Q&A with John Frinzi, Executive Vice-President, Kenan Advantage Group’s KAG Merchant Gas
What were some of the challenges to transporting liquid oxygen, medical gases and other industrial gases this year, especially at the height of the pandemic?
John Frinzi (JF): The intermittent shutdowns during the pandemic created numerous disruptions in supply. The notable challenges include increased volatility in demand, reduced access to customer sites, and enhanced Covid-19 protocols. The pandemic caused greater personal disruptions than professional challenges during Covid-19. Employees not only had to deal with increased demands of work, but they also had to manage childcare responsibilities, care for affected family members, and cope with personal stress of exposure during this time.
Did you /KAG Merchant Gas drivers have to contend with shut roadside restaurants, motels, gas stations which made things more difficult?
JF: There were difficulties in having to deal with closures or restricted access to roadside travel stations. It became a critical function of dispatch and drivers to adequately plan rest breaks well in advance. The hotels maintained adequate capacity and didn’t pose many challenges.
Did you/KAG Merchant Gas drivers have to do longer hours sometimes to get the deliveries done?
JF: Our entire staff worked exceptionally hard to keep customers adequately supplied during the pandemic. I’m most proud of the tireless efforts from our front-line managers, mechanics, and drivers who really went above and beyond to complete all critical deliveries while staying compliant with HOS regulations.
At its peak, how much oxygen were you delivering over and above what the normal demand is?
JF: The overall demand for the year is about 20%. There were initial geographic areas that experienced a 300% increase at the onset. There’s been a steady increase nationally since the Fall.
What workarounds have you had to put in place this year to deal with the change in demands?
JF: The pandemic required us to be able to quickly assess customer demand, resource utilization, and equipment planning. At the onset of Covid-19, we added capacity by converting nitrogen units into oxygen service. We then proactively deployed and staged our critical trailer assets into densely populated markets to be available for later use.
Did you have to prioritise oxygen and move deliveries away from other industrial gases like nitrogen and argon at any point?
JF: There was an offset in demand of product lines during the pandemic. The intermittent shutdowns led to reduction in demand for nitrogen and argon. At the same time, demand for CO2 and oxygen have increased to keep up with medical use and food production.
Will KAG Merchant Gas be involved in the distribution of dry ice, related to the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine? Have you already seen increased activity in this area?
JF: We’ve seen a significant increase in CO2 usage during the past few months. KAG Merchant Gas plays an essential role by transporting liquid CO2 to dry ice plants, who have ramped up production for vaccine storage.
Was KAG Merchant Gas involved in trucking CO2 larger distances this year due to the regional shortages? What sort of distances?
JF: Yes, the force majeure of CO2 plants created a crisis in the market. We drove considerably longer distances to whatever source point was operable at the time. Our average trip miles for CO2 haul increased 40% from the previous year and the longest single trip haul was 1200 miles during the outage period.
Did you have to extend your fleet at all this year to keep up with demands?
JF: With the largest for hire fleet in the industry, we were able to modify our existing fleet to add capacity for oxygen use. We did choose to add five new CO2 trailers to keep pace with the projected demand in that market.
How did you protect your drivers (masks, protective gear)?
JF: We kept our standardised process of providing sanitizing wipes, KN95 masks, and gloves to our drivers. There was tremendous coordination between our central office and regional units to ensure there was a continuous supply of all critical items throughout the pandemic.
Are you proud of your drivers’ efforts at periods of heightened anxiety over getting the virus?
JF: I’m extremely proud of our entire workforce, particularly the drivers. It was impressive to see drivers volunteer to support critical areas. Each local workforce had a core group of drivers who consistently worked extra hours or days when demand was at an all-time high.
What is KAG Merchant Gas preparing/expecting for 2021? Are you preparing for any increase in demand for certain products?
JF: We weathered 2020 considerably well and are prepared for greater success in 2021. In the Fall of last year, we reorganised the Merchant Gas group and launched a centralised dispatch centre with 24-hour coverage support. We now have a full-scale operations center that provides continuous support to our drivers, maintenance group, and customer base. We expect to see variable demand in oxygen and CO2 in the marketplace for the foreseeable future. We’re also seeing increased interests in expanding alternative energy fuels such as hydrogen and natural gas. With a sound infrastructure in place, ample supply of assets, and committed workforce, we’re extremely exited about the opportunity to lead the carrier market in 2021.