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Project: Norco


Several of the largest coal mines in the United States are near the Norco, Inc. industrial supplies and gas facility in Casper, WY. There's no question as to the importance of the coal industry, as well as the oil and natural-gas industries, to the financial prosperity of the state. As important are the dozens of metal-fabrication shops in the area that support those industries. And those industry's are supported by Norco. And Norco's Casper facility is the central hub, providing 100% of the shielding gases for it's 13 locations in Wyoming, Utah and Montana.

"We're sending an average of 5000 cylinders per month outbound from the Casper facility," said Sonny Knotts, Norco's manager of operations and production (who works from the Norco main offices in Boise, ID), "and filling another 1000 or so per month for local use."

About half of the cylinders leaving the Casper plant are shielding-gas mixes for the region's weld and fabrication shops; the remaining goes to medical (pure oxygen and nitrogen) and beverage (CO2) applications. The plant has experienced double-digit growth in sales year over year for the past several years. "Fortifying our ability to optimize fill-plant uptime and ensure timely, high-quality deliveries has been a key to our success," said Knotts.

A Plan to Boost Reliability and Productivity

The Casper facility is the former Gases Plus welding and industrial-supply company. Ten years prior, in 1998 Gases Plus had installed a Woodland automated fill system to supply welding and industrial gases. However, for the past five years the system had been experiencing issues, about once a month, that were causing periodic downtime. The system was in need of an update according to Knotts. "We were experiencing 20% downtime due to lack of technical and maintenance support. We had to upgrade the fill-plant's automation system in order to continue to satisfy our customers."

The Casper plant automation upgrade came in two phases, with the technical team from Weldcoa at the helm. Phase 1, completed early in 2008, welcomed the addition of two new Weldcoa pallet fill heads—one for inert gas, the other for oxygen–as well as Weldcoa's state-of-the-art controls and touchscreen user interface. Each head fills as many as 20 cylinders at a time. Late in 2009 Phase 2 was completed, featuring a duplicate system of two additional pallet fill heads tied into the existing control and piping systems.

Weldcoa's dedication and expertise made the automation upgrade a seamless transition. "During Phase 1 of the upgrade, we couldn't afford any downtime; we had to keep the plant running at full capacity to satisfy our customers' requirements," stressed Knotts. "So, we ran production during the day and installed the new Weldcoa equipment in the evenings. We were able to call Weldcoa for assistance any time day or night, and their support was phenomenal. We knew Weldcoa's technical team was good, since the Boise location had been using Weldcoa equipment for several years. Their team of experts exceeded all expectations."

Knotts credits Weldcoa’s automation upgrade for doubling the plant's capacity without the need to add labor; plant uptime is virtually 100 percent. "We're easily within tolerance specifications for the gas mixtures we provide," said Knotts. "That includes a proprietary fire-suppression inert-gas blend we fill with tolerances of 0.25 percent."