Fill Plant Gives Independent
Distributor the Competitive
Since its founding in 1999, WeldWorld has evolved from operating out of a truck and a trailer into a full-service independent industrial supplier. That includes mixing welding and other fabrication gases for a variety of customers throughout Western Canada, as well as serving as a Purity-Plus provider of specialty gases.
WeldWorld maintains two locations in Alberta, Canada—a main office in Leduc and a branch location in Edmonton. Edmonton is where we find big changes taking place, positioning WeldWorld to compete over the long haul in a Canadian market dominated by the major gas companies. The firm entered the cylinder-filling business by reselling gases packaged by local competitors. In 2008 they purchased a small packaged unit to fill oxygen cylinders.
“Over time we built up the plant,” recalled Vic Wilson, WeldWorld’s business development manager. “We managed to quickly grow our gas sales to represent about 25 percent of our overall business. However, by 2012 we knew it was time to invest in something to improve our efficiency and add capacity, and to take our competitiveness to the next level to enable future growth.”
Poised to Compete with the Majors
“We find that very few independent distributors in Western Canada can pump their own gases, so we often have to go head-to-head with the major gas companies,” said WeldWorld owner Bill Kocken. “To compete at that level, in 2013 we turned the focus of our gas business to reducing our costs and becoming as efficient as possible.” That direction led the firm to build a new 20,000-sq.-ft. facility in Edmonton and equip it with a nine-station automated linear traversing cylinder-fill system, supplied by Weldcoa. The new setup, installed early in 2014, also includes a pump control center and four remote pump boxes.
“To select the supplier for this major investment,” explained general manager Eddie Mah, “we visited Weldcoa’s facility and also visited a couple of its customers. We got a good look at the benefits that automation delivers, as well as the precision and professionalism that Weldcoa exhibits within its own manufacturing operations. That quickly convinced us that Weldcoa was the supplier that would be able to get us to the next level of efficiency and profitability.”
Improves Flow and Accuracy, Reduces Costs and Increases Margins
WeldWorld’s new fill system comprises nine rows (linear fill stations) that each handle 24 cylinders on 12-in. centers, all on a 16- by 60-ft. fabricated-steel deck. Included are two oxygen manifolds and two inert-gas mix manifolds— one for four-gas mixes and one for five-gas mixes.
All four filling-panel stands feature the Weldcoa Sur-Fill touchscreen that provides consistent overall fill levels and product quality and instant fill report capabilities. “We knew that the new Weldcoa fill plant would improve our efficiency, but the added bonus is the improved accuracy we’re getting from our fill operations,” noted Kocken.
“The user-friendly interface prompts operators through the fill process,” said Mah, “and the mixtures are produced exactly to spec. We get the right product at the right time, and the orders are filled and out faster than ever.”
The impact on the firm’s cylinder handling can’t be overlooked, either. “The setup truly reflects our professionalism,” added Mah. “The amount of cylinder handling has been reduced, and the fill environment is incredibly safe. Customers that come through here often comment on the improved environment. In fact, thanks to the huge positive impression that the new fill plant provides, we’ve gained some previous customers that we had lost to competitors.”
“The new plant is making money, and when combined with the support and expertise we get by having Weldcoa as a partner, we feel that we really got a gem.”
Automation Delivers Endless Benefits
Among the key features contributing to WeldWorld’s gem of a fill plant, explains Mah, are the variable-frequency drives used to control pump-motor speed, and the audible prompts the software delivers to the operators at key points in the fill cycle. “The controls communicate to the operators, letting them know what’s going on during the vacuum, vent and fill process,” Mah explained. “It alerts them when the end of the cycle is near and when they need to conduct leak tests. This gives the operators the freedom to perform other work around the facility, rather than having to stand by the control screen to monitor the process.”
They also get alerts from the system regarding pump operation and performance. “These are $30,000 pumps,” says Kocken, “so this added level of monitoring and communication by the PLCs can avoid problems that could potentially ruin the pumps. Instead, the system will shut down the pump and alert the operator to a problem.”
“Weldcoa understands all of the issues that can arise at a plant like ours,” Kocken continued, “and they automate all of the tasks needed to avoid those issues.”