129. Hero – Tim Wilborne, Industrial Sorcerer at TW Controls Transcript

Tim: 00:00 

Amber and I really enjoy being part of something bigger than ourselves. And, you know, I would urge everybody to find your passion and make it your purpose. That is just such a need in our industry.

Chris: 00:15

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that 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 focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome EECO Asks Why today we have a hero conversation and very excited to have with us, Mr. Tim Wilborne, who is the Industrial Sorcerer at TW Controls. So welcome Tim. 

Tim: 00:56

Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris: 00:58 

I must admit that is the most unique title I’ve ever seen on LinkedIn. I love it, man. That’s cool. 

Tim: 01:03 

Thank you. 

Chris: 01:06 

We love these conversations to just share with our listeners about your journey, to where you’re at now. 

Tim: 01:13 

Well, I would love to tell you that I went through school and knew exactly what I wanted to do and went to college for this, but my journey was not like that.

I grew up in a machine shop actually. And really I was helping out in my dad’s machine shop when I was about 12 years old. And when I turned 16, my dad actually made me go get a job in the service industry. And that was actually true for all our siblings. Some of us worked at grocery stores. Some of us worked at the mall. Some of us worked at the restaurant, you know, and I started off washing dishes and eventually waiting tables. 

This might seem like a small side note, but it’s the one time in my career that I had to engage with the public, both in their best and their worst moods. And that probably helped me more today, as far as communicating with people than anything I ever learned anywhere else.

But when I turned 18, I was allowed to go back and work at the machine shop. So I went back and I started learning more about machining and fabrication. And I always tell people I wasn’t a good machinist. And I always tell people that are in a father, son relationship. You can never pass your parent at a skill because they have 30 years experience on you.

So. I always encourage them to find some lane that they can kind of kick out and maybe become a compliment to their parents. And so at that time, my dad was wanting to switch over and do turnkey automation. At that point, they did really the mechanical part and somebody else to build electrical and someone else took the controls. Well they wanted to do it all in house and they didn’t have any body for programming. And so I thought,”Well, okay here’s an opportunity. Let me see if I can program PLCs.” 

And so my first project actually was probably one of my most complicated projects even today. And I went in at nights to work on the machine that way, everybody wouldn’t know that I didn’t know how to program. And I went in there and at the time, you know, we didn’t have the internet. So I went in there with all the manuals and everything, and I sat down there and I figured out how to program this machine. And so I started seeing that I kind of had a knack for this and it just seemed to be something I was interested in. So that kind of got me down this road to get started. 

Chris: 03:36 

Okay. Now that have that TW Controls, how did it lead to that? 

Tim: 03:41 

Well, I worked at my dad’s shop until actually, it closed and then I went and worked for a local manufacturer and long story short. Amber and I were pregnant, either seven or eight months with our first son and we both quit our jobs and started the company.

Chris: 03:58 

Wow. Okay. 

Tim: 04:01 

Yeah, we definitely didn’t have a plan. We definitely did not have a structure. We definitely did not have any of the things that you check the boxes to start this company. But we had heart.

Chris: 04:12 

I hear you. So what is the focus of TW Controls for listeners that may be new?

Tim: 04:19 

Well, TW Controls, probably the part that most people don’t know is our primary focus is actually building UL 508A control panels and building simulators and testers that are used in our industry. The two biggest ones would be our SIM-ALP2 Analog Simulator that can simulate a four to 20 milliamps signal or zero-to-10-volt signal and our semi-PE, which is used to troubleshoot and configure ethernet IP devices. 

Chris: 04:48 


Tim: 04:48 

But most people probably know as for our training, that’s what they hear from us. Which actually is not a revenue stream. Our training is an outreach program that we use just to get people into our industry.

Chris: 05:01 

Okay. So it’s two basically separate different entities within that TW Control umbrella. 

Tim: 05:08 


Chris: 05:08 

Okay. Very cool. And I love the service component that, your dad made that kind of forced you into. I was the same way I worked at a service station. So the old style, you know, where he pull up and rang the bell and we’d come out and clean your windshield and check your oil and things like that. And I’ll tell you what, working for the public I think everyone should have to do it once. You know, just because it does teach you so much, but it helps you in that communication. It’s definitely, I can just tell by your heart, you know, you, you love serving people and helping people, so that’s great.

Now I did notice on LinkedIn. I got to ask you about it. You put the college of hard knocks, and so what’s up with that all on your LinkedIn profile?

Tim: 05:48 

I did go the traditional school method to start with and I got three and a half years in and decided I knew it all and I quit and pressed on and learned that I didn’t know at all. And looking back, that may be one reason that I have such a focus on helping people get into this industry, because really when I was coming up, it was you finish high school, you go to a four-year school and you start a career. Well, I wasn’t cut out for a regular college. 

Somebody should have told me that there were technical colleges. I didn’t even know they existed. And you know, I could do the work, but I needed that hands-on component. I mean, I couldn’t take a test. And just to give you an example of it 20 years ago, it’s kind of starting to show my age there, I took a class, on motors. 

And this was a remote learning class and there was probably my second downfall is yeah, I was doing remote learning 20 years ago and they definitely didn’t have it then. I don’t know that they have it now, but we did it on motors and it’s like, I just don’t think I’ll ever understand how a motor turns. And last year my kids were interested in motors. Well, you know, me, if you’ve seen most of my videos it’s okay, “Well, let’s go cut one apart and figure out how it works.”

And I cut that motor apart. And all of a sudden those equations from 20 years ago and everything, I mean probably with 90% accuracy, I remembered them. And all of a sudden I gasped, “Oh my goodness, this is how a motor works.” I needed that hands-on component. So the college of hard knocks are really those hands-on learning experiences that I’ve had on the way that really, I think have been probably. More important in building my career. 

Chris: 07:35 

Man, I’ll tell you what that traditional path that the high school counselors they’re pushing everybody towards that. That’s not always right cause then, you know, there’s so much that could be learned in these trade schools.

And I think just the work that you’re doing and advocating for people to learn a skill set and a trade. I mean, you will always have a job. You know, if you learn some of these things that you’re teaching. Absolutely. So how about, you know, you’re serving industry and in so many ways, what are you hearing out there from a challenge standpoint? What do you see down the pipeline from that they’re facing right now? 

Tim: 08:10 

Well, I think we just walked right into this question is people. I mean, there is such a shortage of people in this industry that I hear of companies that are making decisions, not to do capital improvement projects because they wouldn’t be able to get the people to run it or maintain it. I mean, and that’s just, that is just a sickening feeling that people are well one they’re wanting to spend money, they’re wanting to improve their processes. And the one factor that they can’t get is the people to support it.

Chris: 08:45 

Right. We’re hearing it too. That workforce attrition, I mean, the people are retiring faster than they’re coming in and you know, those mentors are leaving and so when I see stuff like what you’re doing at TW Controls, it just gives me hope. You know that you’re going to touch that next generation and really give them that information that they need to pursue this industry because I think there’s two Tim. What do you hear about this? Is there a misperception about industry? Do you think that’s, what’s holding some people back from wanting to come into it? 

Tim: 09:13 

Absolutely. We watch these history, documentaries, and you see, you know, this tall person, that weighs 250 pound all muscle and he’s covered in dirt. And then people think that’s what manufacturing is, but manufacturing is a clean, comfortable environment that we really have got to show more. 

Chris: 09:36 

Yeah. Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. And how about, I know you mentor a lot of the next generation. What’s some common tips that you’re giving people to when they want to start thinking about coming to this route versus a traditional college path and things like that? 

Tim: 09:54 

It’s not as hard as you think. I mean, I think if there’s anything I can tell everyone out there, it is not nearly as hard as you think, you know, everybody says, well, you gotta be super good at math. No, you don’t. There may be certain focuses that you have to be exceptional at math, but I will say that most of them you absolutely do not. And you’ll probably find as you get in, you’re actually better at math than you realize. You’ve just never had that practical application where you can be like, “Oh, that is why we would do that.” 

Chris: 10:29 

Yeah, that’s right. And then when you can actually see at work, and like you said, on a practical application andit seems like that’s when it clicks. And that’s why that teacher made me do that years ago. You know? 

Tim: 10:43 


Chris: 10:45 

Very cool. So Tim man, you’re helping people, you’re giving them this advice and you’re being mentors and you’ve talked about that. Do you have any mentors that stand out that has helped you along the way?

Tim: 10:58 

Well, yeah, there’s been a lot well, probably since we started off with me working in my dad’s machine shop, he definitely was one. Probably more than anything, I was never taught that there was anything I couldn’t do. I mean it would just wasn’t in our vocabulary. I mean, my dad was a firm believer that you could do anything. All you had to do is set your mind to it. And that’s what I try to make sure I tell people today. 

But probably more broadly is people in the PLC forums, which they’re not as popular as they used to be. And that’s a little concerning to me, but over the years, you know, they’ve encouraged me. Then they’ve guided me and even they call me out when I’ve got something wrong and the forums where there a two-way street, they are conversations just like you and I are having now.

And I worry about now we’re more of into consumer social media and don’t get me wrong I do need some people to watch my videos if you will, but it’s a lot of one-way street. You’re just looking at it and you’re like, “oh, well, I’ve got it.” And those relationships are still…… actually there, it just popped in my head.

 We talked, these relationships are, you know, virtual, but they’re not a lot of the products that even you see on TW Controls where we have partnerships with people that we met on the forums and they’re real, physical, genuine relationships and I do worry a little that we’re not getting that today.

Chris: 12:23 

Right. Now, the forums that you’re talking about, you know, maybe share some. What are some of them that you frequent that you find people still use? Maybe not quite as often, but I’d be curious to know what some of those forums are. 

Tim: 12:36 

Well, you have Phil Melore’s PLCs.net. That is probably I’ll say has a good, broad variety of people. There’s one over on Reddit, that’s a PLC forum and there’s, you know, there’s a few on LinkedIn, can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but yeah, probably my favorite one still, which was my favorite 20 years ago. Well, maybe it was 20 years ago whenever he started it. I mean, it was PLCs.net.

Chris: 13:02 

Yeah. Okay. Well, we’ll definitely make sure we put those links in our show notes, Tim, for the people who want to check them out and encourage them to go there and participate and learn more. So good stuff, man. Now how about, you know, for one year and a happiest, and you’re doing the work that you enjoy and you got a smile on your face, man, what are you doing in those moments?

Tim: 13:24 

Probably helping somebody, probably not for pay. I mean, really if I can get an email later and it may be a year later, it may be two years later, I’m getting emails that were 10 years later and somebody says, “Hey, that advice you gave me helped me get a job,” or, “Hey, I just used that answer that you gave so many years ago, I just used it to fix my machine.” I mean, those are just the moments that I still get butterflies over. 

Chris: 13:51 

Isn’t that awesome, man? That is so great. Now I am curious since you do have the panel side of your business and the education side, how are you splitting your time up there? 

Tim: 14:02 

Well, Amber will tell you, I probably spend way too much time helping people for free. We don’t do a good job at that, but I think that part’s important and yeah, there would probably never be a revenue stream that really you can look at an Excel spreadsheet and justify it, but we spend insanely too much time on it. 

Chris: 14:25 

Well, I’m sure it’s got to be leading you though with potential leads and connections for your business. And but like you said, the piece that you’re helping people is so fulfilling in itself. How about highlights, man? When he looked back across the things you’ve done what stands out or maybe videos that performed better than you thought they would perform? Just curious on what your take is here. 

Tim: 14:50 

Well, I mean, there’s plenty of highlights. Our first job was probably a big highlight because we realized that we weren’t going to go under. Our first international job. That was a big deal. Probably the one that sticks out the most to me is we had a job locally that some of the top engineers really couldn’t make work and they spent a year battling it. And actually they, you know, they brought in every manufacturer. Finally myself and three others were challenged with fixing it. They’re like whatever you’re going to do, figure out how to fix this thing. 

And so we spent about a year really planning it, and then we had seven days to shut the system down. And bring the next one online. And I’d love to say that we flipped the switch and it worked great, but, uh, no, it didn’t work that way. Thirty-three days later, we actually did get it working and working really well. And in that though, we took that system from an uptime of 50% to an uptime of over 99%.

I guess the control panel side of it, really, my favorite jobs are the ones where I worked my way out of a job. I mean, I was there religiously for so long and we got done with that and it was over. I mean, I don’t go in there but once a year. 

Chris: 16:06 

Right. Well, that sounds like a great story, man. And you said the international jobs. So where was your international at? 

Tim: 16:15 

It was in El Salvador. That was our first international job. 

Chris: 16:18 

That’s awesome, man. Congratulations. That’s great stuff. Now we love to talk on the hero episodes, Tim a little bit outside of work and in our careers, just to get to know the people. So man when you don’t have the camera on and you’re making awesome videos that help people, or you’re not building these great panels in your shop, any hobbies you got? 

Tim: 16:39 

Well, mostly I’m doing, doing things with my kids, and Amber obviously. And really, I enjoy trying to push them a little bit, trying to get them to explore something and expose them to something new.

Their project right now, actually. So they’re being homeschooled just for this year. And I didn’t like the amount of screen time they had. I just didn’t think, well, obviously you can tell that I’m a hands-on learner and I didn’t feel they were getting all that they could out of school. So we got them a 47 Plymouth. And by the end of the school year, they have to have that restored. 

Chris: 17:16 

Oh, wow. Okay. 

Tim: 17:19 

So here is the type of things we ended up doing. So know they’ve learned how to, you know, cut floors out, how to weld them. They had a budget and they couldn’t afford the floors. So they had to go buy steel. They had to learn how to bend their own steel. And they’re working on the brakes now and before the end of the school year for them to pass, according to dad they have to have it ready to sell. 

Chris: 17:42 

Man. Okay. That sounds like a fun project, man. Now, does dad jump in and help him from time to time or is it all them? 

Tim: 17:50 

It is mostly them. I like to say I’d guide them in the right direction. In fact I’ll send you a link to a video where they were learning how to use a brake drum puller. And I gave them enough to realize how to put it on and how to start tightening. I didn’t tell them that it was going to suddenly pop off or any of those things. I let them explore for a lot of it, but yeah, we have a good time with that. 

Also, Amber and I, we do a lot of drinking water and sanitation projects. That’s kind of a ministry that we really enjoy. And actually that came out of me working in El Salvador. We were doing a high purity water and a wastewater system at an industrial facility.

And we were like, “All right, where do you want to put the F.LOADER?” Or really the treated water. And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re going to put it into this gutter. And it goes out to the street,” and I’m like, “You can’t do that. It’s got to go into your municipal sewer,” and they’re like, “No, no. Come here.” And we walked over to the river and you can see the drain pipe from the sewage and everything else out of the plant and it just goes right in the river. They’re like, “It goes to the same place.” And it was the first time I really started thinking, you know, does everybody not have water out of the tap? And it just never had occurred to me before. 

Chris: 19:10 

Right. So how often do you guys get to do those types of projects?

Tim: 19:14 

Well, we’re always involved in something. Probably more than we should. It’s probably exactly the same as our PLC training. We’re involved more than we should. 

Chris: 19:27 

Gotcha. Well, if it’s a ministry is that’s important to you and that you have a passion for, I mean, I think that speaks to your character.

Tim: 19:34 

Thank you. 

Chris: 19:35 

Now you’ve mentioned your family. And so your wife’s she’s part of TW controllers, right? And then you have, is it two kids?

Tim: 19:41 

Yes, we have two kids. Our son, Michael is 14 and our daughter Wendell is 12. 

Chris: 19:47 

Okay. Now where are you from originally? 

Tim: 19:51 

Well, I’m from right down your way. I was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Chris: 19:55 

Okay. And your wife? 

Tim: 19:57 

So he was born here in Roanoke, Virginia. 

Chris: 19:59 

She’s from Roanoke, so you guys got family pretty close and local to where you’re at. 

Tim: 20:03 

Yes we do.

Chris: 20:04 

That’s very awesome. Very awesome. So how about when you think about things that you consume? Cause you’re on YouTube. I mean all the time with your stuff, but what are things that you watch or that you find value in from podcasts or YouTube or even books that you find you may be helpful for others? And it could be professional or just personal stuff you enjoy. 

Tim: 20:25 

Well, obviously EECO Asks Why. 

Chris: 20:30 

There you go. That’s the right answer, man. 

Tim: 20:33 

But yeah I actually listened to a large variety of content. And the main reason I do is I want to try to take ideas from other industries and try to figure out how to use them in our industry, you know, different ways of teaching, different ways of trying to keep people captivated because there’s nothing worse than listening to a dry lecture about motor, trust me, I did it 20 years ago. It didn’t work, but so that’s probably it, but usually, it’s something unrelated.

I do enjoy, you know, in automation, I probably enjoy Chris Luecke’s Manufacturing Happy Hour. That’s a fun one. Ray and Alison over at Manufacturing Out Loud. They’re doing some great things, but really I enjoy, I don’t know. What else do I enjoy? I enjoy crime podcasts. Those are, those are something I enjoy.

Chris: 21:28 

Yeah. And you go, I mean, and Chris, over there at Manufacturing Happy Hour does a great job. He’s been on we’ve been on his show and then even Ray Ziganto he’s been on EECO Asks Why so I mean, I love what they’re doing at Manufacturing Out Loud, that’s good stuff, man. Good stuff. Well, how about we’d like to play a game, Tim, if you’re willing to play. It’s a lightning round, we just ask a bunch of random stuff and then whatever comes up, comes up. How about that? 

Tim: 21:57 


Chris: 21:58 

I’m just going to fire from the hip man, so let’s see what happens. So starting easy. Favorite food buddy? 

Tim: 22:05 


Chris: 22:05 

Pizza. All right. Now, is that deep dish or does it matter? 

Tim: 22:09 

Pizza is pizza and even bad pizza is good pizza. 

Chris: 22:12 

That’s right. It doesn’t even have to be warm. Right? 

Tim: 22:14 

That’s right. 

Chris: 22:16 

How about adult beverage, man?

Tim: 22:18 

Um, either cheap beer or probably good bourbon. Quite the spectrum, huh? 

Chris: 22:24 

Okay. Okay. Sports teams?

Tim: 22:27 

You know, I don’t follow a lot of sports. I do enjoy watching it, but I don’t get as big into it as some people. In fact, usually if I see somebody that’s like really good with the numbers, my head goes into recruiting mode and I’m like, “Hey, let’s talk about what you can do with that map. Did you know the amazing engineering things that you can do with that?” 

Chris: 22:50 

All right. Have that all-time favorite movie? 

Tim: 22:52 

Oh man. All-time favorite movie. That is a tough one. It’s I’m just going to have to throw what just came off the top of my head and I don’t even know why it did but Walk the Line.

Chris: 23:01 

Walk the Line. Okay. How about, favorite TV show of all time? 

Tim: 23:06 

Favorite TV show? Probably Star Trek. You can tell them a little geeky.

Chris: 23:10 

Okay. Okay. How about music man? 

Tim: 23:13 

I like anything, rock and roll.

Chris: 23:15 

Anything, rock and roll. So favorite rock and roll band. What would it be? 

Tim: 23:19 

Oh my. That is so difficult. Amber is over here laughing now. I love them all. And why can I not even think of a band now? 

Chris: 23:34 

So is this eighties band or eighties rock? 

Tim: 23:37 

I did grow up in the late eighties, so yeah, probably eighties and nineties. I do love, yeah. 

Chris: 23:41 

Okay. I didn’t know if like Metallica was on that list. 

Tim: 23:44

Oh yeah, I definitely am a fan of Metallica. Yeah. I would even do Megadeath that would even go to more of the hard rock.

Chris: 23:50 

Okay. Well, we’re getting to know a little bit more about you, Tim. We’re peeling back the layers, my friend. How about a destination man? Somewhere you’ve never been, but you hope to go one day. 

Tim: 24:02 

Um, well, it needs to be warm per Amber’s requirement. And probably have water because Amber and I, we love the beach. We were actually married barefoot on the beach, so yeah, it would definitely be warm and have water. 

Chris: 24:15 

I got you now. All right, so you want to take Amber out and have a wonderful night? Where are you going and what are you doing? 

Tim: 24:23 

Well, we are probably going to start at a nice restaurant and probably. I mean, it’s been so long since we’ve been out, but realistically, you know, cause she did kind of say it. It’s more about the preparation than where we go is if we’re going out we’re separating by three or four. And it’s like, okay. One of us is finishing up work. One of us is going to handle the kids just cause we are we’re she’s right here, we’re six feet apart from each other all day. But then yeah, we would probably pick somewhere. Probably semi quiet where we can just have some conversation without the kids, because obviously the kids are right here and, you know, we’re, you know, it just, just, we just loved the converse.

Chris: 25:12 

That’s awesome, man. It’s so good that, that you guys have that relationship. So last one, dogs, your cats, man? 

Tim: 25:19 

Ah, dogs. 

Chris: 25:20 

All right. Yeah. There’s only one right answer. And you got it right. So, man, that was awesome. So thank you, Tim. That was a lot of fun buddy. 

Tim: 25:27 

Thank you.

Chris: 25:28 

We call EECO Asks Why we love to end with the why Tim and it talks about your passion, you know, what drives you. So if somebody were to want to know what Tim Wilborne’s why is, what would that be? 

Tim: 25:40 

Amber and I really enjoy being part of something bigger than ourselves. And, you know, I would urge everybody to find your passion and make it your purpose. That is just such a need in our industry. And in fact I would urge everybody out there, you know, you need to start find some way to volunteer. 

And one don’t tell me that you don’t have time because ever not don’t have time, but we still volunteer. I’m a firm believer in the 10% rule and I believe that is money and time. And so if you are in high school and you’re working 20 hours a week at night, You need to find two hours somewhere to volunteer and do something, you know, you’ve got a 40 hour work schedule. You need to find somewhere to volunteer and yes, if you are an executive and you are wide open running 70 hours a week, you need to find seven hours somewhere to volunteer your time.

Chris: 26:36 

No doubt. No doubt is so important to pour back into others and particularly for the industry that we support, Tim, you know, just trying to help people get better and then recognize the greatness that it is and debunk those perceptions that, that we talked about earlier. So now you’re doing a phenomenal job. How will people get in touch with you and TW controls if they want to learn more? 

Tim: 26:58 

Well, you can get a TW controls.com. And I would love for you to look at our products, but I would love it even more if you looked at our lessons and started learning and get into our industry. 

Chris: 27:08 

No doubt and we’ll make sure we link all that in our show notes for our listeners and Tim, this has been a blast. I had a wonderful time, you know, getting to know you and thank you for being such a wonderful guest on EECO Asks Why.

Tim: 27:19 

Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris: 27:20 

Yes sir.