LP Gas

Talking tanks: Manufacturers maneuver into opportunistic positions

The tanks and cylinders that contain our valuable product under pressure became a focus for us last month.

We talked to a composite cylinder company that’s making a push in the United States. Hexagon Ragasco, with Norwegian roots and U.S. operations now in Lincoln, Neb., has launched a North American brand called Viking Cylinders.

The company has manufactured composite cylinders since the late 1990s and has sold about 8 million units around the world, with much of its success coming in the Scandinavian countries. But it hasn’t done much in the United States – until now.

“We believe, and the market tells us, that the consumer wants this product,” says Tarun Kundhi, who works in business development for Hexagon Ragasco North America. “We need to take it straight to the consumer, and in order to take it to the consumer we needed a brand.”

The company first plans to demonstrate product demand for the 11-, 17 and 31-pound cylinders available to the U.S. market (a 22-pounder is coming soon). To this point, it has been focused on the marine, RV and camping, and other outdoor markets, but it hopes to grow beyond those areas.

And it’s already making inroads. Hawaii Gas’ propane cylinder exchange program, called PropaneXchange, uses Viking composites, and Florida propane retailer Propane USA makes the composite cylinder available to its customers. The product is also available through other retail outlets, such as marine shops, and outdoor propane-powered equipment manufacturer Lehr Inc. Viking Cylinders will be available in more than 200 (non-propane) retailers by January 2014, the company says.

Hexagon Ragasco would like to work with propane retailers and is fast-tracking a tool that would allow cylinder owners to find refill locations in their area.

While cost may be a barrier for some in adopting the composite cylinder – the product is about three times the cost of a steel cylinder, retailing for more than $100 – Hexagon Ragasco says its products have notable features, being light, transparent and noncorrosive.

As the company makes its move in the United States, it’s finding a need to educate the propane industry on the safety aspects of its cylinders. A May recall of more than 55,000 composite cylinders from The Lite Cylinder Co. of Franklin, Tenn., has clouded the competitive landscape for composite cylinders, according to Kundhi.

“There are cylinders on the market by multiple manufacturers, and those are good, safe cylinders,” he says.

Kundhi says retailers and refillers should educate themselves about the composite cylinders on the market – Amtrol and Composite Scandinavia also manufacture composite cylinders – not only to protect consumers during a recall but also to maintain reliable customer service and keep approved cylinders full at customer requests.

Look for U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) markings and company labels. Hexagon Ragasco’s special permit number and company name are located at the top of the cylinder and on the boss (where the valve attaches), as shown in the photo above. The company name and web address are also found on the case. All new cylinders will show the Viking Cylinders logo and web address (www.vikingcylinders.com).

DOT has offered details about The Lite Cylinder recall, including how to identify and properly dispose of affected cylinders. Visit www.phmsa.dot.gov.

Open house

Discussions turned to considerably larger vessels when we visited Highland Tank’s new manufacturing facility in Manheim, Pa.

Like Hexagon Ragasco, the company is discovering opportunities in the U.S. propane market. It manufactures propane tanks ranging in size from 3,900 gallons to 60,000 gallons for commercial and industrial uses, and it also has an interest in autogas applications.

You can read our report on page 10 of our October digital edition, as well as news from other tank manufacturers, in Vital Signs.

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.