Amtrol visits URI campus to strengthen ties with University, gather for annual North American sales conference

Rhode Island company is celebrating 70th anniversary

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URI students Anthony Kennedy, of Norton, Mass., Mallory Dale, of North Kingstown, Meaghan O’Connell of Rehoboth, Mass., and Alain Audate, of Pawtucket, supervise a booth for Amtrol during its annual sales conference on the Kingston campus. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hazard Flynn.

KINGSTON, R.I., June 9, 2016—If you saw a lot of water heaters at the University of Rhode Island yesterday, don’t worry. The tap didn’t run cold.

Amtrol held its annual North American sales meeting on the Kingston campus to celebrate its longstanding relationship with URI, especially in the engineering program.

Besides bringing in 60 sales associates from as far away as Alaska, the company—which is celebrating its 70th anniversary—also displayed its inventions, including the acclaimed thermal expansion tank.

“We’re very much in support of the University, in general, and especially the engineering program,” said Larry T. Guillemette, president and chief executive officer of the company. “The URI students have done extremely good work for us. I’d love to see us do more.”

Guillemette said URI was the perfect spot for the conference. The late Chester H. Kirk Jr., who graduated from URI with a degree in chemical engineering in 1940, founded Amtrol in 1946 and was a generous supporter of URI.

Together, Kirk and his wife—now remarried as Heidi Kirk Duffy—gave $1 million to establish a chair in chemical engineering. Duffy, chair of the International Engineering Program’s advisory board, has, along with her current husband, David Duffy, continued to contribute to IEP scholarships and buildings at URI.

Also, the Kirk Center for Advanced Technology on the Kingston campus is named after Chester Kirk. Amtrol workers and URI representatives took a tour of the building as part of their meet-and-greet with President David M. Dooley and Raymond M. Wright, dean of the College of Engineering.

“We are thrilled to have a continued relationship with Amtrol,” said Wright. “They have been a great partner to engineering, and we are fortunate to have their support.”

URI has strong ties to the West Warwick company, which makes water heaters, well tanks and chemical containers, among other products. Amtrol revolutionized the industry when it invented the world’s first pre-pressurized diaphragm expansion tank.

Two to three URI engineering students each year do their senior capstone design projects at Amtrol, said Chris Van Haaren, senior vice president of engineering. The projects are challenging and provide students with hands-on experience—crucial in the engineering world.

In the past, students have worked on heat exchanger designs for hot water tanks and fluid flow concepts for water systems, and they’ve examined how to make products easier for customers to use, said Van Haaren.

“This is their time out of the textbooks and into the office and lab to make it real,” he said. “They are so enthusiastic, and they have a great rapport with our engineers.”

Guillemette agreed: “I think the students are terrific. It’s always uplifting to work with bright and talented young people. They contribute so much to the company.”

The Amtrol sales associates participated in workshops at the University throughout the day. “We wanted to come back here where it all started and look from the past to the future,” said Kieran Andre, director of communications for Amtrol.

URI students working as tour guides this summer supervised a booth with Amtrol’s 3-D printer, giving out miniature water heaters made of plastic. Anthony Kennedy, of Norton, Mass., Mallory Dale, of North Kingstown, Meaghan O’Connell of Rehoboth, Mass., and Alain Audate, of Pawtucket, said it was a great experience to work closely with the thriving Rhode Island company.

“Networking is so important for us,” said Kennedy, who is majoring in ocean engineering. “Having a contact, a physical person you can talk to, is great. I think URI provides that opportunity in so many ways.”

Amtrol also set up a timeline on a campus walkway, showing the company’s progress over the years, starting with the 1940s: “In a small garage, Chet Kirk and his brother begin making heating system accessories and American Tube Products Inc. is formed.”

In the 1950s, “Chet uses baby buggy rims to hold the diaphragm and dry ice to set the precharge and the Extrol is born. Yankee ingenuity at its best.” In the 1960s, the first “pre-pressurized well tank springs to life,” and, in the 1970s, the company becomes Amtrol. The 1980s bring the indirect fired water heater, and the thermal expansion tank debuts in the 1990s. Gas cylinders are a hit in the 2000s, and propone tanks on wheels hit the shelves in the 2010s.

Katherine Hazard Flynn, executive director of URI’s Business Engagement Center and director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, said the University was “thrilled” to host Amtrol on campus.

“Six months ago, when Amtrol contacted URI’s Business Engagement Center about planning this conference, we took the ball and ran with it,” said Flynn. “Amtrol is a key URI partner and a visible company in Rhode Island. We were thrilled the company chose URI for this important national meeting on its 70th anniversary.”

Pictured above: URI students Anthony Kennedy, of Norton, Mass., Mallory Dale, of North Kingstown, Meaghan O’Connell of Rehoboth, Mass., and Alain Audate, of Pawtucket, supervise a booth for Amtrol during its annual sales conference on the Kingston campus. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hazard Flynn.