10 Innovations To Revitalize Your Business

48a_header
“Innovation” is a frequent buzzword in business, but smart business owners know that it has to be more than just a catchphrase: It has to be put into action.

GAWDA distributors are well aware that the business climate we face today is in many ways different from that faced by generations past. In order to achieve continued success, we’ve had to work harder and smarter. Perhaps most important, we’ve had to think creatively. For some distributors, that means offering services not traditionally associated with welding and gases distributorships, while for others it involves pursuing new markets or tackling projects in non-traditional ways.

A few GAWDA distributors who have made such innovation an integral component of their companies’ success are highlighted on these pages. Their experiences range from facilitating the safe use of hydrogen fuel cells, to extending the shelf life of dairy products, to helping a customer build a revolutionary sea vessel despite a labor shortage, and a host of projects in between. Discover how, for these distributors, “innovation” is far more than just an abstract notion.


Ship Shape

The shortage of welders in the United States is a news story of great interest to most in our industry, and it’s a reality that hit home particularly hard for a customer of Central Welding Supply (Seattle, WA).

48b_centralwelding

A dual head drive tractor with two welding torches effectively doubles the productivity of a single welder.

The customer in question, Alaska Ship & Dry Dock in Ketchikan, Alaska, is working on a unique project on behalf of the U.S. Office of Naval Research to construct a vessel called the MV Susitna, which is a prototype designed to operate in almost all sea states. The Susitna’s design is being tested for military operations, although the ship currently under construction will be used primarily as a ferry between Anchorage and Fort McKenzie.

The vessel needs to be built and in the water by late 2008. However, the company immediately ran into a problem that threatened the future of the project. “They’re hurting for time, and in the lower 48 states, Alaska Ship & Dry Dock probably would have been able to just hire a whole lot of labor to get it done,” says Marshall Judy, Central Welding Supply’s sales manager for welding products. “But there’s a serious shortage of qualified welders in Alaska, and the company didn’t have the labor force they needed. So they contacted me to help them find ways to weld more efficiently.”

Judy traveled from Central Welding Supply in Washington to Alaska to check out the situation, and he soon proposed several solutions to help the customer get more done with fewer laborers. The first was to customize the welding equipment to allow a welder to perform two welds at one time by making two live arcs off a single boom.

“We installed a Miller 16-foot swing arc dual boom system to hold two wire feeders,” says Judy. “That makes it simple for them to quickly set up the equipment to weld the plate, then just as quickly dismantle it and swing it away so they can remove the welded panel. By welding with two arcs, they double the productivity of one employee, and by running the arc welding equipment on a mechanized travel rather than manually holding the torch, they get a better quality weld.”

Judy also made sure to equip his customer’s employees with state-of-the-art programmable equipment that would eliminate the need for workers to manually select the voltage, amp range and wire feed speed. “We used a swing arc boom wire feed system,” notes Judy. “It allows the operator to switch between two welding parameters without readjusting the machine and provides the ability to store four independent welding parameters, reducing weld setup time.”

48c_arrow
Innovation: Customized welding equipment doubles a shipbuilder’s productivity.
Distributor: Central Welding Supply

Alaska Ship & Dry Dock purchased the first unit from Central Welding Supply in the fall of 2006 and quickly inquired about obtaining additional units. By Judy’s calculations, his customer will receive a return on its investment with the first 5,000 pounds of welded material laid down.

“We’re already using the knowledge we gained from this experience to work on a similar application with a different customer,” says Judy. “Customizing equipment is not a big part of the business we do, but we’ve seen increased demand for it, especially in the last five years, as our customers’ costs go up and they find they need to be more efficient with their current work force. We work very closely with our manufacturers to know what their products’ capabilities are, and then we find a way to enhance those proven abilities in a way that fits our customers’ needs.”

With that level of dedication, it’s clear why customers trust Central Welding Supply to help them run a tight ship.


Go Fish

Six tilapia pools range from 15 to 50 feet in diameter, with one 50-foot pool containing 10,000 fish. A mechanism in the center of each pool feeds oxygen into the water, at a rate of over 100,000 cubic feet of oxygen per month.

Six tilapia pools range from 15 to 50 feet in diameter, with one 50-foot pool containing 10,000 fish. A mechanism in the center of each pool feeds oxygen into the water, at a rate of over 100,000 cubic feet of oxygen per month.

Cumberland County Community College is a longtime customer of South Jersey Welding Supply (Vineland, NJ), which provides the college’s laboratories with various gases and the maintenance department with oxyacetylene. When the school’s program in aquaculture received a grant to raise tilapia fish, they immediately turned to South Jersey Welding Supply to help them make the initiative a successful one.

“The tilapia program started out just as an experiment, but it’s evolved into almost a production facility,” says South Jersey Welding Supply Sales Manager Ed Henne. “There are six pools in a 30,000-square-foot building, almost like a warehouse. The pools range from 15 to 50 feet in diameter, and one 50-foot pool can contain 10,000 fish. Tilapia eat about 1/6 of their body weight per day. The facility uses over 100,000 cubic feet of oxygen per month and has a filtration system in which the water is reprocessed, so it’s constantly re-circulating. In the center of each pool is a mechanism through which oxygen is constantly fed into the water. Without that oxygen, they’d have stagnant water, and the fish wouldn’t survive.”

Because the program started off small, the college initially purchased single 40-gallon oxygen containers from South Jersey Welding Supply. However, as the tilapia program grew, South Jersey found it was selling the school higher and higher volumes of oxygen—as many as four 40-gallon containers at a time. In late 2005, the company proposed a different solution.

Innovation: Tilapia fish experiment opens a new market for sales.
Distributor: South Jersey Welding Supply

“Because their volume was growing so fast, they were having a tough time keeping up with the rate they needed to move cylinders in and out of the facility,” says President Robert Thornton Jr. “With the help of John Gilsenan and Ed Raubertas from Praxair, our supplier, we pointed this out to them and explained that a stand tank would reduce their production costs because they’d get a better price buying oxygen in bulk than buying it in small cylinders, plus it would reduce labor and improve safety. They really liked the idea.”

The tilapia installation, including the 900-gallon tank outside, serves as a showpiece for visitors to South Jersey Welding Supply, including GAWDA's own Kent Van Amburg (left) and Malvenia Avery, pictured with Ryan Pettit, South Jersey's Vineland Store Manager.

The tilapia installation, including the 900-gallon tank outside, serves as a showpiece for visitors to South Jersey Welding Supply, including GAWDA's own Kent Van Amburg (left) and Malvenia Avery, pictured with Ryan Pettit, South Jersey's Vineland Store Manager.

The challenge, however, was the layers of decisions involved. The approval process alone took two months because the expense had to be approved by the school’s purchasing department, then the contract had to be approved by the board of trustees. The use of government grant money had to be approved, as well.

Owing in part to the company’s history of service to the college and reputation for quality, South Jersey Welding Supply was awarded the contract. The site was prepared with fencing and concrete, and at the end of a month the company installed a 900-gallon tank and the requisite piping to feed the oxygen into the building—and, thus, into the fish tanks. Today, thanks to South Jersey Welding Supply’s assistance, the college continues to raise thousands of fish, and even has a contract to sell them to local Shop Rite supermarkets.

“Most of our background is in welding and fabricating, so this was an unusual application for us,” says Thornton. “It was a pretty straightforward installation, but it’s something that’s of interest to a lot of people. We’ve been able to display it as a showcase to our customers interested in seeing something different from the business of a typical welding supply company. And we’ve definitely learned a lot about tilapia!”


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  The first high-pressure gas cylinder manufactured in North America was made in 1902 by Taylor-Wharton.  

Driven to Succeed

To achieve I-CAR welding certification, a candidate must successfully weld three joints in the vertical and overhead positions.
To achieve I-CAR welding certification, a candidate must successfully weld three joints in the vertical and overhead positions.

When Mahany Welding Supply Company (Rochester, NY) opened a new training facility in 2001, President Michael Krupnicki sought the advice of acquaintances in other industries to find out what different varieties of training his facility could offer that would be of value. A friend in the collision industry pointed Krupnicki in the direction of I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, considered the premier training organization for the collision industry. Krupnicki contacted the organization and went to I-CAR’s instructor school, which required a weekend of training at Penn State University. He passed the test, and Mahany Welding Supply Company became an I-CAR-approved training and testing facility in 2003, which provided a new pool of potential customers for the company.

“We were certified for I-CAR’s steel program and had been doing that for about a year and a half,” Krupnicki recalls. “Everything was going really well, so I asked if we could be set up for the aluminum program as well. I had a feeling this was a market that was going to get bigger eventually, as more auto manufacturers were converting to aluminum.”

The wisdom of Krupnicki’s strategy made itself clear in late 2004 when Chevrolet announced it would be producing an aluminum-framed Corvette—the Z06—and General Motors mandated that every Chevrolet dealership wishing to sell the Z06 have at least one technician in its collision facility who was trained and certified by I-CAR to repair it. No I-CAR certification in aluminum welding, no Z06.

Innovation: Specialized welding training program brings new opportunities.
Distributor: Mahany Welding Supply Company

“Aluminum is different from steel in that everything has to be very clean and well-prepared prior to welding, so that’s a big part of our training for these technicians,” Krupnicki observes. “If you haven’t prepared and welded aluminum properly, the weld might look good, but it will just fall apart. General Motors doesn’t want performance cars that are falling apart because of a poor weld.” GM, in fact, was billing this car as the fastest and most powerful car it had ever offered.

There are approximately 3,700 Chevrolet dealerships across the United States, and Mahany Welding Supply is one of only 26 test sites certified by I-CAR for the organization’s aluminum welding program. The initial compliance deadline for dealerships was the end of 2005. General Motors eventually extended the deadline by one year, but stated that it would not extend the deadline further.

An I-CAR aluminum welding test candidate at Mahany Welding Supply Company welds a joint in the vertical position.
An I-CAR aluminum welding test candidate at Mahany Welding Supply Company welds a joint in the vertical position.

“We’ve had a lot of people from New York and surrounding states come in to be trained and tested by us,” says Krupnicki. “The Z06 is a very high profile vehicle for a Chevy dealer to have, and it would be a great source of embarrassment if they can’t get one. There are a lot of people who still didn’t get the training by the end of 2006, so we’ve been scheduling training into March and April of this year. Technicians are required to come back every five years to re-test, so there will be an ongoing need.”

The I-CAR GMAW Welding Qualification Test is divided into three parts: four hours of classroom training, four hours of hands-on training, and an approximately four-hour test. I-CAR handles all registration and collection of fees, and forwards the list of registrants to the designated training facility. Krupnicki structured Mahany Welding Supply’s I-CAR training schedule so that the classroom training fell on a Friday night, with hands-on training Saturday morning and testing on Saturday afternoon, which meant train-ees from out of town have to spend only one night in a hotel.

Although the majority of the technicians Mahany Welding Supply has trained in the program have been from out of town—and, therefore, not a direct source of repeat business—Krupnicki says the company is reaping the benefits of its affiliation with I-CAR. “Being involved with a professional outfit like I-CAR improves our industry exposure and helps us build a portfolio of programs and a reputation as a valuable training site in western New York. It adds legitimacy to our training, and it keeps my employees sharp. It’s somewhat of an intangible benefit, but it’s definitely a positive one.”


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  In 1980, Thermco Instrument Corp. developed a gas mixture analyzer that did not require laboratory-type analysis techniques to make accurate mixture analysis.  

Paintball Wizard

When the owner of the Five Towns Mini-Golf and Batting Range in Lawrence, New York, decided to build an uncommon paintball set-up, he knew he needed the assistance of an uncommon gases distributor. Enter Elmira, New York-based Carbonic Systems.

At Five Towns' paintball shooting gallery, here shown in the construction phase, ten paintball guns operate off a single 50-pound cylinder of carbon dioxide via four-foot-long flexible connections between the guns and the manifold.
At Five Towns’ paintball shooting gallery, here shown in the construction phase, ten paintball guns operate off a single 50-pound cylinder of carbon dioxide via four-foot-long flexible connections between the guns and the manifold.

“This customer owned batting cages and a miniature golf course, and he decided to put in an old-fashioned shooting gallery, but using paintball guns,” says Walter Shubilla, sales engineer for Carbonic Systems. “It’s an idea that other people have used elsewhere, but he wanted something totally safe and foolproof.”

The customer found Carbonic Systems via the Internet and approached the company about designing a system to propel the paintball guns. Typically, paintball guns feature a 9-ounce portable tank of compressed gas that is attached to the gun, allowing the user to roam freely and target other participants. However, given the customer’s shooting gallery setup, he wanted a system that would allow him to retain greater control over the use of the paintball guns and ensure the safety of the participants.Carbonic Systems spent less than a week designing a system to allow the gallery’s ten paintball guns to operate off a single 50-pound cylinder of carbon dioxide. The cylinder was attached to a manifold, with four-foot-long flexible connections between the guns and the manifold. Carbonic Systems installed an automatic shut-off, allowing the supply of CO2 to be shut down at the press of a button if someone were to behave improperly while using a paint gun.

“In an emergency, the operator could hit the solenoid and shut off the supply of CO2, then another solenoid opens and drains the entire line, relieving all the pressure,” explains Shubilla. “It renders the guns totally inoperable.”

Innovation: CO2 tank and manifold allow safe operation of paintball shooting gallery.
Distributor: Carbonic Systems

The company also installed a safety relief valve that pops if the user were to try to attach the wrong type of tank, as well as a heater jacket on the CO2 tank for use on cold days to prevent pressure in the tank from dropping. “The heater will also help the customer get more CO2 out of his tank,” Shubilla notes. “He likes to operate at around 700 psi, but the tank can still have residual CO2 in it—say, 25 percent—but not have enough temperature to hold the desired pressure. Rather than throwing out that 25 percent and starting with a new tank, the heater can raise the temperature and, as a result, the pressure goes up.”

With the set-up for the paintball shooting gallery already in place—complete with a “Wild West” theme—it took Carbonic Systems only a day to install the piping and get the system working. With the customer considering franchising, Carbonic Systems may find itself showcasing its CO2 skills in other locations as well.

“The shooting gallery is doing very well—kids love it, and I had a ball when I was out there,” says Shubilla. “The project we completed cost the customer less than $10,000, and it’s both safe and economical.” Proving that Carbonic Systems knows more than one way to hit the target.


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  Weldship built the first super jumbo helium trailer (40-foot tubes) in 1986, and the first high-capacity mobile hydrogen refueler trailers in 2003.  

The Sweet Smell of Success

If there’s one thing people in the Pacific Northwest are serious about, it’s coffee. So it stands to reason that Portland, Oregon-based Boyd Coffee Company would be serious about producing the best possible product for its coffee-conscious customers. The company’s research indicated it might be possible to preserve the product’s smell and color better by packaging it with nitrogen. But some experimentation was necessary first.

Pacific CA Systems installed an on-site nitrogen generator with a 50 horsepower air compressor to produce gaseous nitrogen for Boyd Coffee Company.
Pacific CA Systems installed an on-site nitrogen generator with a 50 horsepower air compressor to produce gaseous nitrogen for Boyd Coffee Company.

The company turned to Pacific CA Systems (Union Gap, WA), which had made a name for itself among apple growers in Washington state by providing affordable controlled atmosphere fruit storage via its unique portable nitrogen workstations, consisting of a liquid nitrogen tank on a trailer, a vaporizer and associated piping. The portable workstations gave smaller fruit producers access to nitrogen service that previously would have required a permanent installation. And with Boyd Coffee Company, the workstations proved advantageous in another way.

“We do a lot of what I call ‘pilot projects,’ and Boyd was one of our first,” says Pacific CA Systems President Jim Wooldridge. “By using the portable equipment, we were able to help the customer find out if nitrogen was going to work for their product like they thought it would, and determine what the company’s actual nitrogen usage was so they could do a cost analysis. That way, they could spend a little money up front and see if the project was going to work for them before doing a large capital expenditure.”

Pacific CA Systems set up its portable equipment on the customer’s site and installed temporary piping to move the nitrogen into the building, working with both Boyd Coffee Company and the customer’s packaging equipment supplier, Bosch, to determine the best way to inject the nitrogen into the coffee packaging. Over the course of six months, Pacific CA kept its portable workstation in place to pipe nitrogen into the system and assisted Boyd with preliminary analysis of the oxygen and nitrogen content of the packaging.

“We had some oxygen analyzers from the apple industry that we started out using,” explains Wooldridge. “Basically, we’d take a package of coffee and apply what looks almost like a rubber bandage, which allowed us to put a needle through without tearing the package, while still keeping a tight seal around the needle. Then we’d draw a sample of atmosphere out of the package and into the analyzer.” Further into the process, Boyd took over the analysis step itself, purchasing analyzers specially designed for low-flow modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and integrating the analysis into its quality control operations.

Innovation: Unique portable workstations facilitate coffee producer’s nitrogen MAP experiment.
Distributor: Pacific CA Systems

After the six-month trial period, the coffee company was well satisfied with the results of its nitrogen experiment and worked with Pacific CA to set up a permanent nitrogen installation. Pacific CA installed an on-site nitrogen generator with a 50 horsepower air compressor to produce gaseous nitrogen for the company, and replaced temporary piping with permanent copper piping. Impressed by the success of the use of nitrogen in the packaging process, Boyd also began working on ways to incorporate nitrogen throughout its entire process, which Pacific CA assisted by installing additional piping. As a result, the coffee company’s nitrogen use increased from over 1,800 cubic feet per hour to nearly 4,000 cubic feet per hour.

“They began working backwards from the bagging machine to blanket the coffee as it came down from the grinder upstairs,” says Wooldridge, “and back from there toward the roaster and some of the other places coffee was being processed until almost the whole process was done under a nitrogen blanket. It adds some shelf life to the product, but the biggest thing they were after was the smell, or bouquet, when a bag of coffee is opened. By using nitrogen this way, they keep oxygen away from the product throughout the process—because oxidation can create loss of color and scent—and preserve that fresh coffee aroma.”

Today Boyd Coffee Company continues to use nitrogen throughout its operation, and Wooldridge remains proud of Pacific CA’s role in facilitating the project. “Proving the process is always important to make sure the customer is satisfied with what they’re doing,” he says. “MAP packaging is one of the fastest moving fronts right now in the food industry, and Boyd was one of the earliest coffee companies—in fact, one of the earliest companies in the entire food packaging industry—to move in that direction.”

Given the success of Pacific CA Systems and Boyd Coffee Company’s innovative partnership on the MAP project, it was only a matter of time until other food packagers began to wake up and smell the coffee.


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  The first blowpipe or torch using acetylene and liquefied air or oxygen was developed in 1887.  

A Weld Worth Making Noise About

Michigan Arc Products developed a new process for welding mufflers in its 2,000-square-foot welding lab.
Michigan Arc Products developed a new process for welding mufflers in its 2,000-square-foot welding lab.

A muffler manufacturer was following instructions to the letter. Its corporate headquarters in France had specified a process using plasma welding with cold wire feed. However, the manufacturer continually had trouble meeting its production requirements. The production speed was too slow, and the number of scrap and re-work parts the process generated was unacceptably high, with a repair rate close to 60 percent.

“They were doing edge welds and de-cided to go with plasma welding over laser because plasma requires a lot less capital,” says Greg Vermillion, technical sales manager for Michigan Arc Products (Troy, MI). “They were hoping for the same type of results, but that wasn’t the case. This was one of the first times they had ever done an aluminized shell, so the aluminum coverage on the material was causing a disturbance.”

The muffler manufacturer turned to Michigan Arc Products, its longtime supplier, who had a history of working on weld development for customers. “Most of our salespeople have an engineering background,” notes Vermillion. “They will look at a customer’s problem, analyze it and come up with a way to solve it, whether that means we find a solution right on the customer’s floor or bring the parts into our lab, which gives us an opportunity to test ideas that we otherwise couldn’t without the customer shutting down production.”

Innovation: Pioneering welding process produces big savings for muffler manufacturer.
Distributor: Michigan Arc Products

In this case, Michigan Arc Products confronted the problem in its own 2,000-square-foot lab, which is equipped with five robots. Unlike many other applications the company has worked on, this was not a situation where it had the luxury of six months’ development time.

Vermillion had seen an application on a piece of equipment that originated in Germany which he thought could work for the American muffler manufacturer, and so he began experimenting to find a way to adapt the process in a way that would best suit his customer’s needs. He developed a process using MIG welding and metal-cored stainless wire, which would both match the material welded and provide the corrosion resistance the weld required.

A cut-away of a successfully welded muffler shows the result of Michigan Arc Products' process of using MIG welding and metal-cored stainless wire.
A cut-away of a successfully welded muffler shows the result of Michigan Arc Products’ process of using MIG welding and metal-cored stainless wire.

Michigan Arc Products had to first prove the weld in its lab, then take the equipment to the customer’s facility and run it on their production equipment. Afterward, both the mufflers welded using Michigan Arc Products’ process and those welded using the plasma process were subjected to destructive testing and corrosion resistance testing. The testing process was repeated several times to ensure the solution was perfected. In the end, the MIG welding process was a clear winner.

“By using the process we developed, the customer was able to get the re-work down to 1 percent, while increasing their travel speeds from 75 inches per minute to 150 inches per minute,” says Vermillion. “They figured that their savings per part was 85 cents, and when you consider that the requirements on that particular job were 400,000 parts per year, that’s a major cost savings.”

Since that time, Michigan Arc Products has introduced the process to another muffler manufacturer, which has realized comparable success, and hopes to spread the word to additional manufacturers. After all, a solution this successful isn’t something any distributor would want to keep quiet.


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  Max and Reinhard Mannesmann developed a production method for manufacturing seamless steel tubes by extrusion in 1886. The method was soon adapted to the manufacture of gas cylinders.  

Lights! Camera! Hydrogen!

Each of the news station's three hydrogen transfer stations is equipped to hold four hydrogen fuel cells. A unit created by Maine Oxy & Spec-Air Gases & Technologies keeps the transfer stations and the manifold securely fastened, and a gas detector above ensures an alarm will sound in the event of a leak.
Each of the news station’s three hydrogen transfer stations is equipped to hold four hydrogen fuel cells. A unit created by Maine Oxy & Spec-Air Gases & Technologies keeps the transfer stations and the manifold securely fastened, and a gas detector above ensures an alarm will sound in the event of a leak.

With all the current news stories about alternative fuels for vehicles, it may be easy to overlook the promise of alternative energy sources for other types of machines. However, that’s not the case at Maine Oxy & Spec-Air Gases & Technologies (Auburn, ME).

The company has worked on several projects involving hydrogen, including work with a nonprofit organization that designed a hydrogen recovery system from water. More recently, Maine Oxy was contacted by a local television news station that was looking to install hydrogen transfer stations that would allow it to change the power source for its cameras from batteries to hydrogen fuel cells.

“The transfer station transfers hydrogen into canisters to create the fuel cells, and the fuel cells create electricity to run the cameras,” explains service technician Scott St. Pierre. “The news station had purchased these units, and they contacted us because they weren’t sure how to get them set up in their building. Initially they thought all they’d need to do was hook it up to a cylinder. Then they did some research and found out there were a lot more issues they were going to have to deal with.”

Working with the building owners and the local fire department, St. Pierre designed a system that would make the process as safe as possible. A high-pressure cylinder is situated outside of the building in a locked cage, and the hydrogen is piped through the wall using stainless steel piping. St. Pierre constructed a unit to secure both the transfer stations and a manifold above to bring hydrogen into the cells. The transfer stations are secured to the unit by four bolts on the bottom, and the manifold is similarly securely fixed above to prevent the equipment from being accidentally dislodged and causing hydrogen to blow off. Three regulators control the flow of hydrogen from high pressure to low pressure. A gas detector at the top of the unit ensures that an alarm will sound in the control room in the event of a leak, and the transfer station itself is designed to shut down automatically if it senses a hydrogen leak while filling the fuel cell.

Innovation: Custom-built unit allows safe operation of hydrogen fuel cells.
Distributor: Maine Oxy & Spec-Air Gases & Technologies

The approval process for the transfer station set-up took close to seven months, but actual construction was completed in less than two days for a cost of under $4,000. As a result, the television news station now has a safe, reliable power source for its cameras that lasts three times longer than conventional battery packs and requires only one hour of recharging time, and Maine Oxy & Spec-Air Gases & Technologies has a satisfied, loyal customer that continues to purchase hydrogen from the company. That’s a story definitely worth reporting on.


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  Liquid crystal cells, polarizing filters and electronics were combined in 1976 to form a prototype of an auto-darkening filter. Helmets with face shields containing these filters became available in the early 1980s.  

Fabricating Success

Fifteen years ago, Capitol Welders Supply Company (Baton Rouge, LA) found a niche in supplying pipe and vessel fabricators with used and rebuilt turn roll equipment and automatic welding equipment. It was good business, drawing the company customers from far beyond its local region.

Among the custom equipment Capitol Welders Supply builds is a 500-pound capacity welding positioner, which allows pipe to be automatically turned and welded at various positions.
Among the custom equipment Capitol Welders Supply builds is a 500-pound capacity welding positioner, which allows pipe to be automatically turned and welded at various positions.

“We found used equipment all over the country, brought it in here, and rehabbed it to sell to pipe fabricators for their production plants,” explains Kelly Root, vice president of sales. “But about ten years ago, we began having trouble finding used equipment that was in decent condition to be rehabbed. If we couldn’t provide the equipment, we couldn’t satisfy our customers’ needs.”

Rather than give up the pursuit, the company instead contacted a local machine shop called AGM Incorporated, which was run by Steve Corts, an engineer by trade and a personal friend of Capitol Welders Supply Company’s owners, and began to explore the possibility of fabricating new equipment. “We wanted to produce new equipment that was simple and made specifically for pipe fabricators, not an off-the-shelf product that might be designed for more sophisticated operations,” says Root. “And we wanted to be able to market it at used equipment prices.”

AGM Incorporated became a sister company to Capitol Welders Supply, and with Corts as the engineer behind the equipment, Capitol began to manufacture its own welding positioners, turn

rolls and automatic welding equipment. The equipment can be customized to suit a customer’s unique application, and it is designed so that if a common part breaks down, in most cases it can be replaced with an off-the-shelf part available in the end-user’s own local area, rather than requiring a special part to be shipped fromCapitol’s shop in Baton Rouge.

“The positioners that we build are not something to rival the major manufacturers,” Root says. “We’re not trying to be everything to everybody. The equipment we make is just a helpful tool for pipe fabricators. They don’t want a precision machine; they want a simple, reliable piece of equipment.”

Innovation: Customized equipment addresses pipe fabricators’ unique needs.
Distributor: Capitol Welders Supply Company

Root offers the example of a pipe fabricator in New Iberia, Louisiana, that didn’t have room for an entrance conveyor to bring pipe into the shop and put it on the machine for cutting and beveling. “We designed a unit where they could load the pipe directly to the cutting area, and it would automatically load and unload it,” says Root. “We had never seen one of those before, but it was a solution that worked.”

Today, 40 employees are dedicated to building equipment. Capitol Welders Supply Company continues to sell used equipment, but that constitutes only about 10 percent of the company’s overall customized equipment sales. Says Root, “Our main ambition is to try to help our customers become more marketable. By making some simple pieces of equipment to help them increase their production without a lot of cost, while also increasing safety in their facilities, we’re able to do that.”


  HISTORIC INNOVATION  
  In 1926, H.M. Hobart and P.K. Devers applied for patents for research involving welding atmospheres of argon and helium. Their research was a forerunner of both the gas tungsten arc welding process and the gas metal arc welding process.  

Not Your Average Cottage Industry

Carbonic Systems' controlled cabinet is designed with flowmeters and pressure sensors that allow carbon dioxide to be added safety to cottage cheese during production.
Carbonic Systems’ controlled cabinet is designed with flowmeters and pressure sensors that allow carbon dioxide to be added safety to cottage cheese during production.

Cottage cheese and carbon dioxide might not be an immediate association for most people, but then again most people aren’t Walter Shubilla, sales engineer for Carbonic Systems (Elmira, NY).

During the processing of dairy products, the close to 500 ppm of CO2 that naturally appears in cow milk is dissipated. Over a decade ago, scientists realized that by replacing the missing CO2 after processing, they could effectively double the shelf life of the product. When researchers at Cornell University began experimenting with CO2 and dairy products in the 1990s, they contacted Carbonic Systems to develop a system to allow them to inject carbon dioxide into the product. The company stepped up to the challenge and designed a controlled cabinet with flowmeters and pressure sensors that facilitated the researchers’ experiments.

Although U.S. law forbids the addition of CO2 to Grade A milk after it has been homogenized and pasteurized, another market presented itself: cottage cheese. Because cottage cheese is not a Grade A dairy product, carbon dioxide could be added to the cream dressing prior to being mixed with the curds, or into the mixed product prior to packaging, extending the product’s shelf life from a matter of days to potentially two months or more.

Innovation: Controlled cabinet adds CO2 and shelf life to cottage cheese.
Distributor: Carbonic Systems

Carbonic Systems began contacting cottage cheese manufacturers to provide them with data about the benefits of adding carbon dioxide to their product, as well as information about the equipment the company had developed. There was immediate interest, which in turn generated further business for the company by way of word of mouth. Today, Carbonic Systems has nearly 30 units in place across the United States, as well as one in Israel and one in Poland.

“The first units were very basic, like starter units,” says Shubilla. “I helped refine the process when I came on board ten years ago. There’s always a learning curve on any product, and you might say we made the right mistakes. Today we’re replacing some of our older units with even better technology.”

Given Carbonic Systems’ continued success in the dairy industry, clearly cottage cheese manufacturers know a Grade A distributor when they see one.


On the Road Again

Earlbeck Gases & Technologies' mobile training facility can be set up and ready for welding instruction in 15 minutes.
Earlbeck Gases & Technologies’ mobile training facility can be set up and ready for welding instruction in 15 minutes.

Welding takes place everywhere—across industries, across age levels, and certainly across geographic lines. Earlbeck Gases & Technologies (Baltimore, MD) maintains a 4,000 sq. ft. fixed training facility to instruct train-ees in the craft of welding. But in 2002, the company was presented with an opportunity that greatly expanded the reach of its training efforts.

“We always toyed with the idea of taking our training directly to the customer as a way to increase our business,” says President James Earlbeck. “We had a lot of good conversations with customers who said if we built it, they would use it. But it seemed like such a leap of faith, we got cold feet.”

Then the company was approached by ManTech Solutions and Technologies, which coordinates many different types of training for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). ManTech was looking for a way to set up a welding training program for the 140 technicians who maintain VDOT equipment, and had discovered Earlbeck Gases & Technologies’ training capabilities over the Internet. The catch: They wanted the training to take place in nine different districts spanning the state of Virginia, and none of the sites was prepared with enough equipment to facilitate the necessary training. If Earlbeck Gases & Technologies was going to take on the challenge, it would have to build a self-contained mobile training facility.

Innovation: Mobile training facility brings welding training to the customer.
Distributor: Earlbeck Gases & Technologies

After a lot of research, the company purchased a 40-foot trailer with a number of modifications to the manufacturer’s standard design. The trailer is constructed completely out of aluminum, with eight 500 CFM exhaust fans along one side, two 2 ft. by 2 ft. port holes, and a fiberglass roof for lighting purposes. The company also asked the manufacturer to leave the interior wall off one side. Once the trailer was delivered, Earlbeck engineers spent close to a month making their own modifications, bringing the total cost of the project to approximately $140,000.

The interior of the training facility contains eight welding booths.
The interior of the training facility contains eight welding booths.

“We ran wiring along the wall to power welders for the eight welding booths inside the trailer, then put the wall back on ourselves,” says Earlbeck’s Engineering Director Jerry Cramblett. “Then we built aluminum tables down one side of the trailer that the welding equipment fits under and outlets at each booth for a grinder, and we mounted fluorescent light down the center. Because we’re doing stick and MIG training, we ran a gas manifold system into each booth, with a flowmeter for the gas hookup to the wire feeder. We have a Ford F-550 truck with a flatbed. A 70 kW generator is mounted cross-wise behind the cab of the truck, and we built brackets on the flatbed to lay down welding gas cylinders and a box to cover the cylinder valves. We can pull into a parking lot and be ready to have people weld in the trailer in 15 minutes.”

The company hired a semi-retired welder and trainer who takes the trailer on the road from March through September, training four days a week at various locations. The mobile training program for VDOT made its debut in March 2002, and feedback was positive right from the start. What began as a 21_2-year contract is now moving into its sixth year, and Earlbeck Gases & Technologies is finding new ways to use the trailer as a source of business.

“Because the trailer has a generator, we can demo a lot of equipment out of it, so we’ve used it as a home base at shows like the Street Rod Nationals in York, Pennsylvania,” says Cramblett. “In late 2006, we finished a two-week MIG welding training program through Harrisburg Area Community College that I think is going to bring us more business. We’ll be looking for more opportunities like that as they become available.”

With that goal in mind, Earlbeck Gases & Technologies is surely driving that trailer on the road to success.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association