Walhonde’s innovative alignment tools save major companies time and money

Walhonde Tools Inc. of Charleston may not be a household name in the hills and hollows of West Virginia, but the small manufacturer has built quite a national reputation.

The company primarily designs and manufactures precision tube and pipefitting alignment tools used across the United States in such industries as aerospace, construction, defense, oil and gas extraction, ship and submarine building and many others.

“What sets us apart is the innovation,” said Walhonde President Matt McClure. “If the job has to be done right the first time and precision is paramount, then our tools are the only tools out there.”

Walhonde’s custom-made devices are used by the U.S. Navy, NASA and General Dynamics, as well as by construction and engineering heavyweights Bechtel, PCL and Kiewit Corp. – to name a few of the biggies.

And now SpaceX, one of the world’s most recognizable and innovative aerospace companies, is working with Walhonde to solve engineering and manufacturing challenges, said Rob O’Quinn, Walhonde’s vice president of business development.

“Using our tools, they took a 30-minute process and honed it down to three minutes,” O’Quinn explained. “And it was exactly replicable. You want to be able to do the exact same thing each time with precision and efficiency of speed. Which is crucial, because with propulsion systems it’s important to get it right every time.

“Our unique, patented alignment tools are like none other and through innovative design, they disrupt processes that have been around decades. We deliver results in minutes that would normally take hours. It is hard to find a mechanical tool that simultaneously addresses as many facets of pipe alignment as ours does. Walhonde Tools help close the skills gap in today’s tight labor market by making fit-ups easy and efficient.”

Walhonde also is prototyping specialized clamps for aerospace giants. The Kanawha County manufacturer is working with machinists at the Marshall Advanced Manufacturing Center (MAMC) in Huntington to manufacture the aluminum parts on the center’s EDM (electrical discharge machining) equipment.

Walhonde has a variety of metalworking equipment at its Childress Road manufacturing facility, but often leverages the newer advanced technology available at MAMC as well as the technical expertise of the center’s staff. The company currently is using MAMC to assist on four projects. It’s leasing MAMC’s new 3,000-watt fiber laser cutter and CNC press brake to manufacture control boxes for electronic scales for a customer as well as the EDM and a computer-controlled lathe to produce custom gears for an overhead crane.

“This company had a crane where the gears were stripped out and it was going to take something like six months to get replacement parts,” McClure said. “By teaming up with [MAMC] I’m going to be able to turn the job around in a couple of weeks. Everybody wins in that scenario.”

Walhonde began leveraging MAMC’s technology and expertise nearly two decades ago when McClure’s parents, Gary and Kay – who founded Walhonde – were running the company. Matt McClure, who took over operations in 2018 (though he has worked there in some capacity since 1986), said MAMC continues to be a valuable resource.

“We consider MAMC technology, technicians, machinists and staff as an extension of our Walhonde team,” McClure said. “If I have a design or production problem, they are there to assist us.”

McClure believes his inventions could be modified for use in the medical field. The company also is pursuing new customers in sectors that range from aerospace, the large-scale HVAC industry, ship and submarine building, liquid natural gas, and offshore oil and gas platforms.

“In addition, we have been able to have our tools play a role in the buildout of mammoth semiconductor production plants happening across America due to the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law in 2022,” O’Quinn said. “Our suite of alignment tools has enabled multiple companies working with both stainless- and carbon-steel pipe sized from 8 inches to 32 inches to get the job done in minutes verses hours, all the while eliminating radiography test reject rates due to alignment.”

McClure and O’Quinn said the best way to market their products is through on-site demonstrations of the tools’ capabilities, precision and ease of use.

Case in point: McClure traveled to Bath Iron Works, a major shipbuilding facility in Maine, to demonstrate his pipefitting tools. The 30-minute demo turned into an all-day event as additional engineers were pulled into the meeting. “Everybody was ecstatic because our tools solved so many problems,” McClure said. Four to five hours into his trip home, McClure received a call asking if he could return the next day to provide a demonstration for a company vice president. He made a U-turn.

“The vice president said that with our technology, shipbuilders everywhere could gain large productivity improvements while solving many challenges,” McClure said.

To learn more about Walhonde and its line of American-made alignment tools, visit the company’s website at https://walhonde.com.

June 27, 2024

Walhonde’s alignment tools are used to install gigantic piping on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

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