Top Service Technicians Tell All

We all know that it’s the salespeople who bring the customers in, but it’s the service technicians who keep them coming back. Those service technicians must be proficient in a lot of different skills: technical and customer-oriented, because when equipment is broken, oftentimes the customer is stressed and not happy. And in many cases, the customer is not able to work. Astute service technicians understand this and do all they can to keep the customer up and running.

On these pages are the profiles of ten service technicians at GAWDA distributorships who face the rigors of repair every day—and have fun doing it!

Top Service Technicians Tell All
Rod Forsness •  Brian Hamilton •  Jimmy Young
George Bradychok
•  Harvey Cox •  John Leonard •  Karl Weber
Kyle Haun
•  Rod “Harv” Harvey •  Clark Tufte

Rod Forsness - Cryogenic Service Technician, Oxarc (Spokane, WA)Not many technicians can say they have experience designing with flowers. I worked at Oxarc for 14 years and then left to start my own nursery landscape and flower shop business. I did that for eight years but still continued to help out during the slow winter months and when Oxarc needed extra help. Last year, I returned full time to Oxarc.

Rod ForsnessSince returning, I’ve been updating equipment. I helped move our plant in Spokane, moved the Boise store, put in a system to pump high pressure oxygen in our LaGrande store. We’re putting in a liquid hydrogen storage plant and I’ll put in all the pumping equipment.

I learned my skills in the Navy when I was sent to cryogenics school and learned how to run an air separation plant. I learned how to make liquid nitrogen and oxygen. I also did air charges and nitrogen charges to submarines. After nine years in the Navy, I was hired at Oxarc and my first position was loading trucks, then working in the acetylene plant, and then driving. I learned a lot from those jobs before I started my work as a technician.

Every day brings something different. One day, I’m putting in new equipment, the next day something breaks down and I’m fixing it. It can change quickly. The ability to do quality work is one of the important skills a technician should have. Sometimes systems are put in that don’t always look as good as they could. How a system is installed and how it looks indicates the quality of the work done.

I have a lot of tools but the most important tool I use, along with manuals, is my ability to learn from others. I’m constantly learning, whether from manufacturers, the Internet or reading material. I have to keep up with the changing codes, and I spend a lot of time studying.

We used to carry waste oil heaters that burned oil. Servicing them was kind of like being a chimney sweep. You got real black. I like new installs the best. They’re clean and I get to see the work!

“Rod does world class work all the time and never takes short cuts. You can be assured that the job will be done correctly the first time and will not leak. He will work long hours on short notice in emergency situations in order to keep our plant or a customer’s in operation. Rod is a great ambassador for Oxarc and we are lucky to have him on our team.”

– Rod Wolf, Sales Manager, Oxarc

Brian Hamilton - Industrial Service Technician, Norco Inc. (Gillete, WY)Technicians deal with things that can really ruin their day! That’s why the most important tool I use is a multimeter. Before I put my hands into something, I check the voltage.

Brian HamiltonIf I don’t know how to make a repair, I study the prints. As a last resort, I call the manufacturer’s service team and get help from them. I don’t hesitate to call them. It takes a lot longer to fix something if you don’t have good support from the factory. Manufacturers want their product repaired in a timely fashion, and they want it to work when it’s in the customer’s hands. They want a competent technician who can follow their instructions. The partnership between the manufacturer and the technician is important.

While studying for a land survey degree, I took some electronics courses and excelled in them. My instructor recommended me to a local distributor and I was hired by Gases Plus in 1998, which was acquired by Norco in 2008.

I average three to five pieces of equipment per day. My favorites are inverter machines, because they are a little more complicated than the engine drives or the wire feeders. These are machines I see all the time and I know what to look for. I like machines that are more challenging.

With the recession, more customers want me to repair their old equipment, rather than purchase new equipment. For some of these old machines, parts availability is a big issue. Yet, there are some machines that will be made for a long time because they are so popular. For example, a lot of the guys doing pipeline work get real sentimental about their machines.

If I were hiring a service technician, I would want mechanical and electrical aptitude, along with patience and a willingness to learn. You don’t just wake up and know this stuff.

“When Brian does a repair, you know it will be done right. He listens to what customers tell him so he can determine the root cause of the problem, thus fixing it right the first time. We rarely have a machine come back after service is performed on it. His services are requested so much that he always has something scheduled and ready to do.”

– Bill Knickerbocker, Manager, Norco Inc.

September is Service Technician Month Do you know a great service technician? You can help GAWDA celebrate the top service technicians in the industry by going to Welding & Gases Today’s Service Technician Honor Roll and adding your technicians’ names and photos. Check back often to see who is the best in our industry and why.

Jimmy Young - Assistant Supervisor of ServiceJimmy YoungFix it! Don’t charge me much money! And do it quick! This is the mantra of the purchasing agents who are becoming more common fixtures on the service level.

If I could change anything about my work, I’d like to get more information from the customer. These are expensive machines and often people can’t give me any idea as to what’s wrong. I just get a piece of equipment and a note that says “broke.”

I started out doing maintenance work and then decided to go back to school to study computer electronics, where I gained a lot of troubleshooting skills. I try to take as many training programs as I can. I’m also a Certified Welding Inspector.

The most important skill a technician must have is to be able to read a schematic.

A change I see in the industry is that equipment is getting smaller and more compact. Also, people are replacing equipment now, rather than repairing it. After three years, the board is not worth keeping.

I see a lot of machines that have been worked on by the customer. A lot of shipyards do their own maintenance. And a lot of what they do is comical. Then the machine comes to me!

“Jimmy always makes sure the job is done right. He stays on top of new techniques and new processes and makes sure that customers are always satisfied.”

– Candice Swiger, Human Resources Manager, WESCO

George Bradychok - Service Technician, Metro Welding Supply Corp. (Detroit, MI)George BradychokI do like a good brain buster now and then, and I really enjoy working on automatic pumping systems where everything comes together. Patience is a major requirement of a technician’s job.

It’s important to slow down and use common sense to break down the problem. I start at one end and move down the line.

I’m a certified industrial electrical technician and also do plumbing. I’d been working in the automotive industry, and when I learned Metro was looking for someone who knew electrical and maintenance, I joined the company. I knew nothing about cryogenics and was as green as could be. But I attended training schools. If I ever get stumped, I call the manufacturer and they walk me through it.

The most important thing in my job is safety. I pay attention to what I am doing and am cognizant of my surroundings.

The collapse of the economy has forced customers to get the most out of every dollar, and I notice they want quality products now. I’ve come to respect the quality and the prep that goes into putting products together.

I think the future of the industry will be in simpler systems because they are easier to maintain and easier to diagnose if there is a problem.

“He’s always there at a moment’s notice and is a reliable source of information and technical help to our customers and to our sales force. George exemplifies the true art of his profession. He has a sharp mind to keep up on equipment and the preventative maintenance programs needed to keep our systems healthy.”

– Frank Doran, Operations Manager, Metro Welding Supply Corp.

Harvey Cox - Service Technician, Cross Texas Supply (San Angelo, TX)‘It’s broken. They just told me to drop it off.’ Service departments get a lot of comments like this. Sometimes the equipment comes in with a card attached to it and a big question mark on it!

Harvey CoxThe main tool I use to get the job done is the gathering of information. Before I start working on equipment, I call the company and ask to talk to the technician who operates the machine. Often I talk to the higher ups and ask them to send their technicians to drop off the equipment.

A lot of machines come here in pieces, scattered in boxes. I enjoy the challenge of putting them back together and getting them to work. Gas and diesel machines are not complicated, but plasma machines are tough to diagnose in a timely fashion. I like working in our shop because I promise you that if I take a truckload of parts to a customer’s site, the three parts I need will be back in the shop!

The best part of my job is being able to help our customers. In many cases, I know this machine is the only one they have and they need it to make their living. My mantra is, ‘Get it in and get it out.’ Jay Dyches, the owner of the company, started out with a welding machine and a truck. We know what it’s like to be so dependent on that machine and we work hard to get it fixed and out of here. It’s great to see the customer leave here smiling.

“Harvey’s attention to detail and his care for customer service is second to none. He has the knowledge and the ability to service equipment. Customers talk to him all the time. He has the ability to handle customer service details.”

– Jay Dyches, Chief Operating Officer, Cross Texas Supply

September is Service Technician Month Do you know a great service technician? You can help GAWDA celebrate the top service technicians in the industry by going to Welding & Gases Today’s Service Technician Honor Roll and adding your technicians’ names and photos. Check back often to see who is the best in our industry and why.

John Leonard - Cryogenic Technician, A-OX Welding Supply (Sioux Falls, SD)After building sheet metal containers for a ship building company and then working as a technician for another company, I came to A-OX to work with cryogenics. They had just over 60 tanks when I started. My job was to get everything up and running. Seven months into 2012, we’ve already installed 26 tanks.

About 30 percent of my time is spent repairing equipment; the rest installing. I might have multiple tank installs in one week, or I’ll be doing the necessary paperwork for installations. For example, this week I installed a 6,000 gallon nitrogen tank. I checked on four hospitals and worked on the telemetry to get it right.

John LeonardEquipment is becoming very technical. We now monitor tanks with telemetries and have moved away from the 120-volt landline telephone to solar cell units. We can grasp what that tank is doing hour by hour. When it comes to telemetry, I work very closely with the manufacturer’s engineers. I learn from them, but I am their eyes on the job. I point out issues with the new generation of equipment. It’s a good working relationship for both sides.

If I were hiring a technician, I’d want that individual to be well-rounded. In cryogenics, you have to be able to plumb, be mechanically adept and able to figure out how to run the plumbing so it looks good and is efficient. You have to run the electricity, know electronics. You also have to have a positive attitude and be able to take care of the needs of customers. Being around customers, I’ve learned how to relate to them, how to read them, and how to be diplomatic on what I say and how I act. Important skills to have.

My favorite thing to do on the job is working with A-OX people and our customers, and getting the bulk tanks online. It’s great to see people happy with how we’ve taken care of them and knowing they are satisfied.

“John takes pride in every job he does, and the end results always demonstrate his care for all the details. He is responsible for everything from medical and industrial bulk tank installs to fill plant maintenance, and will even repair a welder if I need him to. He is one of those employees you don’t need to ask, it’s just done right!”

– Kelly Kleinwolterink, General Manager, A-OX

Karl Weber - Technician, Alliance Welding Supplies (Oakland, CA)I got the opportunity to create something new when I joined Alliance last year to set up the company’s service center. I had to buy new tools and equipment, set up power, establish processes and get the shop certified, as many of the tickets did not follow me from my previous job at a manufacturer’s regional repair center.

Karl WeberIt’s a little different working from this side of the bench, the distributor’s side. Having repaired welders for so long, I’ve developed some preferences for machines. Because we sell different brands, I’ve had to learn not to have those preferences. That’s taken some getting used to.

I prefer working in the shop, rather than doing field calls and I make sure to support the sales staff, who bring me a fair amount of machines, about half of what I work on. The other half are walk-ins and referrals from the factory. I move through about seven or eight machines per day.

The oldest machine I ever worked on was a Miller stick welder from the 1930s. I opened it up, checked it out, played with it, and then it went off to be in a museum. There have been a lot of changes in equipment. Machines are getting more compact and portable with multi-processes. In the past, multi-process machines were good at one thing, but not at others. Now they’re all pretty good at everything they do. While it used to be diodes and contactors, now it’s transistor modules and computers. If a technician does not regularly go to the update schools and keep up with the changes, he or she will fall by the wayside.

The best part of the job is being around arcs and sparks all day long. I’ve enjoyed them since I was a little kid.

“Karl is known throughout the Bay Area as a skilled technician who is sought after for his knowledge and abilities. He’s passionate about his work and knows the importance of staying ahead of new technologies. He works hard with the sales staff and takes care of our customers.”

– Marvin Rodgers III, President

Kyle Haun - Service Manager, Haun Welding Supply (Syracuse, NY)Growing up, I worked summers in the family business in a variety of departments. The summers I spent working in the warehouse chasing parts made it clear to me that I didn’t want to do that as a career. I never saw anything completed. Then I found the service department. I started as a service writer and doing counter support. Here’s a project. Fix it. Finish it. Send it on its way. Feeling that sense of accomplishment sealed the deal for me that service is where I belong.

We fix about 150 machines a month and about 200 torches and regulators. I learned that going into the day with a plan is laughable because it always changes and the phone is always ringing.

Kyle HaunI have daily contact with our manufacturers. We work together. They want me to let them know if there is a recurring problem in a product line, and to stay after them to provide a solution. From them, I expect personalized support service, great customer service, easy-to-navigate websites and parts books, rapid response and help with technical questions. These are the same things our customers expect from us.

One of the challenges we have is getting a fast response from the customer as to whether we should or shouldn’t fix their machine. A lot of time passes before they get back to us on repair after getting the quote.

Our equipment is starting to mirror the equipment used in the automotive industry. We already have machines that self-diagnose and are computer-aided. There are some new fuel injection machines that have an onboard diagnostic computer and we plug in and download codes. It’s all there to make it easier for us and more beneficial to the customer. This means that we all must be more computer literate. We have to adapt and we have to be on our toes all the time.

“Kyle truly and deeply cares about employees and customers. He always makes sure that things are right.”

– Mike Storie, Vice Presdient-Sales, Haun Welding Supply

Rod "Harv" Harvey - Service Technician, Mississippi Welders Supply (Winona, MN)Rod HarveyI like saving customers money. When I can make their equipment run more efficiently, I’m saving them money every day. When a machine gets to a point where it’s more expensive to repair it than to replace it, I’ll advise them to replace, rather than fix.

Prior to working as a technician, I was a route driver for the company. I went back to school and studied electronics because I liked working with machines. New technology has brought many changes to equipment. With microprocessors and inverters, machines are smaller and running more efficiently. But the flipside of this is that many of the repairs are more expensive.

My favorite thing to repair are the older welders. When something goes wrong on the new equipment, LED lights and codes are flashing. With the older equipment, I just have to dig in there and visualize what’s going on. Without the electronics on older machines, I get to figure it out.

“Harv takes great pride in turning out quality work that is done promptly and correctly. He saves our customers a lot of time and money and keeps their shops running smoothly.”

– Bruce Nuttall, Sales Manager, Mississippi Welders Supply

Clark Tufte - Automation Technician, Oxygen Service Company (Saint Paul, MN)Clarke TufteWith some of these robots, customers are losing thousands of dollars an hour when they are down. We have to get them back up and running as fast as possible. Problems can be very complicated, and we have to listen to what the customer is saying. I average three customer sites per day.

My most important tool is a computer. In fact, I have two in my truck. Some newer computers won’t work with the software of the older robots, so I carry an old laptop too.

Everything is based on speed and how fast things get done. Three or four years ago, if you could weld between 20 and 25 inches per minute, you were doing pretty well. Now everything is up in the 40 and 50 inches-per-minute range. Things have to go a lot faster, and as a result we’re seeing more multi-robots.

Every day is interesting. Some days, I’m out repairing robots; other days I’m talking about a design for a new cell. A customer may bring in a product and we’ll work with it to figure out the best way to get a welder on the robot. Things always change in my work, so I’m training all the time.

“Besides knowing what he is doing, Clark just gets it! He understands what customer service is all about. He gains the respect and trust from the customers that he services and knows that the customer is who pays our bills. Clark is a salesperson as much as he is a service tech.”

– Randy Anderson, Vice President of Sales

Gases and Welding Distributors Association