Many Member Companies Have Invested, Reorganized for 2017
By Charles McChesney
From across the country and around the world, a number of GAWDA supplier members are looking forward to a year when the economy improves and investments made in recent years begin to pay off.
Many suppliers are optimistic that changes to their operations, facilities, staffing and new products sets them up for a good 2017. Some are hoping that the actions they’ve taken will produce greater efficiencies, faster product turnarounds and improved fiscal health for their operations.
With the energy sector still in recession — coal as well as oil and gas remain far below past market highs — many supplier members still have their optimism on a tight leash. Yet, nearly all the suppliers contacted find some promise for a better year and hope for some degree of growth in the year ahead.
Hector Villarreal bit off a lot in terms of the company’s operations in 2016. The president of Weldcoa says the company invested heavily in automation at the Aurora, Ill., company, and reworked the entire workflow, all with an eye toward reducing how long customers have to wait for products.
With the reorganizing and automation done, Villarreal says the company has reduced turnaround to 48 hours on its prime products. “That’s from raw material to product,” he stresses. The change means distributors can count on receiving material in days, not weeks, he says. In addition, the company has broadened its product line so that components it once purchased are now built in-house. “We are now in complete control of our destiny,” he says.
Osborn revamped its management structure in 2016, says Spencer Maheu, director of product management and marketing for the Richmond, Ind., company. It also reached out to customers to learn what they wanted and what they thought of Osborn, he says.
That work is going to result in a number of new product rollouts in 2017, a move Osborn calls “an explosion of new-product development.” At the same time, the company is stepping up to better serve customers who have been especially supportive. “It’s a really exciting time,” Maheu says.
A new line of industrial welding machines was a big boost to Forney Industries, of Fort Collins, Colo., in 2016, says Steven Anderson, president and CEO. The machines helped the company sell 10 times more welders than it sold the year before, he says.
To continue to grow sales on the industrial side, Anderson plans to add more staff and make sure distributors see Forney representatives on a regular basis, “not just one and done.” Forney is looking to double its number of SKUs and has started repackaging welding accessories for the industrial market using its branding theme, a distinctive green color.
Anderson is hopeful that the economy will improve and that changes in interest rates can make it possible for price increases to succeed. “We haven’t seen a price change in four years,” he notes.
Focusing on what the company calls its “four pillars of growth” has helped Worthington Industries quadruple revenues in a decade and establish itself in new markets. That’s the assessment of Dusty McClintock, vice president and general manager, industrial products, for the Columbus, Ohio company.
The four pillars are acquisitions, vertical integration, adjacent markets and organic growth, he explains. Acquisitions have included Taylor-Wharton assets that have helped Worthington move more into cryogenics. An example of vertical integration is the hand-held torch market where Worthington already made the small pre-filled cylinders and bought the BernzOmatic brand to expand into the torches. Adjacent markets include the company’s expansion into brazing products for those hand-held torches. McClintock points to Worthington’s investment in its Turkish bulk cryogenic tank manufacturing facility as an example of how it is aggressively pursuing organic growth.
McClintock expects the focus on the pillars to continue, pointing to a just-begun expansion into the beverage gas business as a sign of what’s to come in 2017.
Select-Arc Inc., of Fort Loramie, Ohio, will mark its 20th anniversary in 2017, says National Sales Manager Mike Tecklenburg. He notes that makes the company relatively young in the industry. That helped in 2016, as Select Arc grew by reaching out to new markets — including international markets such as Mexico, Latin America and Asia — it had not served previously. As the year was coming to a close, Tecklenburg detected some improvement in demand across markets the company serves.
The company has new products in the pipeline for early 2017 and also plans to further expand into the technical center the company built in 2015. With 80,000 square feet available, Tecklenburg expects the company will bring in more metallurgical equipment to help it solve customers’ technical challenges.
Processes that require much shorter lead times are a competitive advantage for Metal Impact, says Account Manager Tony Robbins. The company, headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill., is able to deliver products in days, not weeks, from the time an order is placed he says, crediting that to cylinders being created through what he calls a one-stroke process.
Looking to 2017, Metal Impact is hoping to grow its CO2 cylinder and industrial business, and it is reaching out through GAWDA, AIWD and IWDC to get the company better known. “We’re trying to get the Metal Impact name out there,” Robbins says. The company is also expanding its line beyond the currently available 20-pound CO2 tanks. At the same time, Metal Impact is undertaking expansions into Latin America and Europe, Robbins says.
REELCRAFT INDUSTRIES, INC.
Despite continued strength in the automotive sector, 2016 was a soft year for Reelcraft Industries, of Columbia City, Ind., says Rex Larkin, vice president sales and marketing. However, he sees opportunities in 2017.
“I think good things are coming,” Larkin says, pointing to presidential campaign promises made about increasing infrastructure, the possibility of more spending in the energy sector and a general turning away from a national mood of economic pessimism. “You can only be stagnant for so long,” he says.
Among new products, Reelcraft has developed a reel to handle 700-amp welding cable, used in railroad applications. Right now there is one model, however Larkin says to look for a couple more lines to come to market in the future.
Weldcote Metals, of Kings Mountain, N.C., closed out 2016 by introducing a new welding helmet with advanced optics. The company says the helmet provides a truer view of work, is adjustable for the task at hand and allows workers to keep their helmets on to check work.
William Roland, president and COO, says the new helmets are expected to help sales in 2017 as will an all-new line of product called Cargo Blockers. The new product fits inside pick-up truck bed liners and helps keep cargo in place. Noting that welding distributors often watch customers drive off with products — even cylinders — bouncing around in the back of their trucks, Roland sees this as a good addition to the product line. “It should bring some really nice additional business,” he says.
THE HARRIS PRODUCTS GROUP
For the Harris Products Group, of Mason, Ohio, 2016 was a solid year and 2017 should build on that success, says David Nangle, president and CEO. He says that while many companies were forced to cut deeply to survive the downturn, Harris has remained strong and used the opportunity to improve efficiencies to better serve its customers.
Nangle points to merchandizing programs that have improved showroom floor displays for distributors and equipment that has allowed distributors to increase their profitability. In addition, Harris has expanded the specialty gas equipment product line. He sees 2017 bringing greater support for distributors, better products, fill rates and market share.
SOUTHERN PINES TRUCKING
Southern Pines Trucking, of Monaco, Pa., is expanding its fleet of trailers that are optimized for hauling nitrogen, says Tom Kairys, vice president of sales. The expansion comes less than a year after Southern Pines joined GAWDA, hoping to serve the independent distributor market.
The company is finding success leasing to the industry and acting as a third-party hauler, Kairys says. It also can provide hauling for equipment that requires special permitting because it exceeds DOT’s 80,000-pound GVW limit.
THERMCO INSTRUMENT CORP.
Dennis Richardson, named president of Thermco Instrument Corp. in 2016, says the signal towers introduced by the company less than two years ago have been joined by a new analyzer to help ensure gases are mixed in the proper ratios — and that when they are not, an operator can see and hear an alarm.
Richardson sees continuing demand for greater accuracy and customization driving the industry, as well as globalization. While a strong dollar has impacted the company, he says he doesn’t want to see anything slowing international trade. “We need to export more and we need to meet the challenge of companies exporting into our country,” he says.
OTTO ARC SYSTEMS
Otto Arc, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., has new products in the pipeline and its plans for a major move are underway, says Alan Avis, president.
The company is preparing to move from its California location to Texas, though precisely where has not yet been decided, he says. The new place will have less space overall, at least at first, but will include significant area for demonstrating Otto Arc’s products, he says. One of the products the company is at work on creating is a laser cutter that Avis expects will be priced and sized to appeal to smaller shops.
WEH Technologies, of Katy, Texas, introduced a new circular filling rig in 2016 that allows 12 cylinders to be filled at once, says General Manager Andreas Willfort. The rig features WEH’s quick connectors, which can include non-sparking Monel steel connectors for use with oxygen.
The company, headquartered in Bavaria, is expanding its service offerings in the United States. Willfort says the goal for the 5,000 square-foot facility is to provide “German quality serviced in Texas.”
As 2016 was coming to an end, Air Products, of Allentown, Pa., was preparing to finalize the $3.8 billion sale of the company’s performance materials division to Germany’s Evonik. In October of 2016, the company completed the spinoff of its electronics division, Versum. Marie Ffolkes, Air Products president, Industrial Gases–Americas, says the proceeds from those transactions will be plowed into improving the company’s now-singular focus: the industrial gases business.
Air Products is looking to invest in safety, both in training and in equipment, Ffolkes says. “We are part of CGA, we are on those committees. We spend a lot of time looking at processes and standards and developing those for the industry,” Ffolkes says. She sees the company achieving growth by working with distributors to reach final customers, and says Air Products views distributors as partners, not competitors.
Jeremy Carter, CEO at Weldas Americas, of Franklin, Tenn., says his company is “expecting volume growth in 2017 due to an expected uptick in the energy sector, as well as manufacturing that supports those industries.”
The company became a GAWDA member in 2016 and has brought a new Arc Knight jacket and a premium welding glove to market recently. Carter says the company will push hard in the new year “to spread our mission of the importance of quality products that have been designed and tested to offer protection and comfort to welders. Almost all our products are tested to EN norms (European Community certification) that enables safety professionals to view actual performance results and select appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE).” He says that in the welding PPE world, “we are one of the only companies that do this testing.”
Tim Mast, vice president and owner at CryoWorks, of Jurupa Valley, Calif., says his company is gearing up for the “Race to Mars,” serving customers in the high-tech aerospace industry. CryoWorks is adding engineering talent and last year brought in a chief financial officer. More hiring is on tap at the family-owned company, Mast says. Just 7 years old, the company in California’s Inland Empire has already grown to 30 employees.
Mast said new products will be coming out mid-year to join the company’s lineup of cryogenic and piping equipment.
Abicor Binzel has four major product launches planned for 2017. That initiative is designed as part of an aggressive plan for the year that includes a restructured sales force and focus on key accounts, says John Kaylor, president U.S. and Canada.
The Germany-based company with U.S. headquarters in Frederick, Md., rolled out SpinArc, a 400-amp, air-cooled machine torch that rotates filler wire as it welds. It is expanding its lab and repair facility for laser brazing and is planning to add sales staff and technical support.
The company managed to grow market share in 2016, despite an overall down market, he says, noting optimism for 2018 and 2019 if the market sees energy and infrastructure spending rise.
AMWINS PROGRAM UNDERWRITERS
Bill McCloy, managing director, AmWins Program Underwriters, of Charlotte, N.C., says his firm has a new offering for GAWDA members: cyber liability insurance. The insurance would protect companies from losses if they had network security breaches or human error that somehow allowed customers’ private data to be removed or stolen. There is also first-party coverage for the expense of such data breaches, he adds.
McCloy says the thrust for the year will be for AmWins to help members and their agents understand the value-added services of its carrier, Chubb Insurance.
VICTORY WELDING ALLOYS
In its first year of business, Victory Welding Alloys, of Charlotte, N.C., surpassed CEO George Foote’s revenue projections by a long shot. “I am very shocked, honored and feel blessed that literally we doubled what I had projected,” says Foote, a 38-year industry veteran.
For 2017, Foote plans to focus on growth — he says he expects sales to double again — and on making sure the company can deliver. He says Victory has a 99 percent order-fulfillment rate and he doesn’t want that to slip, even as the company grows. Looking to the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, Foote says he plans to open a warehouse in the Houston market.
Safety improvements earned CTR, Inc., of Rock Hill, S.C., a major award in 2016. The company received the Leonard Parker Pool Safety Award from the Compressed Gas Association in conjunction with GAWDA at the organization’s annual meeting in Maui. Jim Payne, CTR’s president, says the recognition came even as the company was growing its engineering staff and its field service. Now, the company has three field service crews working across the country, he says. For 2017, it also is rolling out new, more advanced automated filling equipment for CO2, as well as a rotating rack system, according to Payne.
LENOX AND IRWIN TOOLS
Lenox and Irwin Tools, of East Longmeadow, Mass., launched several new products in 2016, and the company thinks they will help bring growth in 2017, says Matt Lacroix, director – brand marketing.
He says the company’s recently introduced MetalMax can last 30 times longer than conventional abrasive cut-off wheels, reducing downtime and improving safety. The company’s new Speed Slot hole saws are longer lasting, he says, in part because the tools’ walls have been thickened 10 percent.
The company has invested in its plant, including new machinery and solar panels, and Lacroix expects to see those investments yield growth. In addition, Lacroix says he is “cautiously optimistic the economy is rebounding.”
Right now, Infra Group S.A. DE C.V., of Naucalpan De Juarez, Mexico, does about 90 percent of its sales in Mexico, says Jesus Cabrera, commercial vice president. But Cabrera says the amount of business done with distributors in the United States is growing, and making sure that happens is a company goal in the coming year.
Sounding like many fellow GAWDA members, Cabrera says service is what is bringing the company growth. While Infra’s U.S. sales are largely confined to states bordering Mexico, he expects that to expand, “step by step,” to the next line of states in 2017. The company also sells into much of Latin America and parts of the Caribbean. Cabrera says Infra is upgrading finishes on its safety products in 2017 and is looking to present itself to GAWDA members as an alternative supplier in the hardgoods market.
Luxfer GTM-Technologies, of San Francisco, Calif., had an unusual chance to show off its abilities in 2016. With the Super Bowl played in the company’s hometown, Luxfer GTM brought its Zero-Set Lite to the Super Bowl Village, displaying the hydrogen-powered light and its lightweight composite storage for hydrogen.
For 2017, the company plans to build on that success, says President Michael Koonce. The firm plans to build hydrogen-powered generators for other uses, even as it continues to institute sustainability policies for its own facilities
“We see strong momentum going into the new year as we continue to build on our significant 2016 investments,” says Luke Bradshaw, vice president of business development and marketing at Taylor-Wharton.
With new ownership and a strong balance sheet, Bradshaw says the company has maintained Taylor-Wharton’s CryoIndustrial and CryoLNG brands, and has established new exclusive distribution partners with GAWDA members Eleet Cryogenics and Ratermann Manufacturing Inc.
This year, the company plans to expand its factory for ISO container production, add a new distribution location in Texas and bring out several new products. These include bulk hydrogen vessels, micro bulk lines and high-capacity, high-pressure bulk tanks, according to Bradshaw.
FasTest, Inc., based in Roseville, Minn., released a new Smart Connector in 2016. Matthew Nolting, sales manager, expects the connector, which changes colors to indicate when a connection is properly made, will help grow sales in 2017. There are other new products in the pipeline, too, he says.
The company has added two key positions: a vice president for new product development and a new products manager. It also has added engineers, and has been investing in equipment to make prototyping and production faster. Those investments include a 3D printer that Nolting says is paying off. “It works great. We use it constantly in product development.”
Technical-brush maker Lessmann GmbH, of Oettingen, Bavaria, Germany, had a busy 2016. The company signed an exclusive wholesale agreement with Inweld Corp., and opened a branch in Houston, Texas, to provide customer support and service.
“For 2017, we would like to find new partners and new brush solutions for applications in the welding market,” says Thomas Deubler, sales manager for North America.
Evergreen Midwest, of Mentor, Ohio, made a major move in cyberspace in the fall of 2016, says Tom Cregan, president. The company revamped its website, allowing customers to sign on and order 24/7, he says. By signing on, customers get access to prices that are specific to them and can see what orders they placed in the past.
The new web site has helped bring in business and hasn’t brought a single complaint, he says. While each order is checked by an employee, customers are no longer limited to Evergreen’s business hours, Gregan notes.
BUG-O SYSTEMS/WELD TOOLING CORPORATION
In 2015 and 2016, Bug-O brought its training program, Bug-O University, on the road, training more than a thousand workers in the use of the company’s products, says Norman Sted, the director of sales for North America and global markets for the Canonsburg, Pa., company. Despite a challenging year, Sted says the company managed to sell more special-order products.
For 2017, Sted plans to reach out to end users to get a clearer idea of what products they want and need the company to develop. At the same time, Bug-O expects to continue to bring at least three new products to market during the year — adding to the 11 new products the company brought out in the past two years.
Ashley Madray, executive vice president of Gas Innovations, says he is most proud of the way his company has helped distributors grow non-traditional business with products such as butane, carbon monoxide and other hydrocarbons.
The LaPorte, Texas company is looking to continue that growth in 2017 with a new carbon monoxide plant that is set to open in the second half of the year. In addition, Gas Innovations plans to add new products, due out in the second quarter. Madray says the company is also preparing to add employees in sales, marketing and operations.
Chart Industries, of Garfield Heights, Ohio, had a good year in 2016, says Bill Haukoos, president of distribution and storage. In the new year, the company expects to keep personnel and facilities at the same level.
Haukoos says to look for a number of new products to roll out throughout 2017. The goal is to grow the company, and those new products — along with possible acquisitions — could be part of that growth, he says.
Cryogenic Solutions, of Indianapolis, Ind., expanded in 2016 by purchasing the New York-based company Inventory Solutions. The New York operation will be moved to Indianapolis as part of a $1 million investment to double Cryogenic’s hometown space, says company owner Todd Durham.
In addition, the company plans to grow its staff. Plans for 2017 include adding equipment technicians, purchasers and sales representatives, Durham says.
Coleman Cable/Southwire, of Waukegan, Ill., worked through a tough 2016 as the weak oil and gases industry put downward pressure on demand, says Vice President of Sales Tom Sperelakis.
The company weathered those issues, however, and brought in a new national sales manager. For 2017, the company is looking to maintain market share, Sperelakis says.
WDPG INSURANCE/A HORTON GROUP PARTNER
Kenneth Tidwell, senior vice president, notes WDPG Insurance/A Horton Group Partner has a big anniversary coming up this year. In February, the Nashville, Tenn., company will mark 30 years of providing insurance to welding and gases distributors.
For the new year, Tidwell says new products will be launched in three arenas: cyber liability; actual sustained loss and employment practices liability. In addition, he says WDPG will focus on initiatives to educate clients about safe driving practices, contract issues and what is involved in cyber liability.
CPV Manufacturing, located in Kennett Square, Pa., expanded its workforce about 10 percent in 2016, says Brian Hoffmann, president and CEO. That expansion meant the company was required to find qualified machinists, welders and other skilled workers in a competitive labor market between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.
For 2017, Hoffmann says the company is looking to build on last year’s work and focus on the company’s relationships with manufacturers who use CPV valves in their projects.
Having built the business on repairing and renovating cryogenic tanks, Eleet Cryogenics, of Bolivar, Ohio, shifted gears a bit in 2016. The company added new tanks from Taylor-Wharton to its product mix, says Garry Sears, president. “It’s increased our offerings,” he says.
For 2017, the company is expanding its line again in the first quarter, adding new CO2 tanks that have cold-stretched stainless steel inner tanks. Sears says the company will expand its sales force in the first quarter as well, to be able to reach out to more customers. Eleet also is working with a Texas company to set up a satellite depot to deliver to that market.
Ric Boyd, president of Cryovation, says 2016 found the company building major fill plants domestically and overseas. The plants were customized and the work highlighted the company’s abilities, he says.
For 2017, Boyd expects the Hainesport, N.J., company will continue to refine its products, aiming to make them, “safer, better, faster.” He explains that the company is always asking how to make fill-plant equipment more efficient for the owner.
Joining GAWDA in 2015 helped Exocor to have a good year in 2016, says President and COO Paul Kinsella. “We made some great relationships with independent distributors” through the GAWDA experience, he says. During the year, the company also added some items to its Executive line of filler metals.
More of the same pattern is on tap for 2017, Kinsella adds, noting, “We’re continuing to fill out our product line so we can be a one-stop source for anyone looking for a complete line of filler metals.” In addition, the company, which is headquartered in St. Catharines, Ontario, and has a facility in nearby Amherst, N.Y., is looking to widen the area it serves in the United States this year.
In 2016, Kaplan Industries expanded into a new 16-acre facility in Harrison, Ohio. That allowed the company to improve its turn times and consistency, says Jim Johnston, senior vice president. He says the company’s performance has been helped by the new physical plant and by the 55-person work force the company was able to hire in Ohio.
For the year ahead, Kaplan says he expects to increase inventory since the company now has space for it, and continue to focus on keeping turn times reasonable. “When our customers need something, they need it,” he says. He is counting on more inventory and a broadened supply chain to help make that happen.
A 15,000-square-foot expansion to its main production facility capped off 2016 for Welding Alloys, says President Jeffery P. Watkins. The Florence, Ky., maker of welding wires and electrodes plans to do some hiring in 2017 to put that space to work. Watkins says the company is also on the lookout for “good technical sales people to help expand our business.”
Though they were occupied withfinishing the expansion, Watkins says the company’s workforce still took care of their customers. For one, the crew stayed late on the last work day before Christmas. They needed to complete a rush job for a distributor whose client forgot to order 10,000 pounds of wire. Watkins says that kind of conscientious service has helped the company triple sales in the past five years.