Operating within ‘the best of both worlds’ when it comes to rubber and plastic, Gallagher Corporation of Gurnee, Illinois has been making custom polyurethane components for original equipment manufacturers since 1965. The family-owned business produces millions of parts annually for the agriculture, military, mining, paper, material handling, oil and gas, and road construction industries, supplying polyurethane parts to large and small OEMs across the country.
“The components we make are bridging the performance gap between rubber and plastic,” said Rick Gallagher, President. “Polyurethane takes higher loads than rubber, is more impact resistant than plastic, and more abrasion resistant than both. We can also mold complex shapes, and overmold or bond polyurethane to metals, plastics and composites. Our OEM customers see the benefits of polyurethane components when their products perform better and last longer.”
While molded polyurethane products may appear similar to rubber and plastic products, the way that the products are manufactured is much different.
“The unique thing about our process is that we’re handling the raw materials as liquids,” said Rick. “Nearly all types of rubber are processed as a gum-like material that is worked into a mold and cured, while plastic comes in pellets that are converted through injection molding. Both cases require a mold that is usually substantial to withstand the molding forces. But for processing polyurethane, we can build a light-weight mold and make relatively large or complex parts with ease, all because we work with it as a liquid.”
Polyurethane’s mechanical properties are tailorable depending on its chemical formulation and its processing. Slight adjustments can produce polyurethane components as varied as bumpers that absorb millions of cyclical impacts, long-lasting wear pads and screens, cut and tear resistant wheels, and bushings that withstand high loads. Because of this, each product made at Gallagher Corporation is custom-tailored to the needs of the OEM.
“We partner with OEMs to figure out exactly what they need their components to do, and then we perfect the chemistry and the design to meet the requirements,” said John Gallagher, Director of Product Development. “We make our parts from start to finish. We can do everything here in house from application engineering to designing and making tooling, formulating and mixing raw materials, molding, machining in precise features, even assembling and painting products if required.”
Shaun Gosselin, Vice President of Engineering, added “for new customers that aren’t familiar with polyurethane and its advantages, it’s valuable to start with a technical overview about polyurethane. We call them ‘lunch and learns’. They are a great way to initiate creative thinking that flows into engineering solutions.”
The Gallagher Corporation has taken an “all-around” approach to their manufacturing business, which necessitates the use of several different manufacturing processes to ensure the highest quality parts. They have three processes for making polyurethane components: cast molding, injection molding, and 3D printing. Dick Gallagher started the business in 1965 strictly using cast molding. Injection molding was added in the 1980s, and 3D printing was added just this year.
Gallagher’s very first customers were in the tool and die business. “The metal forming process used to be much more difficult,” said Rick, “There would be male and female steel dies for making a product, and they would take a lot of time and money to fabricate. Our customers substituted polyurethane for the female die and reduced their tooling cost and lead time for short runs.
The entire Gallagher family has a passion for the family business. John, Rick’s oldest child, remembers spending time in a playpen in the office, and learning about the business from employees that still work for the company today. Though John joined the company just two years ago, he knows that manufacturing and his family’s business have always been in his blood.
John’s brother, Rich, has been a part of the family business since he graduated from college in 2013. Rich is a Sales Representative for Gallagher Corporation.
“I love what we do here,” Rich said. “It’s so interesting and cool that we make tangible products that solve real-world problems. I love being the first point of contact to our customers, hearing about their challenges, and describing to them how we can help.”
While Rick’s children were given the option of following in his footsteps and joining the family business, he always knew that he was destined to take the reins from his father.
“It’s always what the family was thinking,” Rick said. “Just like if you grew up on the family farm, you were going to take over the farm and work on it. But fortunately this business has worked out great for me. I love the engineering challenges that we get to help solve. And there is so much that you have to solve in order to be a successful business. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it all. My hope for this next generation is that they feel the same way too.”
As the third generation fully settles into their positions in the family business, new innovations, processes and expansions are taking place. Recently, Gallagher Corporation added a fourth building to the manufacturing plant, taking their total square footage past 150,000 square feet. The additional space will be used for expanding the company’s current operations as well as working on some new projects.
The company added 3D printing to the mix, revolutionizing the kinds of parts that can be made as well as the ways in which they are produced.
“With the new 3D printer, we are able to produce complex parts without ever using a mold – you jump straight from liquid resin to a solid product that makes itself right in front of your eyes,” John said. “It’s not just for prototyping either. It can be competitive for production projects.”
Gallagher Corporation is also working to innovate on existing processes – always looking for ways to upgrade capabilities and increase safety and quality. One such project is a robotic arm that will paint parts automatically. It will increase their efficiency and improve safety and ergonomics on what was previously a manual process to spray thousands of parts per day. This won’t eliminate a job at the plant; rather, it will enable an existing employee to move to another area that will be less physically demanding.
Another project added a laser marking capability so that Gallagher can offer direct part marking for better product traceability. Gallagher’s customers like having “born on” information that supports their quality control processes, supply chain management, and regulatory compliance
Ensuring a healthy and safe workforce is a top priority for the Gallagher Corporation.
“We definitely focus on safety and quality here, as well as the environment,” said Shaun. “We are very proud of being ISO 9001 and 14001 certified as well as being in the OSHA Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).” Gallagher highly recommends the Illinois run SHARP safety management program to all Illinois manufacturers.
Taking extra steps to guarantee high quality and safety has resulted in an almost-perfect track record for Gallagher Corporation, with 99.9 percent customer satisfaction and 99.9 percent on-time delivery last year.
“That’s really a testament to our team that works day in and day out,” John said. “They exercise precise control over everything that we do, and they make sure our projects are done right.”
Gallagher Corporation is a prime example of what it means to manufacture quality products in Illinois. The IMA is proud to call them a member of over 50 years!