087. Hero – Bill Medcalf, Director of Information Systems at Global Process Automation Transcript

Chris: 00:00

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger, and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market. Instead, we focused on advice and insight from a top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today, we’re going to have a fun with a hero episode where we’re talking to mr. Bill Medcalf, who is the Director of Information Systems at Global Process Automation. Welcome Bill. 

Bill: 00:43

Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me. 

Chris: 00:44

Glad to have you and looking forward to going through this with you and, knowing we’re trying to inspire people here. And one way we love to kick these hero episodes off is just given to you the chance to walk through your personal journey, to the role that you’re in now. 

Bill: 01:00

Okay. I actually started mid nineties and my initial job was to start to do the migration from Dos to Windows 95. So that kind of gives my age away a little bit.

I have been doing this for the past 24 years. I’ve done a lot of work on data collection. So taking these silos of information and connecting them up to data historians in different NDS systems in order to bring actionable data from the plant floor to the business units, as a necessity. I got involved with networking because, obviously connecting the systems together requires a great deal of knowledge and networking and how things communicate.

So that was how I got started on my journey. I’ve worked in just about every manufacturing vertical possible, and I’ve seen things that would make your hair stand up. 

Chris: 02:00

Really, I’m sure you have Bill. Hopefully we get into some of those a day. Now for experience in a role like you, from a school standpoint, where’d you study and where would you recommend for the people that want to get and follow a path like yours to start investing their time?

Bill: 02:17

There are lots of great colleges. I went to Florida state. And you know, maybe that was more of a party college, but are a lots of great engineering programs out there. I think having a solid foundation clearly will help you. If you’ve already started that foundation, there are tons of resources on the internet.

As I said, I do a lot of data analytics. I do a lot of networking and network security. There are different OEMs that have a wealth of information and training that’s available free online. You know, depending on where you’re at, if you’re just fresh out of school and you want real world examples, listening to podcasts like this from people who’ve been in the trenches forever is great.

Like I said, in these training videos, a lot of the OEMs have specific training videos that teach you different techniques and whatnot, all of which are great for further in your career in the young automation and industrial control systems. 

Chris: 03:18

No doubt. No doubt. So Florida state, huh? 

Bill: 03:22


Chris: 03:23

I hear ya. I had a roommate in college and he actually went to Florida state. He had a, he was there for two semesters, had a wonderful time and a 0.0 GPA. So, yeah, but no, in all seriousness, it’s your, there’s so many different paths to take and I think listening to people like you will help inspire and give that guidance to the next generation. And you’re an industry all the time and you have such a diverse background.

There are a lot of challenges out there right now. So what are you seeing as some of the greatest challenges the industry has over the next few years? 

Bill: 04:02

I think probably the greatest challenge is going to be living up to the promise of digital transformation. Industry 4.0, as we progress, we’re taking in many cases, legacy systems, and we’re trying to bring them up into what is now considered commonplace. Being able to access data on our tablets, on our cell phones. Being able to connect to the cloud. Use AI. That type of thing. And so I think our greatest challenge is going to be how we can capitalize on this. How we can get data from not only new systems, but legacy systems. Be able to securely communicate those across all parts of the business. 

Chris: 04:48

Absolutely. Absolutely. great, great point. I mean that whole, everybody talks about digital transformation and industry 4.0, but it’s a long road to get there. Isn’t it? 

Bill: 04:59

Yes it is.

Chris: 05:01

So if you were to go and to be able to give some advice for people that want to come into this industry, what would that be? 

Bill: 05:09

I’d have to say is the ready for a challenge. And again, being across multiple different manufacturing verticals, everything has a challenge, it’s, it’s a career, right? And those challenges are what makes it interesting every day you go in and there’s something new. If it’s not new and it’s not interesting, it’s just a job. And I think at least from my opinion, manufacturing is something that always deliver something new, something different. I don’t feel like I’m going in and going into the cubicle farm every day. I get to go out. I get to meet lots of people. Am I gonna get to see lots of interesting things.

Chris: 05:51

Right, you know, so far as developing people and seeing people and meeting them, what do you find yourself doing, from a pay it forward standpoint and trying to bring up others? Are there any types of programs or just personal mentorship that you’re offering to others in their development?

Bill: 06:09

So internally we do so some mentoring. Of course, we always try to look for co-ops from the engineering schools that give them that opportunity to get their hands on things and get some real world experience. So that’s primarily where we focus. Like I say, co-ops and a lot of times we’ll hire you know junior engineers or people who are just out of school and we’d pair them with senior people so that the senior people can get them up to speed and help them understand how things work in the real world, if you will. 

Chris: 06:43

Absolutely. Now, so far as you personally, are there any mentors that you have and what did they do specifically that impacted you in your journey?

Bill: 06:54

So I’ve had a couple of couples new mentors who have influenced my journey in positive ways and maybe some not positive ways. But, I, I would say that of all of my mentors, the kind of the message was if you set your mind to doing something, you can do that. Yeah, I know that sounds really cliche, but a lot of times being afraid of what comes next or being afraid of what the outcome is holds us back. 

And you know, sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and sometimes we have to face a challenge if you will, in order to learn from that challenge to be able to move forward. And as I say, started I started out in pulp and paper and, you know, I had some awesome mentors there who had been in the industry way longer than I had. And like I said, I think that’s probably one of the biggest takeaways is if there’s something that you want to do go after it and don’t hesitate and go after it and be successful. 

Chris: 08:02

No doubt, no doubt, Bill. If you were to think about projects and things that get you excited about the future, you’re in so many different things that are changing so fast, what gets you pumped up?

Bill: 08:15

So I, and I know this may sound silly, but, is AI has been evolving in process mapping and things like that. To me, that’s new territory, right? That’s new ground to cover. And so I find that very interesting and I also find very interesting as we, I deal a lot with networks and security, how we’re applying some of those metrics and applying things now on software defined networks and things like that.

Just the technology of it in the advancements that we’ve made within the last couple of years and the promise of what we’re going to do in the next five, 10 years. To me that gets me excited. I want to dig in, I want to learn more and I want to be involved with that. 

Chris: 09:03

So how are you going about that? Are there certain areas that you go to study for this type of stuff? Just curious, what are some of the paths that you’re taking here to advance your learning, with AI and these different areas? 

Bill: 09:15

So some of it is, from the internet like everybody else. I learn a lot, really from different sales and distributor presentations, things like that. I learn a lot. I’ve been in the business enough that I’m not necessarily going to jump at every little shiny object that somebody dangles in front of me. I have that ability to to do the critical thought process through, is this an advantage? Is this moving forward? Is this something that’s sustainable?

It’s through sales channels, it’s through the internet. There are several great LinkedIn groups that I’m a part of. And there are several groups. I also do a lot of programming and there are several groups that I follow and get involved with that deals specifically with programming around AR and some of the AI. Technology that’s out there. 

Chris: 10:08

Okay. That’s great. thank you for sharing. That definitely gives you the people who are trying to follow a path, an idea of things that you study. And I kinda, I like asking this question this way, when you’re in that moment of what I call flow, where it’s rocking, you’re doing what you love to do. What are you doing at that moment? 

Bill: 10:31


Chris: 10:33

That’s a great answer. Maybe to clarify doing what you love to do at work and that it couldn’t be the same answer. So be careful here. 

Bill: 10:42

Yeah. You don’t want to tell too many secrets, right? I think that, probably, actually engineering network. So it’s kind between the engineering sitting at the drawing board or, if a white board and mapping everything out.

But then I also that, you when I get that opportunity to be out in the field and actually boots on the ground and in plugging in cables and terminating cables and stuff like that, I love that stuff. I’m a hands-on guy and I really do enjoy doing that kind of thing. 

Chris: 11:16

That’s pretty cool. Now that kind of leads me into my next question because I wouldn’t anticipate it. I wouldn’t the field work being the piece that you enjoy. So maybe this is a great an area here for you. If you were to have a chance to debunk a myth, a batch of your profession or batch, you know, people in roles like yourself. What is that myth out there that she like, you know what, that’s not what we do. This is what we do. 

Bill: 11:43

So I guess there’s a couple, so I guess the first one is not all nerds know how to speak cling on. I just never picked it up. but I think the other thing is, as my daily job, you know, I’m dealing with networks and I’m dealing with control systems and I’m not the guy to call when your printer breaks or your iPad is not working. My wife all the time is on her iPhone asking me why isn’t this working. And I’m not an expert at that. 

Chris: 12:17

So you’re you’re not the go-to IT guy, right? 

Bill: 12:20


Chris: 12:21

I’m with you, I’m with you with thank you for clarifying that. So Bill you’ve had such a great career so far. Is there anything that stands out as a highlight that you’d like to share?

Bill: 12:32


Chris: 12:34

No Highlights?

Bill: 12:37

I guess, one of the things that, a little bit tongue in cheek maybe is the fact that I’m still here and I’m still doing it. I have a lot of things in my life that I do. And, there are a lot of things, you do for a year or two and you’re really into it. And then know, it falls by the wayside. You lose interest in it. And I have to say, I’ve been with this company for the last 24 years. And sometimes I want to pull my hair out, but at the end of the day, I still like to get up and go to work in the morning.

And I, I kinda take pride in that. You know, that I’ve been able to keep up with the technology because the technology has changed tremendously over the last 20 something years, but I still find it enjoyable. I still like to do it. 

Chris: 13:31

That’s wonderful, man. Somedays it can be very stressful, I’m with you though when you’re actually at a company and you’re, and you’ve been there and you putting in your time and you’re loving what you’re doing.

It’s nothing like it. And so that’s great to hear. You know, it definitely sounds like, you know, GPA’s, he’s taken care of you and you have a lot of pride in what you do. And, so maybe now we can take a turn down, we’ll go down a dirt road here. We’ll get off of the corporate world and talk about you outside of work. What, what, what are some hobbies you have, man? 

Bill: 14:03

I like to fish when I get a chance and I like to play music. I’ve played music since I was eight years old. And so whenever I get that little bit of alone time, I like to just play some music. 

Chris: 14:17

So what are you playing? Is that a guitar? Piano. What type of, 

Bill: 14:22

CDs, the radio. YouTube. 

Chris: 14:25

Okay. Very cool. 

Bill: 14:29

No, I, I learned to play the guitar when I was eight years old. And, since then I’ve probably picked up every instrument with strings and I’m not saying that I can play the well, but, I can make sound come from them. Just about anything with strings on it, I liked to play with.

Chris: 14:49

Okay. Any certain genres that you enjoy? 

Bill: 14:54

Again, I started off early. I went through the garage band phase and played a lot of rock and roll. Here are a few years ago, I kinda got pulled into blue grass a little bit just because it’s the speed and the rhythm. It’s very challenging. And so I’m here as of late, if I’m going to pick up and play something, it’s probably going to be bluegrass. 

Chris: 15:20

Okay. So have you started messing with a banjo or a mandolin or anything like that? 

Bill: 15:26

Yes, I, I have a five string banjo and I started, playing the mandolin and got into that enough that I’ve actually made my own mandolin. I’m actually working on the second one right now. 

Chris: 15:40

Curiosity just went through the roof. So what’d you make this out of. 

Bill: 15:44

Out of some wood. There are some basically wood kits that you can buy. So the, the top in the back or spruce the block for the neck is maple. So you can buy, she had said different levels. And so basically I bought wood and sat down and build it and, 

Chris: 16:09

That’s a, that was a fun project. So what’d you learn throughout that? Were you able to do it all in one kit? Do you have to get multiple kits or how did that work? 

Bill: 16:17

I, I was able to do it all in one kit. I think conservatively speaking, working, carving out the intricate details and all of that I think I only lost maybe a pint of blood. So w w was happy with that.

Chris: 16:34

So there weren’t any pieces left over to make like another small instrument or anything, right?

Bill: 16:38

A well there’s a couple of screws, there’s always a couple of screws loose when you play bluegrass music. 

Chris: 16:45

yeah, that’s right. That’s right. I mean, I don’t play a, bands or anything. Maybe I can come and play the jug while you’re picking on that mandolin. 

Bill: 16:53

There you go. And there’s always room for spoon players too. 

Chris: 16:56

That’s right. My luck I’d bring some forks and I still want to sound good. Great. Sounds like you had some fun hobbies out there. You, and by the way, you should probably get out to, where’s it at Floyd. Have you ever been out there for their bluegrass festival? 

Bill: 17:10

I have not. 

Chris: 17:12

That’s a good one to go to. they have, know it’s a big following. So I think somebody like you, as passionate as you are, you probably, you would enjoy it. And it sounds like you’d fit right in with them. And it’s a good time.

So we also love to talk on these hero episodes just about family. So anything you’d like to share with us, with our listeners on your family and what’s going on at home. 

Bill: 17:34

Okay. I’m married to my wife, Jean, I think we’ve been married close to a hundred years, but I think it’s probably closer to 40 years, but I have children and step-children, grandchildren.

Right now I would say we’re empty nesters, but, we’ve got two Pomeranians and, Tom cats. technically I guess, we’re not completely at home alone, but. 

Chris: 17:58

That’s great. So we’re going to go with the 40 years, not the 100, maybe it’s maybe it feels like a hundred to her. Could that be more accurate?

Bill: 18:07

You know, again, I don’t know whether it’s patients or medication, but it’s, it’s worked out well for us. 

Chris: 18:16

That’s great. Maybe we’ll put that in the tag line for this, you know, for this episode patients or medication, you figure it out, but, that’s great. Bill, if you had, I love it. Very curious with your answer, the way this is going. If you had a big bucket of money and you could spin it anywhere, where would you put that at right now? 

Bill: 18:38


Chris: 18:39

There you go. You didn’t go. I didn’t know where you would go with it, but I wanted to throw that out there for you. 

Bill: 18:48

I was going to say either retirement or lottery tickets, 

Chris: 18:51

It could be one in the same, you just, you never know.

Bill: 18:54

Yeah. Yup. 

Chris: 18:55

You’re out of Wilmington. love that part of the world. Any advice for people who are traveling down there to certain areas or certain spots that you’re like, if you come to this area, man, you got to go here. 

Bill: 19:09

I guess, going back to family life. So I grew up in Florida. I met a woman from West Virginia, and so for us, Wilmington was that middle ground, right?

W we were close enough to everybody’s family and that worked out and, again, that’s been that a hundred years ago. When we first moved to Wilmington and Wilmington at that time was a very small community. And so over the years, Willington has grown and grown and grown. So my advice to people who have not been to Wilmington. Stay away.

Chris: 19:48

Okay. All right. So we’re w I’m with you on okay. Stay away. So let’s say that you can’t stay away if you really want to come there. Any certain spots, a locals only type deal that you’d like to share? 

Bill: 20:01

For me. You know, the South end of Carolina beach. Curry beach, if you’re into history, there is a wealth of history, whether it’s, civil war history. There’s an air force base. That’s down at Fort Fisher. A lot of people don’t even realize it’s an air force base. Of course, we’ve got, the battleship right here. And if you come to Wilmington, you need to plan on eating. Back in the day, when they had telephone books, there was more yellow pages for restaurants than there were like residential phone numbers. So if you come to Wilmington, be ready to eat. 

Chris: 20:40

No doubt about it. And I guess if you’re going all the way down to the South end and have a Curry beach, then down there, you got to get a Brit’s donut while you’re there. 

Bill: 20:47

Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Chris: 20:50

Very good. Bill, we’ve really enjoyed this conversation, getting to know you’re a ton of fun. We always, we call it EECO Asks Why. We love to get to the why, and the why for these episodes, this down to purpose and what drives you. So if you were to have to answer that, what would be your, your motivation and your drive? 

Bill: 21:11

That’s a hard one, I would say that my motivation and drive is that I like what I do. So therefore, it gets me up every morning. Maybe when I started it might’ve been, it’s a job and it pays my bills, but, over the years it’s become more than that. Again, it’s the, it’s why you get up in the morning. I look forward to going and doing. 

Chris: 21:37

Absolutely. Well Bill. I think our listeners know why you get up? You’re a ton of fun and any chance they would get to engage with you, I think would be a good engagement. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you. Inspire a lot of people. You you’ve, you’ve done so many different things and you’re so good at all of them. And, so you’re an inspiration. So I really appreciate you taking the time. Really enjoy this hero episode, sitting down and talking with you today, sir. 

Bill: 22:03

Thank you. I’m happy to do it.