Interview with Dr. Phil Dater of Gemtech
By Matt Smith
Above: Dr. Phil Dater firing the Gemtech Outback .22 Suppressor on a Walther P22 pistol.
SAR: Recount for us how you got started in the business.
PHIL: It started in 1976, when I purchased a couple of Military Armament Corporation suppressors. One of the suppressers was on a Ruger MK 1 pistol, and after a brick of ammunition, it was not quiet any more. After the manufacturer refused to service the suppressor, I took it apart myself and figured out a way to repack it with copper scouring pads, in place of the original screen discs. In 1978, I got my first manufacturers license as Automatic Weapons Company in New Mexico, and started producing an improved suppressed Ruger pistol as well as other types of suppressors. In 1981, Peter Kokalis came out and spent a couple days with me and wrote an article for Soldier of Fortune Magazine, which did me an amazing amount of good. In 1983, one of my dealers, Lynn McWilliams, in Friendswood, Texas, approached me and we worked out an arrangement, where he would take care of the manufacturing and I would do the research and development. In about 1989, we went our separate ways as friends. In 1985, Lynn’s business became known as AWC Systems Technology, and is now located in Phoenix. I moved to Boise in 1991. In 1993, Jim Ryan and Mark Weiss of JR Customs and I formed Gemtech with Greg Latka of GSL Technologies coming on as a major partner in early 1994. We worked together for several years, but in 1998, we decided to split up. Greg and I kept Gemtech while Jim and Mark formed Tactical Ordnance. A year ago, I hired Kel Whelan to do our marketing, sales, and office management. Although we have always had steady growth, in the last four to five months business has really boomed. (Dan’s Note: Phil, is “Boomed” really the right term to use for a suppressor business?)
SAR: How would you characterize your customer base?
PHIL: We’ve been growing each year, since being formed. We’ve been getting a lot more law enforcement usage of our products, while the civilian market has increased with moderate growth. Our products have been exported with many going to the Asian rim, and have sold to the U.S. Military in sole source procurements. Currently, our products are being used by our military in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Our customer base is about sixty-five percent civilian, thirty percent law enforcement, and roughly five percent military.
SAR: Are any of your old designs still in demand today?
PHIL: Yes, the SG-9 integral suppressor for the Sten MK II and Smith and Wesson 76, which I designed in 1976 is still in high demand. I build thirty or forty of these a year in my spare time, and there is still a waiting list.
SAR: What are your best selling suppressors?
PHIL: Currently, they are the M4-96D quick disconnect .223 suppressor, the 9mm Raptor for the MP-5, and the .22 LR screw-on Outback suppressor.
SAR: Who are some of the other suppressor designers that you think highly of?
PHIL: I’ve always had a lot of respect for Doug Olson, who worked for years with Mickey Finn, and then with Lynn McWilliams, and currently for Reed Knight. He’s a very innovative man. Reed Knight is well known for his designs and makes excellent products, although they are expensive. Lynn McWilliams at AWC has historically been good at business and marketing, and has been able to promote a good product. Of the newer designers, I’m impressed with Joe Gaddini of SWR, who is an independent thinker. The men that I respect are those who think on their own. Any monkey can take someone’s existing products, cut them open and clone them, or stuff dimpled washers into a tube and call it a suppressor. Doug Melton of SRT Arms I respect, as he is an independent thinker and not a copycat.
SAR: What are your thoughts about research and development?
PHIL: Research and development is something you have to devote a lot of money and time to. First, you have to see a need for a new product or product improvement. Typically, on a suppressor, this means that it is physically smaller or more efficient. We strive for both of these goals. One of our R&D success stories is the M4-96D suppressor, which was developed in five weeks. Jim and Mark in Washington did all the paper work for the Navy request and Greg designed the mount and several ideas for baffles, which he sent to me for testing. I tested various prototypes with a meter over a ten-day period. We started off with a 24 dB reduction and ended up with a 32.5 dB reduction suppressor in the same size envelope. We conducted the required testing and ended up with a suppressor that exceeded the Navy’s requirements. Unfortunately, we did not win the Navy contract, but we did develop one of our best sellers in a short amount of time.
SAR: Do you have any new products you can tell us about?
PHIL: Currently, we have a new .223 suppressor that we are calling the Piranha M4-02. It has been designed for law enforcement entry teams, and priced under $500. The dimensions are 1-3/8’s inches in diameter, 6-1/4 inches long, screws on the barrel, and does 29 dB reduction on an 11 and 1/2 inch upper. We also have a new device we call the Linear Inertial Decoupler. This started with an idea from Joe Gaddini, which Greg modified. It works like a Nielson device, except there is no piston to drive the barrel backwards. This eliminates damage to the firearm, which occasionally takes place when the Nielson Device is not tuned to the specific model weapon. Our Decoupler isolates the mass of the suppressor from the barrel to allow the barrel to start the unlocking process. This device is so successful that it can even be used on a Glock 26 or 19 with our suppressor for flawless cycling. A patent is being applied for on this new innovation, which is currently available on our Vortex 9 suppressor and will be available on a .45 suppressor for the HK and other pistols.
SAR: Do you also have another version of the M4-96D for the belt fed M249 machinegun?
PHIL: Yes, it is the M4-96E. This is a ruggedized version of the D and incorporates laser welding of the baffle stack to maintain rotational orientation perfectly. One of the problems with prolonged firing of the M249 is heat generation. Running a 250 round belt with a suppressor in place develops a core temperature in the suppressor of 1200 degrees F, with the barrel temperature around 1000 degrees F. These temperatures cause ammunition to come apart and deposit copper residue inside the suppressor. Firing full belts is certainly possible with a suppressor, but will severely limit the life span of the suppressor. We will only sell this suppressor to the military, where fire discipline requires shooting in bursts, rather than complete belts at a time. We also have a new .223 suppressor we call the M4-96X for export, which will mount on any NATO standard flash hider. The mount is licensed from abroad, for the military and export only. Our .308 TPRS has been undergoing a lot of changes over the last two years with the revision of the baffle stack, to solve some accuracy problems. It is now also capable of handling .300 Win Mag with no problem. It is a frequency shift unit that places much of the sound into the higher frequency range outside of human hearing. The suppressor is also extremely quiet when shot with EBR subsonic ammunition, which we heartily endorse. The Black Hills subsonic .308 is also a solid performer.
SAR: Has the Internet been beneficial to your business?
PHIL: It’s of marginal value. The discussion boards seem to generate very little business for us, but are a value to the general public. We have a web site (www.gem-tech.com), which acts as a convenient international catalog. A number of law enforcement agencies have found and contacted us through our web site.
SAR: How have your printed ads in SAR done for you?
PHIL: We have gotten really good response to all of our ads in SAR. The people who read SAR are almost all potential customers for us, and this is what we strive for when we advertise. We will continue to support SAR as we have in the past, and encourage all of our customers to do the same.
SAR: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.
PHIL: You’re welcome.
P.O. Box 140618
Boise, ID 83714
PH (208) 939-7222
FAX (208) 939-7804
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