward to?

Short of a national PR campaign, GAWDA members have an opportunity to drive change in their local communities. Distributors and suppliers have access to an incredible network of end-users, schools and manufacturers with resources for change. How can you reach young people about the message of welding? Share by leaving a comment or send me a message on Twitter to @GasWeldEdge.

When you have a few minutes, take a listen to what Mike Rowe had to say. It’s well worth the watch.

Helium Holidays And A Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

With the holiday season, I’ve seen a few videos of groups performing helium-infused Christmas carols. However, inhaling helium can be extremely dangerous, as it displaces oxygen, so such acts fall under the “do-not-try-this-at-home” category. A video I saw today, however, shows a much safer use of helium.

A group of three divers recorded themselves singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” during their stay in a decompression chamber following a 120 meter (394 ft) dive. The divers write, “We have to breathe a helium/oxygen mix, and the deeper we go, the more ridiculous our voices become.”

The use of helium is actually quite common in deep-sea diving. At 300 feet, divers experience 10 times atmospheric pressure—so oxygen becomes much more compressed. To avoid oxygen poisoning, divers use a gas mix to dilute the oxygen content. Trimix is a common mixture used in diving, which contains nitrogen, oxygen and helium (Thank you, GAWDAwiki).

As GAWDAwiki explains, divers using trimix use a helium descrambler to counteract the effect of helium on the vocal cords and to allow proper communications. However, you won’t find a helium descrambler in this holiday video.

Also standard issue for divers is the air regulator, which was invented by Air Liquide engineer Emil Gagnan. Gagnan originally created valve that regulated gas flow to gas-generator engines. The valve drew the attention of explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who helped adapt the creation into a demand valve system that could provide divers with compressed air on demand and that adjusted to surrounding pressure. The influence of GAWDA members is truly everywhere, even 400 feet under the sea.

Watch the helium holiday video here. (Personally, I think they should have done “The Chipmunk Song.”)

Casual Friday: Hand vs. Liquid Nitrogen

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Once again, it’s time for a “Casual Friday” video. You could say this is an example of poor safety when it comes to handling gases. In this video, the filmmaker demonstrates a unique property of liquid nitrogen that allows him to insert his hand directly into the Dewar without causing any damage. It is called the Leidenfrost effect, and relies on a barrier of steam that exists momentarily between a liquid and a much higher temperature object.

The effect is cool to watch, but I will never be trying this myself. I like my hands too much for that. Safety definitely outweighs “coolness” in this instance. For every one home scientist who successfully performs the experiment, I imagine there are five who end up in the emergency room.

Would you classify nitrogen here as medical, device or industrial product? Hmm.