Specify the Real Thing. Low Cost Substitutions Can—And Do—Result in Problems Down the Road.
A seasoned veteran in the specialty gases industry once said, “A specialty gas can be defined as any gas that has a value-added element.” I have always thought that definition true, because the compressed gas industry caters to extremely diverse and wide-ranging applications on a global scale.
To limit specialty gas applications to only those that require high purity gases performs a gross disservice to our industry. With that said, here are some important issues that the Harris Products Group considers when discussing specialty gas applications with end-users.
What is the customer going to do with the gas and why?
This could be overstating the obvious, but if there is no clear understanding of the application, how is it possible to make recommendations for equipment options? If the application is not clearly defined up front by the customer, it should be one of the first questions asked by any sales or technical service personnel. Understanding the application will also produce a clearer picture of what ancillary equipment may need to be addressed.
What equipment will satisfy the customer’s expectations?
This sounds easy on the outside, but minor details that may be overlooked can create a major miscommunication between manufacturer, distributor, and end-user. Additionally, the customer’s expectations and the supplier’s assumptions will often differ.
What grade of equipment should be used?
Obviously, UHP equipment should be used with UHP gas, but what if the application is food service? Laser fabrication? Medical? Having a clear understanding of what grade of equipment is appropriate or required is very important. This evaluation should also include a review of any gas pressure and flow control equipment recommendations for downstream equipment.
Purging. Specialty gas systems should be designed to ensure that gas purity is maintained throughout cylinder change-out. The most reliable method of accomplishing this is through the use of purge devices. Purging to maintain system purity should be conducted with the source gas and the appropriate purge devices as part of the regulation and supply equipment. Inert gas purging can also be performed to maintain system integrity and increase the life of equipment. The user should contact the gas supplier or equipment manufacturer for recommendations on the purge devices needed.
What degree of maintenance/service will be required after the sale?
When specified, installed, used, and maintained per the manufacturer’s instructions, specialty gas equipment has a relatively high degree of reliability and should last well beyond the product’s warranty period. Equipment suppliers should choose products that minimize the amount of maintenance/service required after the sale. Distributors can discuss this with the manufacturer to determine what set-up and accessory items will fulfill this goal.
Avoid selling equipment for specialty gases based on price.
It might be a tempting alternative to substitute a lower cost industrial grade regulator in a laser fabrication system. This decision will come back to haunt you when the resonator optics are damaged and your customer decides to charge you for the repair because you did not supply the proper regulator.
Many other examples of poor judgements of this type can be cited, any one of which can also result in damaged or contaminated downstream equipment. Always keep in mind that specialty gas pressure and flow control equipment has unique features that are designed specifically to handle high purity and specialty gases. Low cost substitutions often result in problems down the road as you watch a competitor stepping over your former customer’s doorstep.
David W. Gailey is Manager, Special Products Group, The Harris Products Group, Gainesville, Ga. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org