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November 07 Businessexcellence 127 The idea of the ‘burning platform’ as a catalyst for change is well-known, but few companies have had quite the literal experience of Uniweld Products, Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The fire in September 1999 was truly catastrophic,” said company executive vice president David S Pearl II. It destroyed about 45,000 square feet of our building, including the majority of our machine shop and the whole of our office area, including graphics and printing. Our computers and 50-plus years of business experience were lost in one night.” When you’re faced with that devastation, simply getting up and running again is the chief priority. “We were immediately faced with a fundamental decision: whether to close the doors or to try and make a go of it. We decided to pick ourselves up and carry on.” Simply expressing the will is not enough, however, and history was not on their side. “Statistics show that most organizations that experience what we went through don’t make it past five years. We’re proud to say that we’ve just passed our eight-year anniversary of the fire,” he said. The fire has proven to be the point of origin for Uniweld’s reinvigoration. “We look at everything, disaster or otherwise, as an opportunity. We knew it would be a lot of work for the whole team but we began work immediately,” he explained. While the fire was devastating, only a portion of the factory was ruined. Knowledge and intellectual property are two of the most valuable assets a business has and, while the offices and computers were gone, the people were still there, and they still had the knowledge. A huge stroke of good fortune also played a part. “One of two areas which contained most of our documents, drawings, routing sheets and other data, escaped damage. Our computer records were destroyed and we had no storage offsite. We had a group of undamaged CNCs, although the majority of our screw machines and special equipment was ruined.” Customer support was outstanding and help came from other businesses, who loaned equipment and parts. Uniweld began shipping again within 10 days and was approaching normal capacity by December 1999. There were problems still to be overcome, not least the loss of several million dollars’ worth of precision-ground cutting tools. “We decided to change our methods where we could,” said Pearl. The insurance money was put to good use and Uniweld’s factory is now equipped with advanced machinery. “We went to single spindle/multi-axis CNC screw machines with automatic bar loaders; we can leave them to run all night, with no-one here and come in to something looking like Christmas morning the following day. We still have some legacy six-spindle screw machines but the majority of our machinery now is post-2000.” Uniweld was established in 1949 in Fort Lauderdale. It employs around 265 people and is one of the major players in welding, HVAC/R (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration) and alloys, and has warehouses and representation in Las Vegas, Nevada and in Houston, Texas. It has offices in Canada, South America, and the Middle East. It’s one of very few US-based businesses in its market and exports a significant percentage of its product line, which includes welding, cutting, brazing and heating outfits and kits, refrigeration tools, vacuum and charging hoses, welding, brazing and cutting tips, accessories, pressure gauges and alloys. “We sell to the welding industry, to construction and shipbuilding customers and any other industry that uses a welding torch somewhere, which is pretty much all of them,” he said. “There are different needs for different activities and we try to support all of them. If you want to build an oil refinery, you’ll need a lot of cutting and welding torches. Shipbuilding is similar but construction will have different requirements. We would expect there would be something for everyone from our list of over 8,000 SKUs.” Uniweld is based on product excellence but it also brings out a stream of new and innovative goods and services, as its market develops. Centurion® and Rollin’ Roughneck, for example, are welcome additions to any welding crew’s equipment roster. The company describes Centurion as ‘economical, lightweight and extremely portable, UniweldProducts “We would expect there would be something for everyone from our list of over 8,000 SKUs”

128 Businessexcellence November 07 excellent for brazing, welding, and cutting almost anywhere on the job site’. Rollin’ Roughneck is a tough and durable portable heavy duty oxyacetylene welding and cutting system. More delicate trades, like jewelry and optometry, as well as artists and DIY enthusiasts, are served by the Artorch® lightweight fl ame tool for welding, brazing, heating and soldering. LeakSniper® detects leaks in AC and refrigeration units; ChargeTron® is a contemporary essential, which tells the technician exactly how much refrigerant has been removed or charged. Uniweld makes pretty much everything for technicians and maintenance teams, as well as for heavy-duty applications. Go to any major shipyard, process plant or construction site in the world and you’re likely to fi nd Uniweld equipment, somewhere. “We sell in over 80 countries across the world. We’ve built Uniweld from the foundation of the fi rst 50 years into a company with effective planning and a focus on customer satisfaction,” said Pearl. “Our modern equipment allows us to run new inventory techniques and gives us better control. We test every item before dispatch; internal quality control is governed by QC inspection and operator responsibility, with sign-off/acceptance in a number of areas. Foreign competition is tough but we respond with quality, a superior product and state-ofthe- art equipment for effective production. Our training program is designed to bring people forward, fast, and we continually encourage them to come up with ideas. We encourage competition between different teams, with the ongoing focus on improvement.” Uniweld supplies some pretty competitive markets. Through testing by fi re, it has shown itself to be as tough as the people it serves. UniweldProducts