Keith Webb came to Tuthill looking to reinvigorate his engineering roots. He was eager to creatively solve problems and develop systems using his mechanical and electrical abilities. In 2005, he joined Tuthill Springfield as a Systems Engineer, not knowing anything about vacuum technology. “I thought we would be competing with Dyson,” Keith said jokingly.

“I spent the first year in my boss’ office,” he said. “I was afraid to do anything wrong, so I’d ask him everything first.” Once he gained a level of comfort, Keith began to soar.

The new role truly stretched him. He learned about the variety of Tuthill products he didn’t even know existed. He was surprised by the range of markets that rely on Tuthill’s vacuum pumps. He was soaking in the knowledge. “As a person, that’s what I live for. Every day, if I’m not learning something new, I feel like it’s a wasted day.”

Keith loved conceptually designing a system, bringing it to life, testing it and having it do what he designed it to. This sense of satisfaction charged him.

He became consumed by his new role. “I honestly couldn’t wait to come to work Monday mornings,” he said. For a decade, that energy drove his career. He worked on a number of projects that are memorable for him.

Above: A vacuum system designed by Tuthill that manufactures aircraft brakes 

Tuthill developed a large system for a manufacturer of vacuum furnaces. These furnaces are used by companies that manufacture aircraft braking systems. They utilized Tuthill’s large vacuum systems to create carbon brake pads for most of the world’s largest commercial aircrafts. The customer’s business was suffering with a persistent, debilitating process issue. Tuthill’s piston pumps use oil to lubricate internal components and due to nature of the brake pad manufacturing process, the oil injection was being clogged with tar, resins and hydrocarbons. The pumps would lock up and production lines went down, causing them to lose a batch of product.

Above: A vacuum system and oil filtration unit designed by Tuthill for Consarc

Tasked with solving this issue, Keith and the Tuthill team spent about a year investigating the root cause and developing an innovative solution. Tuthill supplied the manufacturer and their customer with an oil filtration and cooling system that “really changed their customer’s lives,” Keith said. “They went from being a struggling business where the system routinely caused lost production time to becoming very profitable due to the increased reliability of the vacuum system.”  

Above: Tuthill's system designed for a solar power plant. At the time it was the largest solar power plant in the world.

Another customer experience that stood out for Keith was with an internationally renowned physics and particle accelerator laboratory performing cutting edge research. Tuthill’s vacuum systems are used in a number of processes at their facility. “We got to be a part of that by supplying them with our products,” Keith said with pride.

Above: Tuthill's system designed for a company to produce biofuels. It was created when the ethanol and methanol production boom began.

A customer he won’t soon forget is one that produces enriched uranium utilizing Tuthill’s dry vacuum pump systems. Whenever an order came in from this company, every person on Tuthill’s shop floor who would come in contact with the vacuum product was required to bring in their birth certificate and passport proving that they all were naturally born U.S. citizens. As the person who was tasked with assembling everyone’s paperwork, he recalls those projects well.

Above: Tuthill designed a system was used in a plant in North Carolina to make plastics. The system is comprised of a two vacuum boosters (models 3600 and a 2000) and a liquid ring pump (model KLRC525) with full sealant recovery system.

Years into Keith’s role, he uncovered ways Tuthill could dare to make better. He was eager to manage people and processes for the sake of improvement. Tuthill created a role for him— Systems Design Manager. He handled all the CAD operations and 3D solid modeling. He implemented an engineering vault for revision control, which dictated product lifecycle management.

In 2012, Keith was charged with managing VBXpert, Tuthill Springfield’s product sizing and quoting tool. “It had lots of problems. Everyone that used it complained about it,” Keith said. He as well had suffered through using the software program. Now, it was his to manage. He told himself, “I can sit and whine about it, or take this program and make it better.” For the next four years Keith worked with developers and relaunched VBXpert. Some time later, his boss came to him one day and said, “I used to hear complaints daily about this system. I haven’t heard a complaint in almost a year now.”

While Keith had many accomplishments under his belt, something vital was missing. Over time, that spark around innovating and creating was lost to him, and Keith felt the atmosphere around him change. He decided it was time to seek out a new job. He left Tuthill in January of 2019 and went to work for an architecture engineering firm that creates designs for buildings like hotels, manufacturing plants and universities. Keith hoped being thrust into a new realm of engineering would reignite what was lacking. Five months into the job, he was wasn’t feeling challenged or inspired by the work.

Meanwhile, he had heard that in the last six months, a great deal had changed for the better at his former home, Tuthill Springfield. He called Andy Tuthill, Tuthill Springfield’s President, to see what coming back could look like. He met with the newly hired Engineering Director, Roger Palmer, and their thought processes aligned. Roger said to Keith, “I try to come to people giving them a sense that I love and respect and trust them. Everything else flows out of that.” Keith responded, “Wow, what a great place to start.”

Feeling very encouraged about returning to Tuthill, Keith accepted a job offer as Senior Systems Engineer in July. “Being gone for six months allowed me to sort of cleanse myself. I also realized how much I love the people and the work I did at Tuthill.” He was prepared to start anew. With a freshly hired director and three new engineers on the team, Keith was hopeful.

Almost a month back on the job, Keith is energized by what he sees: Interdepartmental discussions, lighthearted meetings, joking around, getting work done, and creating things together to solve problems for the customer. It feels “very refreshing, creative and healthy.”

“In our engineering team, it’s the most exciting time I’ve ever been a part of,” Keith said. Every Friday the engineering team gathers to discuss their projects with an open floor for comments and suggestions. “It’s the way engineering should be done. The whole team, 13 of us, throw out brainstorming ideas. Roger does a great job of leading the team through that,” Keith said. Roger gives the engineers space to discover a solution that nobody has ever thought of before. “It’s really about innovation within. Our product offering is a mature product, with most products developed in 1970s or earlier. Roger gives us free reign to go look at things that could be implemented into the product to bring value to the business and customer.”

“This is a place where somebody is going to pour into and build into you as a person and engineer and help you grow,” Keith professed. Recently the team has been discussing implementing an engineering mentorship program. Often, organizations may look at engineers as being disposable, Keith said. “Tuthill is willing to invest in the long-term.”

That goes for Tuthill’s product offerings as well, which Keith and the team are looking to revolutionizing. “I’m really excited about what we will be able to create from within the engineering group in collaboration with our business development channel.” Keith acknowledges new product development is no simple task. “We’re going to learn to crawl first. Then we’ll walk. Then we’ll run. I’m here for the long haul, and I know that’s what Tuthill wants.”