When Craig Hall took over as managing director at IM Fabrications Ltd., a small-scale commercial kitchen workshop in Lytham St. Annes on Lancashire’s Fylde coast in the UK, he knew it would mean a lot of work. Located on an industrial estate next to Blackpool Airport, IM Fabrications has a staff of less than 10 and a part-time secretary, meaning that Craig’s day starts at 7am, when he checks emails and takes care of day-to-day accounting matters; he also writes estimates for prospective clients, plans jobs and shifts, and ensures health and safety compliance before, at about 8am, his favourite part of the day begins: welding. “Whatever paperwork doesn’t get done in the morning, I do later in the afternoon, after I’ve finished on the shop floor,” says Craig.
IM Fabrications specialises in catering work, manufacturing stainless steel components for restaurants and bars, school kitchens, and even laboratories. “When you watch a TV cookery show and see all the metal counters, tables, sinks, and vents,” explains Craig, “that’s exactly the kind of thing we are expert at making.” Although IM Fabrications produces standard sizes of the kind found in most purpose-built kitchen spaces, an increasingly important area of the company’s work is producing custom solutions.
It is this ability to offer bespoke items that marks Craig’s company out and sees him asked to price jobs as far away as Peterborough, Sheffield, or the Scottish Borders: “Although there are six of us welders here, often there are only two of us on the shop floor because the others are out fitting,” says Craig, gesturing about him. “That means that we need to trust each other: sometimes, one person will finish on a Friday and be on site the next week, while the other comes back on Monday after a few days out fitting. The workshop and the equipment need to be ready to use.”
“The Qlixbi gas cylinder package is very helpful in this regard,” explains Craig, since the convenient changeover mechanism “quick, easy, and everyone knows how to use it. Back when I was at college,” he reminisces, chuckling, “regulators were difficult to attach and sometimes, if they hadn’t been put on properly, you’d come back in to an empty bottle the next morning. So essentially, with Qlixbi, it’s about peace of mind when I leave the shop floor.”
“Regulators were difficult to attach and sometimes, if they hadn’t been put on properly, you’d come back in to an empty bottle the next morning. So essentially, with Qlixbi, it’s about peace of mind when I leave the shop floor.”
“It’s not just the speed and ease of changeover, though,” he adds. Craig also likes the reserve indicator on the side that turns red when gas is starting to run low, which allows him to efficiently identify empty cylinders “at a glance, whereas before, you’d have to go around tapping them to see if there was anything left.” He is also thankful for Qlixbi’s ergonomic wheel and connector that rotates 360 degrees, making it both easier and safer for his employees to move cylinders. “It’s all very well thought through,” he concludes.
Thanks to the Qlixbi manage digital platform’s auto restock and stock alert features, “Qlixbi can even automatically reorder cylinders for me when I need them!” he adds, visibly impressed. At IM Fabrication’s current size, he explains, gas stocks are not yet an issue, “but this may well be something we use in the future as we grow.” The Qlixbi fab assist app also strikes him as “something we might need as our clients increasingly move their designs into the digital space.”. In the two decades since Craig left school and began his apprenticeship as a welder, he has seen the market change, but not the technology: “Qlixbi really changes the physical side of how we work though, and I expect the digital transformation will start to make itself felt in the coming years. It’s something we should get into,” he adds, “but at the moment, it’s a question of time,” looking at his watch in way which indicates that he really will need to get started with today’s job soon.
When asked what it is specifically that he loves about welding, Craig thinks hard for a moment: “I can’t really explain it, but there’s a pleasure in knowing how to do something well – and when you’re behind the mask, you’re in your own world,” he says, pulling down his safety visor.
Qlixbi's ergonomic wheel allows easier cylinder handling across the workshop.
Qlixbi has an instant click-in connector. This way switching cylinders is super quick.
Craig can focus on his work and monitor the remaining level of gas in the blink of an eye.
Thanks to a mix of mechanical and digital innovations, Qlixbi makes the act of welding easier, faster and safer.
We talked to Jean Bécourt Foch, Qlixbi Program Director at Air Liquide, about what Qlixbi offers, how it was designed, and where it is headed.
Why did Air Liquide want to provide welders with a completely new gas cylinder solution?
Welders are talented craftsmen who love their work, but they are in a highly competitive marketplace, often in small companies in which they have to take on a lot of supplementary functions, and their job is both physically and mentally demanding: it’s loud, they have to move large, heavy components, and they also have to understand and adjust a wide range of parameters such as material thickness, amperage, and gas supply. We wanted to offer them support in their busy, complex working lives and thus contribute to their competitiveness.
How was Qlixbi developed to suit welders’ needs?
We started with design thinking workshops and in-depth interviews with over 700 welders, some of whom we shadowed on their shop floors in order to better understand their needs. We also engaged with suppliers of cylinders and valves as well as the service companies who supply them to welders. Then we started the first cycle of development, which was creating a ‘minimum viable product’ – i.e. a working pilot which could be tested with welders early on before it became a prototype – before moving into the second cycle, which was making it mass producible. This new way of working not only kept us close to welders’ needs, but also cut our development time to four years whereas, on other projects, we needed seven.
Over 700 welders, actual Air Liquide customers, were involved in the Qlixbi Innovation process/ Design thinking
What can we expect from Qlixbi in the near future?
The physical components of Qlixbi are now on the marketplace and will stay as they are: cylinders and accessories that are used every day need to have a long and stable life. We will continue to develop the digital component of Qlixbi, however, as it is an agile element which responds to changes in the market and to our clients’ needs.
Article published on September 19, 2019