Holox Ltd Initiates Efficiencies To Meet Southeastern Gases Market

July 1, 2000
With Internet-enhanced customer service in place, upgraded equipment in the fleet, and two new gas production plants in operation, Holox Ltd is poised

With Internet-enhanced customer service in place, upgraded equipment in the fleet, and two new gas production plants in operation, Holox Ltd is poised to meet the growing demand for cryogenic gases in the southeastern United States. Based in Norcross, Georgia, the company operates throughout Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

"Our customer base is growing every day because someone finds a new use for the products we supply," says Ken Beck, bulk logistics manager. "Right now, the market is strong. More and more companies are moving to this region. We have about 800 customers and their businesses are on the upswing.

"As for the future, we are anticipating more development and growth throughout the Southeast. To meet this new challenge, we are increasingly looking at ways we can operate more efficiently."

Holox, a US subsidiary of Hoek Loos of Schiedam, the Netherlands, operates 68 sales and distribution centers throughout the Southeast. Included are 11 cylinder gases plants, four acetylene plants, three air separation facilities, three scientific gases plants, one hydrogen plant, and one dry ice plant.

Among the latest marketing innovations is Holoxlogistics.com, a company web site that provides an Internet-based customer service program. Holox uses ITT Barton CryoScan software for tank monitoring purposes. The online order form is designed to make it easy and quick to complete. The information, which Holox obtains in standard ways from its customers, is analyzed to determine product usage based on the customer's previous history. It also has the capability to link into customer tank monitoring programs for inventory management.

In addition to the logistics web site, Holox has a corporate presence at www.holox.com. There, customers not only get a company overview and product line information, but they can access Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and safety and technical information such as a material compatibility chart.

"More and more customers are beginning to use the Internet," says Beck. "The logistics site gives us a very solid operational benefit for increasing efficiency and supplying documentation. We are taking our time with this because we want our customers to feel comfortable using it. The only consistency with our customers is that each one is different. For that reason, we provide tailored services to each of them."

Among the customers are Disneyworld in Florida, where carbon dioxide is used in softdrinks and for stage effects. Universal Studios also uses carbon dioxide for special effects. In Melbourne, Florida, and Dublin, Georgia, nitrogen is used by Rockwell for the aerospace industry. Onion growers flood barns with nitrogen to inert the atmosphere, and trout farmers inject oxygen into fish tanks.

Oxygen, hydrogen, helium, argon, and nitrogen are used in various industrial applications. Gases go to supply biotechnology laboratories and are used for various healthcare needs. Laser gases are applied in the metal fabrication industry. Holox supplies all of those markets - and more.

Supplying these varied applications calls for effective operations, and that means obtaining efficiencies from equipment. To that purpose, the company made a major decision to switch to tractor-mounted hydraulic drive systems for pump operations. Product pumps were powered by diesel engines mounted on the trailers. The engines added 500 pounds of tare weight. Any weight that is saved means additional product can be hauled. Fleet conversion to the Drum hydraulic system is expected to generate an annual savings of $7,500 per trailer in down time, fuel costs, and added hauling capacity.

"This will mean a tremendous savings," Beck added. "Those older trailer-mounted engines burned about two to five gallons of fuel per load and required a lot of attention." In another equipment transition, Holox replaced half of the 43 power units in the fleet with Kenworth T800 tractors with 355-horsepower Caterpillar C12 engines and Eaton 10-speed autoShift transmissions. Another nine similarly-specified Kenworths are on order.

The new tractors, leased from PacLease in Atlanta, Georgia, have Dana Spicer front axles and drive axles with a 3.70 ratio. Wheel bases are specified for 180 inches in order to meet bridge weight allowances. With driver and fuel, the day cab tractors weigh 14,800 pounds, says Beck.

"We really like the Eaton autoShift," says Beck. "We do a lot of intercity driving - over 100 of our customers are in Atlanta. Traffic is terrible, and that's where this smooth, autoShift comes in. It prevents a lot of wear on the trailer, driveline, and transmission. I think it is the transmission of the future.

"The switch to this transmission required some additional driver training. Drivers were leery at first, but after being behind the steering wheel for a time, they changed their minds. Although the transmission is computerized, it certainly doesn't eliminate the need for driver judgment."

Beck also estimates that about 400 pounds of weight are saved by using the Kenworths.

Maintenance Facilities While the equipment changes will make a large contribution to efficiency, routine repairs and preventive maintenance also are addressed. With the increase in business, keeping equipment on the road becomes imperative. To help alleviate downtime, Holox is planning a new shop in Jefferson, Georgia. The company prefers to contract mechanics from Rock Hill Truck Service in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but provides the shop sites. The new facility will contain a 3,200-square-foot, two-bay shop similar to facilities in Carrollton, Georgia, and Rock Hill.

Tractors receive general preventive maintenance inspections weekly and are on a 15,000-mile service schedule. Kenworth dealer shops handle repairs for injectors, electronics, and other components outside the capability of the Holox shops. The cryogenic trailers are low-maintenance vehicles, Beck says. But they are examined thoroughly once a month, receive lubrications as necessary, and are checked every week.

Higher fleet productivity and availability are meant to complement increased production being generated by the two new plants, one in Lanett, Alabama, and the other in Ashdown, Arkansas. Holox entered into an agreement with Knauf Fiber Glass to provide oxygen for Knauf's conversion of its Lanett plant to oxygen-gas firing furnaces. Holox constructed an air separation plant with a capacity of 220 tons per day of oxygen. This meets the needs of Knauf, as well as providing liquid product for the rest of the market in the region.

In Arkansas, Holox contracted with Georgia-Pacific Corp to provide oxygen for the company's paper mill in Ashdown. The air separation plant, scheduled to be in full operation by the fall of 2000, will have a capacity of 500 tons per day. Georgia-Pacific will use a large portion of the product to enhance mill operations. Holox also will produce liquid oxygen, nitrogen, and argon at the plant.

Holox storage capacity includes a plant at Rockhill where aboveground tanks hold 65,000 gallons of oxygen, 110,000 gallons of nitrogen, and 11,000 gallons of argon. At the Carrollton plant, the company stores 120,000 gallons of nitrogen, 65,000 gallons of oxygen, 11,000 gallons of argon, and 50 tons of carbon dioxide. Capacity at a Jefferson plant is 260,000 gallons of nitrogen, 150,000 gallons of oxygen, and 13,000 gallons of argon. At a Bythewood, South Carolina, plant, 50 tons of carbon dioxide can be stored.

Most of the tractor/tank trailer units are based at air separation plants in Carrollton, Rock Hill, Lanett, Ashdown, and Jefferson. Holox delivers its own product and leases additional equipment when necessary. In addition, the company hauls gases for competitors and purchases product from them. Two units are parked at a competitor's plant in Florida.

Although the equipment is based throughout the Southeast, all dispatching is handled at the Carrollton facility where the headquarters for the bulk transportation operation is located. Customer Partnerships

With its strong infrastructure, Holox focuses on customer service. The company builds customer partnerships by providing services in addition to industrial and specialty gases services. Services include product and advanced systems specialists, in-house engineering for gas installations and robotics, safety audits, training seminars and workshops, ISO 9000 quality program, technical field assistance, and gas supply mode analysis.

Maintaining a strong customer service profile includes practicing safety. Here, Holox excels. The company has won the Fleet Safety Award from the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) for the last four years. Holox won in the less-than-20-million-miles category for 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. The awards, sponsored by Praxair Inc, were created in 1988 to recognize outstanding safety performance among the industry's bulk and cylinder truck delivery fleets. The award is based on a CGA member company's total vehicle accident frequency rate, according to CGA information.

The Holox safety program includes monthly safety meetings where various issues are discussed and training films are shown. Holox uses videos obtained from CGA as part of its program.

The company offers safety and performance incentives for drivers, including one cent per mile, or 32 cents per hour, if applicable. Among the incidents drivers must avoid to qualify for the awards are chargeable accidents, safety equipment infractions, moving violations, equipment damage, failure to attend safety/training meetings, hours-of-service violations, missed deliveries, and failures to communicate product balances or levels. Payments are made quarterly to drivers who reach the goal. An extra $200 is paid to drivers who complete a calendar year without any infractions, says Bob Lowery, bulk distribution manager.

Prospective drivers must have two years' truck driving experience and hold a valid Class A commercial driver license. Those hired by Holox undergo one week of classroom training and receive on-road training based on individual experience and ability. Training includes company orientation and policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling.

"I think we have an above-average driver retention rate," says Lowery. "Some drivers have been with us for 10 to 20 years. I would say that at least 70% of our 49 drivers have been with us at least five years. We try to see that the pay scale is competitive. The majority of the work is local, so they usually aren't on the road overnight."

Another factor in driver retention is the decision to specify tractors designed for safety, Beck says. He points to the new Kenworths with cabs that feature windows installed in the lower part of the doors, mirrors on fenders and doors, and an expansive windshield, all designed to improve the driver's ability to see around the unit. Extra sound-proofing materials and an angled control panel add to driver comfort.

Tank Trailers The tank trailers are dedicated to a single product. Holox has 39 trailers, including five MC331 for carbon dioxide. Non-code trailers include 16 for nitrogen, 14 for oxygen, and four for argon. Typically, stainless steel 5,200-gallon trailers are used for oxygen, carbon steel 5,800-gallon for carbon dioxide, aluminum 8,500-gallon for nitrogen, and aluminum 4,500-5,000-gallon for argon.

Trailers have Meritor and Hendrickson air-ride suspensions. Antilock brake systems are from Meritor WABCO and aluminum disc wheels are from Alcoa. Holox specifies Bridgestone tires for its trailers.

Components on the trailers include Worchester, Powell, Goddard, RegO, Rockwood/Swendeman, and Anderson-Greenwood valves. There are ACD-Cosmodyne and Blackmer pumps and Hoffer Ace meters.

Trailers are from Texas Trailer Service Co, Alloy Crafts Inc, James Russell Engineering Works, Lox Equipment Company, Minnesota Valley Engineering Inc, and Cryenco Inc. Having kept pace with upgraded equipment, Internet-assisted programs, and expanded facilities, the company is well-positioned for future growth. The Holox mission is to focus on building partnerships with customers by consistently delivering products and services through a highly efficient and responsive distribution system.

About the Author

Mary Davis