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S.J. Smith’s Winning Formula:
Alignment with a Quality

Project: SJ Smith Welding


Gas and hard-goods distributor S.J. Smith believes that to provide the greatest value to their customers, they must work with the highest quality partners in the industry. “We’ve experienced tremendous growth on the gas side of the business over the last several years,” said Mike Zeilman, manager of sales/operations at the S.J. Smith branch location in Decatur, IL. The company provides industrial, medical, and pharmaceutical gases, and other spec-gas mixes, to seven branch locations—in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. He can see the gas side of the business growing to 45 or 50 percent very soon, along with a corresponding increase in gross-margin percentage. Continuing to build on quality is critical to their future growth.

A Partner in Productivity

In late 2013 Zeilman and his crew welcomed a new Weldcoa custom designed and built 45-ft. palletized, automated fill island. The island, which features touchscreen PLCs, automates the filling process, raises productivity, optimizes safety for the operators, drives quality to new heights and provides new management tools to improve traceability and operational visibility. “Weldcoa custom-built the island to our specifications,” said Zeilman. “When we set out to upgrade our fill capabilities, we knew we not only wanted to increase capacity and productivity to support future growth, but that we also had to take quality to the highest possible level. The standards that were acceptable 5 years ago are no longer acceptable today. We now find it’s much easier to step up our game, thanks to the Weldcoa equipment and to their technical and customer-service support.” The double-sided island comprises three traversing fill heads—oxygen, inert—primarily argon--mixes (to four gases); and a third head for up to six-gas mixes with two oxygen sources. Each head is supplied by 21 leads for cylinder pallets and two leads for bank filling.

Quality Customer Service

“We’ve been using Weldcoa equipment for several years in other areas of the facility, like their high-pressure pumps and cylinder-transport equipment,” Zeilman continued. “Since the island was commissioned, whenever we pick up the phone for support, within a few minutes we’re talking to the person that either programmed the equipment, designed the equipment or installed the equipment.” Zeilman recalled a recent instance where one of the mix heads experienced a mechanical failure. “Within three minutes I was talking to an expert at Weldcoa,” he said. “The technician went online, diagnosed the issue remotely and had a replacement part in the mail for overnight delivery.” “In another instance,” Zeilman continued, “we needed a manifold that we had ordered for one of our customers reengineered as quickly as possible. As a testament to how Weldcoa treats its customers as if they are the only customer that matters at the time of need, a Weldcoa technician was in the machine shop fabricating a spacer for the manifold within just a couple of days.” “Someone at Weldcoa has done an excellent job hiring and training people with an emphasis on customer service,” added Zeilman. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re working with an engineer, technician or office person about an invoice or shipment, their customer service makes Weldcoa the perfect partner to support our growth.”

Higher Productivity, Greater Capacity

Zeilman credits the new fill island Sur-Fill technology with surpassing the company’s goals for productivity and efficiency. “We’re manufacturing at least 20 percent more product today than we were a year ago, with less labor input. And, our capacity is probably 150 percent greater than with our previous system.” Zeilman compares filling their most popular welding shielding gas mixture, 75 Ar-25 CO2. “With our previous setup, we’d hook up the CO2 cylinders to the argon line and allow them to saturate overnight, and in the morning we’d top them off with argon. Now we use a scale with a preset formula to measure CO2 and argon content, the operator pushes a few buttons on the PLC and he’s in production.” “As with any gas mix, while we’re filling one pallet of cylinders another pallet is being staged, the operator then can disconnect 21 cylinders that have been filled and immediately connect the next set of 21 cylinders for filling, all within minutes.”