Volume 12, Issue 5 - June 2011


Dollars and Sense
How One Company Stopped Throwing Argon Out the Window
by Tara Taffera

When Northeast Building Products (NBP) found out in 2010 that the company was losing 10 to 15 percent argon out of every cylinder, company officials were determined to do something about it. Management researched options and eventually reduced its argon loss down to a minimal amount.

The company first discovered the problem as it began preparing for the arrival of a new machine and, in the process, discovered some inefficiencies in its current methods.

It found that the problem lies in the .333-cubit foot argon cylinders. Eric Gerstenbacher, NBP vice president of operations, says these were easy enough to move around the plant and then hook up to the argon gas fill machine (both a traditional machine as well as the Sashlite system). The cylinder would then feed the probes into the gas units. But Gerstenbacher says there were two problems: argon waste and lost production time of approximately 15 to 20 minutes every cylinder change. The company had, at that time, three argon gas fill stations.

“We wanted something to be there all the time, additionally, we knew we weren’t getting all the argon out of the cylinder.”
—Eric Gerstenbacher,
NBP vice president of operations

“We wanted something to be there all the time,” he says. “Additionally, we knew we weren’t getting all the argon out of the cylinder.”

Northeast turned to its current supplier, JF Martin Inc., of Philadelphia for suggestions. The company was instrumental in helping Northeast find an alternate supplier that could meet its growing needs.

“We still buy propane with them but not argon,” says Gerstenbacher. “They were nice enough to turn us on to other companies.”

That other company was Matheson Valley, which suggested Northeast switch to a 1,000-liter bulk tank that can remain stationery.

While the company knew it had to look into this more economical option, the process was sped up, according to Gerstenbacher, due to the impending arrival of a high-speed Bystronic line in 2010.

“We wanted to reap the rewards of the new line,” says Gerstenbacher, “so the machine’s imminent arrival kicked this project into high gear.”

With the installation of the larger tanks, the company saves the time spent in moving the tanks around the plant floor—and has cut its argon loss to a minimum.

Also, NBP no longer has to stop production to refill the tanks, thus getting the maximum benefit from its new machine, which also translates into a high rate of labor savings. NBP also now purchases argon in bulk, which offers a reduction in price.

“They have a truck that comes in and fills it,” says Gerstenbacher, who adds that the company doesn’t even have to pick up the phone or place an order. “It is wired to our system so when the argon runs low Matheson Valley gets an email and comes out automatically to refill it.”

The window manufacturer does have a backup system in place, but Gerstenbacher says that in the one year of operation with the new system there “have been absolutely no issues.”

“You have to put some money out initially,” says Gerstenbacher. “But you definitely reap the rewards.”

It Pays to Change
Start-Up Costs
Tank pad $4,000
Run plumbing for the argon $11,000

Material savings Approximately 40 percent
*Annual labor savings $2,000 for each argon gas fill machine
($6,000 annual)
*Gerstenbacher notes that these are conservative numbers and
likely even greater savings have been realized.


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