Controlling Your Destiny

Distributor builds in-house production capabilities.

Airweld Inc. is a family-owned and operated gases and welding distributorship with 11 locations throughout Long Island and the boroughs of New York City. For many years, Airweld depended on its longtime, loyal relationships with suppliers to obtain quality products. The changing economy over the past few years, however, along with increasing supplier consolidation, marked a drastic change in Airweld’s supply chain.

A custom gas filling system features two dedicated filling zones. The first zone fills batches of 24 cylinders of ultrapure gas products. The second zone fills homogenous 12 cylinder batches of precise gas mixtures. The system guarantees batch homogeneity with less than 1% relative cylinder-to-cylinder deviation in minor component concentration. An additional dedicated cylinder filling pathway allows for the filling of individual cylinders gravimetrically so as to qualify as primary standards.

A vacuum bake-out system removes all trace contaminants from the gas cylinders prior to filling. The system affords a level of vacuum sufficient to insure residual contaminants will not exceed the impurity specifications of gases requiring minimum assay concentrations in excess of 99.999%. This same vacuum technology is incorporated into the filling system.

Basic mixtures of industrial welding shield gases have always been filled in-house; vendors supplied higher purity bulk gases in pre-packaged mixes. If a cylinder change-of service was needed, this process was outsourced. As a result, costs and delivery time were increasing, and there were issues with product quality. Even customers noticed and some found other places to secure their product. Airweld Vice President Eric Lundquist says, “We were really starting to feel the disruption in supply and services. We tried to work around it but after many failed attempts, we decided to eliminate some of the suppliers and do it ourselves.”

Modifications Required

The process began with what Lundquist calls the “bloodline” of the company, cylinders. A UE1 ultrasonic cylinder examining machine was purchased, and an entire retest and cylinder maintenance facility was built. Airweld began testing its own cylinders and requalifying them, which greatly decreased downtime. Cylinders are purchased in bulk, primed and plugged to meet demand, including shot blasting, painting, adding dip tubes and changing gas service−all in-house. Lundquist explains, “Everything is speeded up. For example, if a new customer needs 20 grade-five nitrogens a week, within two days we can get these cylinders primed, in service, filled and ready to go—by ourselves.” This last part is especially helpful, as Airweld is no longer controlled by what Lundquist refers to as “other people’s problems, i.e., their drivers, their union issues, their trucks breaking down.”

The quality of re-packaged gases and mixtures are verified in the newly installed analytical laboratory. A custom gas distribution panel was designed to allow the availability of all instrument support gases, calibration gas standards, and gas candidate cylinder sources to their appropriate gas analyzers.

As higher purity bulk gases became available, Airweld management felt it was time to develop in-house production capabilities for a smooth entrance into the specialty gas markets. Local production would allow the control of quality and delivery while creating the additional margin needed to become competitive. Areas identified for modification included:

  1. Improved vacuum technology
  2. System for cylinder preparation
  3. Dedicated filling systems for ultrapure gas filling
  4. Advanced mixture technology based on gravimetric techniques
  5. State-of-the-art process analyzers capable of detecting those impurities of interest in ultrapure gases
  6. Suitable gas chromatography-based analysis for confirming the true concentrations of gas mixtures produced
  7. Addition of bulk helium.

In-House Production

The process of rebuilding Airweld’s main filling facility in Farmingdale began in the summer of 2013. The argon, nitrogen and oxygen bulk tanks were replaced. The CO2 tank was replaced, and energy-efficient refrigeration and electric vaporizer units were replaced. All of the vintage beam scales were replaced with auto-shutoff digital scales. Along with replacing existing industrial equipment, a helium compressor and jumbo tube trailer were added. An entire spec gas fill area complete with a bake-out oven, cylinder roller and a lab were also added.

Airweld staff received gas analysis training. It was recognized that the sales and marketing force would need additional assistance in developing specialty gas applications expertise. Five members of the Airweld sales and management team attended an intensive three-day seminar on advanced sales applications. During this seminar, they learned many specific areas of applications where Airweld’s new specialty gas products could become their customers’ solutions. They learned the language of their customers so as to effectively understand their customer’s requirements.

With the new facility, all of Airweld’s cylinders were cleaned, painted, labeled correctly and are now standardized across the company.

Read more about Airweld and 2014-15 GAWDA President Thomas Biedermann and their commitment to growth through satisfying customers, controlling assets and remaining fiercely independent.

Airweld’s ability to independently fill and certify gases provides a better control of company-owned assets, intensive quality control, faster turnarounds and, ultimately, increased revenue. Some new capabilities and revenue streams have also been achieved, specifically modified atmospheric food packaging.

In spring 2015, Airweld will rebuild its filling facility in Patchogue, Long Island. Says Lundquist, “All of our past, present and future projects are focused on helping us continue to do business the way we like it – with good service, quality product and no mistakes.”

Airweld Vice President Eric Lundquist helped design the company’s new fill facility, which provided entrance into the modified atmospheric packaging market.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association