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Zoning In with Tom Till

After 25 years with DePuy Synthes, most recently as Manufacturing Engineering Science & Technology Manager in the Joint Reconstruction division, Tom Till left the device manufacturing world to educate the next generation of engineers, machinists and technicians. He shared lessons learned throughout his career.

BONEZONE: What has been your greatest professional challenge? How did you overcome it?

Tom Till: Communication. E-mail and computers have facilitated the change in our internal customer base from one or two plants to multiple plants in multiple time zones around the world. Communication with one plant is significantly easier than providing quality, timely responses to people in plants everywhere. When you go to bed in the U.S. in Eastern Standard Time, the people in China are starting their day; when you wake up, it is mid-morning in Europe. I always tried to be timely in my response to e-mail and phone mail, but it became much more difficult to provide quality responses when working across different time zones. I tried to overcome this by working more hours, but was never satisfied because I never found a way to keep my work and personal life in good balance.

BONEZONE: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Till: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Always try to look at differences of opinion from the other person’s perspective.

BONEZONE: What advice would you offer others in our industry who seek professional improvement?

Till: Communicate with your customers! If your job has anything to do with the shop floor, then you need to make that time to walk through the shop and talk to as many different production associates on as many shifts as possible, as often as possible. This usually uncovers issues, and the resulting conflict is difficult and easy to want to avoid, but it provides the catalyst for understanding and change. It also builds trust and teamwork.

BONEZONE: What drew you to educating the next generation of engineers, machinists and technicians? What do you hope to accomplish in your new endeavor at Ivy Tech?

Till: Companies are building factories in other countries that offer significant tax advantage and lower labor costs. High school students have been pushed to believe that four-year degrees are the answer and, at the same time, the media prints and broadcasts stories that say we do not have enough trained workers with the technical and soft skills required. We have little control over the corporate tax rate, and simply cutting the wages of the American workforce will not solve the problem. Our best answer is to develop the next generation of high-tech production workers and engineers, and offer opportunities so these people have the solid foundation necessary to advance through the company—and provide the next generation of leaders.

In the last couple of years, Ivy Tech Community College has expanded its offerings from training the classic technical trades (tool and die, machinists, maintenance, automotive, HVAC, etc.) to providing pre-engineering and engineering technology programs where our two-year degree graduates will continue their education at a four-year university. My first position out of high school was working in a factory, machining tooling used to make nuts and bolts. I went to technical school because I wanted to be the best machinist possible, and received my first degree in Machine Tool Technology from Indiana Vocational Technical College (now Ivy Tech Community College) in 1982. Getting an education while working in the trade presented me with expanded opportunities in CNC programming and tool design. An engineering degree and business degree provided additional opportunities in manufacturing engineering and management. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been without education.

BONEZONE: Where do you see the industry in five years?

Till: Existing companies will continue to merge and new companies will start up; both will continue expanding by offering new and innovative products that will continue to improve the lives of our aging population worldwide.

BONEZONE: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Till: Work hard and don’t forget to enjoy time away from work with equal enthusiasm. It’s easy to get consumed by work when you love what you do, but it’s very important to maintain a healthy work/life balance. You only live once! Enjoy every minute!

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