A company that started in a garage now is a partner in a $34 million air separation plant opening early next year. A South Dakota family business with

A South Dakota family business with roots in its founder’s garage now is a partner in a more than $34 million air separation plant opening early next year.

A-OX Welding Supply is one of six partners in Minnesota-based Absolute Air, a consortium of independent companies that invested in the new plant to achieve vertical integration.

“Our supply of atmospheric gases has come from various major corporations over the years. We’ve had to change suppliers based on cost, availability and effects of huge mergers and acquisitions,” said Dr. Terran Bergdale, who leads quality control and technical sales.

“The Absolute Air plant will not only serve as a source of product for the owning companies but can also assist other plants in the region during maintenance or other downtimes.”

If you’ve been to a hospital in South Dakota in the past 15 years, you’ve likely used A-OX Welding gases. You also might have seen them at Hy-Vee and The Gas Stop. As a full-line supplier of premier specialty gas, industrial gas and equipment, A-OX serves a five-state area and huge range of industries, from medical and industrial to food service and scientific.

The company itself evolved from two businesses: Dakota Welding Supply, which was founded in 1944, and A&B Welding Supply, which was started in 1959 by Harold and Bob Elliott in western South Dakota. Harold was a traveling welder who started the company after struggling to secure a source of wire for his work.

He founded A&B from his home garage with his son Bob, and his son Don joined the company in 1961. In 1964, they bought Dakota Welding Supply, which had locations in Sioux Falls, Watertown and Huron.

In 1994, Dakota Welding changed its name to A-OX Welding Supply Co. Harold’s grandsons Thomas and Michael Elliott are now the majority owners of A&B and A-OX.

A-OX Welding Supply is led by president and CEO Thomas Elliott and his wife, Linda, who oversees collections and event planning. Michael Elliot is president and CEO of A&B Welding Supply. Thomas and Linda’s four children, including Bergdale, hold various roles within the business.

The partnership in Absolute Air will help the company readily secure bulk purified oxygen, nitrogen and argon, instead of purchasing the gases from an outside separation plant. It was formed in 2019 as a way to help independent welding supply companies better compete with major gas producers.

Oxygen and nitrogen cover a large range of medical applications, from therapeutic drugs to device gases, which are used in calibration of diagnostic equipment and pressure-driven tools.

“Research laboratories use oxygen, nitrogen and argon to support various types of analytical techniques, including nuclear magnetic resonance, inductively coupled plasma, mass spectrometry and gas chromatography,” Bergdale said. “Liquid nitrogen is often used for cryogenically freezing critical samples or supplying freezers. Atmospheric gases may also be used in various mixtures to grow and maintain cell cultures.”

The new plant offers significant implications to the bioscience and biomedical community, said Joni Ekstrum, executive director of South Dakota Biotech.

“Having a local provider of gases with such a variety of applications in our industry is a huge asset for South Dakota researchers and biotech businesses,” she said. “We’re excited to see how A-OX continues to grow its business thanks to this key investment and to see how our member organizations are able to take advantage of it.”
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