Having made more small medical fill systems in 2020 than in the three previous years combined, it can easily be said that business has been busy for Weldcoa this year, as a result of Covid-19.

Like many in the industrial gases industry, the Illinois-based company saw increased demand for many of its medical-related products during the height of the pandemic and impressively pulled together to turn products out 24-hours a day.

This was a main talking point when gasworld spoke to Hector Villarreal, President of Weldcoa, as part of our A Christmas Twist: The 12 Days of Content series.

gasworld (GW): What has 2020 been like for Weldcoa?

Hector Villarreal (HV): Weldcoa’s entire existence has been built around the leveraging of technology to empower increased productivity for our clients. By its nature, it is a path without signposts. Often times we move forward in the dark. The obvious risk is that it’s easy to get lost. But the reward, is that you can find a place where no one else has been before. The search for new solutions to old problems is what fuels our way forward.

The pandemic, for most people, has created that environment without signposts that I was talking about. Everyone, right now, is in a place no has been before. Weldcoa’s advantage has been that this is not an unusual landscape for us. This is our normal.

GW: What has been your personal highlight of 2020?

HV: On a micro level it has been a point of pride to see our team adjust and align so quickly to the new world parameters. It became very obvious to myself and my business partner, Maynard “Bud” Klotz, that the Covid-19 disruption was accepted right away by everyone in our employ. Our way of doing business, for the past 25 years, of evolving to meet new challenges, had mentally prepared everyone to shift with the times. There was no push back. There was no, “why are we doing this?” Everyone was briefed on the necessary changes and challenges and immediately took ownership and made it happen. It was very gratifying to witness.

On a macro level I am pleased that society has deemed our industry to be “essential.” The millions of people who labour, day in and day out, in our industry should rightly be recognised for their necessary contributions to the world’s infrastructure. To be recognised as an “essential worker” should be a point of pride for all of those men and women.

GW: What’s been the biggest challenge for Weldcoa in 2020? How have you overcome it?

HV: The effect on the supply chain was felt almost immediately. Supplies that we could easily get one day, became long lead times by the next day. Supplies with historically long lead times became nearly impossible to get. The great equaliser was that this disruption to the supply chain was felt globally. Everyone became aware of it in real time. As the new normal became evident, project schedules shifted by the force of the disruption. I’m fairly certain that project managers, around the world, aged severely overnight.

GW: During the pandemic, Weldcoa saw a rise in demand for medical fill systems and pallets. Can you tell us more about this and how the company coped with the increase demand?

HV: One of the advantages of being recognised as an industry leader is that in times of crisis you are on everyone’s quick dial. Because it had been widely communicated by the media, that the disease affected patients breathing, we expected a surge in medical fill systems. In fact, as of 1st November, we have made more small medical fill systems in 2020 than the previous three years combined. 

The calls started coming in around mid-March. At that time, in the US no-one really knew what to expect. But as the days turned into weeks, we became aware of the urgency. No-one ever specifically said it out loud, but we all felt that what we were doing was going to save someone’s life. Our welding teams took that very personally. Their dedication to getting things done and done well was evident by the output that they created. Everyone had a new sense of purpose. It was an extraordinary experience.

The big surprise was the surge in pallet and pallet truck orders. None of us saw that one coming. In retrospect it was obvious why we had a jump in these orders. The emergency field hospitals were going up all over the country. All of our clients wanted to move product securely by pallets into areas that hadn’t existed 30 days ago. No could have predicted that need a year earlier. Luckily for us those products are all built on robots. We turned product out 24 hours a day. 

GW: What are you goals for 2021?

HV: To still be in business in 2022.

GW: Finally, in the spirit of the time of year and theme of the series, if you could have one industrial gases related thing for Christmas, what would it be and why?

HV: I desperately need more fibre laser cutting tables and at least two more robotic welders. If Santa could drop off a pair at Weldcoa I will leave a pallet of cookies and a bulk tank of milk for him.

A Christmas Twist: The 12 Days of Content series continues tomorrow with an exclusive interview with Messer.