WEST WARWICK, R.I.—Guill Tool & Engineering always has been active in the military defense market.
Now its extrusion products are helping stock the Arsenal of Health to combat the invisible threat posed by COVID-19.
Founded in 1962, Guill Tool jumped into action for a medical device customer that needed to produce a certain size tubing in a hurry to produce ventilators for patients struggling to breathe because of the respiratory illness.
One of the customer's plant operators reached out to Guill Sales Manager Thomas Baldock.
"He said, 'We're really going to need you to step up to the plate and help us out.' Then he laid out the situation," Baldock said in a phone interview. "The customer was switching all of his production over to making these hoses. He had our dies throughout his plants and he needed a lot of tooling quickly. We got it done in a big rush."
Guill mobilized a team of six employees to produce tips and dies for an inline die assembly. The tooling can be swapped out to make different size tubing.
"We lined up our resources—people and machine tools," Baldock said. "We said we've got to stop what we're doing, switch over to this and knock it out."
Guill had the metal in its inventory and the team cut it to length, set up the new tooling and ran it, turning, grinding, polishing and heat treating the dies that would be used to extrude PVC tubing.
"The dies are made of stainless steel that's precision machined, tight tolerance and highly polished. That's where our specialty is," Baldock said.
Soon after getting the rush job, Guill was shipping the tooling via special air freight arranged by the customer.
"That normally would have been at least a four-week turnaround, but we got it down to matter of days. It was less than a week," Baldock said.
Guill designs and manufactures custom extrusion tooling for a wide variety of markets, including wire, cable, fiber optics, wood composites, medical and automotive tubes, rubber, industrial pipes, and packaging.
In 1995, the business became the first major extrusion tooling company to receive ISO certification for meeting international standards, according to the Guill website.
Extrusion tooling accounts for roughly half the company's annual sales, which are about $20 million, Baldock said. Federal defense jobs make up the other 50 percent.
The company, started by A. Roger Guillemette, originally supplied parts to the U.S. Navy before expanding into extrusion tooling.
Guill's two business units each are essential, and sales are up for both.
"Fortunately, for me and the people that work at Guill Tool, the first quarter for both sides is better than the first quarter of last year," Baldock said. "I know many businesses in the country aren't doing well, but ours is very strong and we're cautiously optimistic."
Guill has 77 employees, and none have been furloughed as the company supplies a lot of medical and U.S. military customers, including manufacturing parts for nuclear submarines, satellites and aerospace projects.
"The defense industry in this country is mammoth," Baldock said. "Any disruption has unbelievable ripple effects so the government wants to make sure everything is business as usual. The government decided we needed to stay open."
About three years ago, Guill opened an in-house laboratory for rheology—the study of the flow of matter—with several machines for testing materials, especially new compounds to be extruded.
"We have engineering software to do flow analysis inside the die," Baldock said. "We relied on an outside lab for many years but it got expensive and caused a time delay."
Guill invested in a hybrid rotational rheometer, a differential scanning calorimeter and a thermal conductivity meter. Lab workers can monitor temperature, velocity and pressure through the die.
"The testing equipment gives information that can more accurately predict the flow of material inside the die and that's been helpful for us and our customers," Baldock said.
The goal is to minimize the time between testing and production.
"Many customers and custom formulators bring their ideas to Guill. We're able to test materials for performance and especially extrudability," Baldock said.