Airgas is making major strides in helping its customers become more competitive by addressing efficiencies in their welding operations.
By Staci Davidson, Managing Editor, Knighthouse Media
With more than 1 million customers, Airgas is known for its quality of service, as well as the quality of its products. The company is the nation’s leading single-source supplier of gases, welding equipment and supplies, and safety products. Airgas is known nationally with more than 950 retail locations, but it goes beyond retail service to ensure customers have what they need.
About 10 years ago, Airgas realized customers wanted a greater level of technical expertise for their operations, and so the company implemented a way to apply cost-measuring analysis to customers’ welding programs. Called “Unlocking the Hidden Cost of Welding,” Airgas educates customers how labor impacts welding costs; how gas and other welding inputs effect quality and penetration; and how customers can trim 20 percent or more from their operating costs without capital investments. Airgas developed a curriculum based on industry needs to train Welding Specialists and to help our customers compete in their respective industries.
“We focus on customers’ quality standards – our program is designed to help you become more competitive in your industry,” explains Rob Tessier, National Director of Advanced Fabrication at Airgas.
The program starts with a 45-minute seminar on the “economics of welding,” so senior management can gain a better understanding of where company money is going. Next, Airgas specialists conduct an efficiency analysis to benchmark customer operations against others in their market and identify areas where each client can save money.
Following these preliminary steps, managers can attend a three-and-a-half-day class – half in a classroom, half in a lab – to discover how quality standards can lower costs and improve profitability.
“We look to see how you can maximize what you do in your own facility, with your current equipment and how our clients can help their teams improve quality standards,” Tessier says. “We really look at the root cause, so companies can maximize what they’re purchasing and adjust their system to be more profitable. We don’t teach how to weld – we teach how to control your financials with welding.”
The final step is for Airgas specialists to go onsite with clients and work with them to improve their operations even further. “What keeps them up at night?” Tessier asks. “If they are not satisfied with something in their operation, how can they fix it? We don’t say ‘this is right’ or ‘this is wrong,’ we show them how to take their existing equipment and evolve.
“It’s fundamentally a lean process, and it’s good for the entire industry,” he adds. “It’s in our best interest to ensure the industry is robust in America, and we need an atmosphere that is conducive to improvement.”
More than 2,000 people have gone through the Airgas program so far, which has yielded “a lot of nice success stories,” according to Tessier.
“It’s really created loyalty,” he notes. “We are truly trying to help our customers compete. The program is available to everyone who does business with Airgas. By keeping our customers competitive, we stay in business.”
Currently, Airgas is offering the program at its regional welding education centers in Tulsa, Okla.; Bessemer, Ala.; Stow, Ohio; and Seattle, although it is looking to expand it to more areas. Airgas also offers a standalone efficiency analysis, where it analyzes customers’ purchasing data to help them improve. The company also is working to roll out an efficiency analysis on plasma-cutting systems.
“There are many things we can help customers with, without forcing them to buy something new,” Tessier says. “We’ve all been doing this for a long time and it’s become a very tight-knit group. We’re not talking about products – we’re getting involved with the products and helping customers see things they don’t see. It’s very rewarding.”