Tim Womer is a country boy. He grew up around the Amish and is a friendly and humble blue-collar guy. But Womer has traveled the world, thanks to his expertise in screw design and a stint as Society of Plastics Engineers president.
Womer hails from tiny Volant, Pa., a town of 135 people, tucked into pastoral western Pennsylvania between New Castle and Sharon, Pa. Youngstown, Ohio, is right across the state line.
He learned mechanical skills the old fashioned way: “I just always grew up around that stuff. I was always around tools and machinery, fixing cars and things like that. It was always hands-on.”
Womer knows how to cut a screw from steel and develop screw formulas for specific applications. The formulas require complex math, so he uses skills learned in college calculus and physics.
Womer, 58, is the kind of guy who credits his New Wilmington High School football coach, Ray Cebula, with being a major influence. “He's still a good friend today. I still call him coach, even though I could call him Ray, just out of respect.”
Now Womer is entering the Plastics Hall of Fame. In a 38-year career, he has designed thousands of screws for extrusion, injection and blow molding. He worked with the big three screw makers of New Castle Industries Inc., Spirex Corp. and Xaloy Inc. Those companies, and SPE, took him across the United States and to Europe, Japan, China and Thailand.
“I tell [my friends] I'm an engineer. A lot of them don't know that I travel all over the world, give lectures,” he said.
For the last year, Womer has run his own consulting firm, called TWWomer and Associates LLC.
Womer holds 15 patents, including for the Fusion screw, the V-Mixer, the Nano Mixer and the Stratoblend II Mixer.
He has won several top honors, including the Bruce Maddock Award from the SPE Extrusion Division.
Womer was nominated for the Plastics Hall of Fame by Jim Callari, editorial director and associate publisher of Plastics Technology magazine.
“I'm the first generation out of the coal mines,” Womer said.
The families of both his parents came over from Germany. His dad, Bob Womer, started out in the coal mines in Butler, Pa. In 1945, right after World War II ended, Bob went into the Navy.
In 1960, Bob started a floor covering and construction business, and his son Tim began carrying tools and sweeping up at age 7. By age 14, he was doing complete installations.
His father also had a farm, so Tim learned how to fix equipment. He picked up basic machining skills at a shop in a family friend's basement.
“I learned to weld when I was 12 and run a lathe by the time I was 15. He taught me how to rebuild engines.”
Womer backed into his studies in mechanical engineering at Penn State Shenango in Sharon.
“I was going to be an architect, really, because I grew up in construction. When I went to Penn State, we're sitting here in front of my adviser and he's looking at my paperwork and he goes, ‘Ooooh, you ought to be a mechanical engineer.' He said architectural engineers are a dime a dozen. I said, ‘OK.' So in a five-minute conversation, I flipped from wanting to be an architect to a mechanical engineer, just like that!”
During high school and college, he worked as a stock boy and meat cutter.
Womer earned an associate's degree in mechanical engineering and in 1974, got hired by New Castle Industries Inc. near his hometown. “I made $3.50 an hour at Kroger and I went to New Castle for 50 cents an hour more. That was big money,” he said, laughing. His first job was plating helper and he became a machinist.
Turn of the screw
New Castle Industries wanted to move Womer to the engineering department, so the company paid for him to go back to school in 1978, this time at Youngstown State University. For Womer, it was an intense period of work and college.
“For the longest time, I'd work in the office in the morning and I'd work in the shop in the afternoon,” he recalled. “I was working 50 hours a week and then going to college carrying anywhere from nine to 12 credit hours.”
He married a woman named Barb and they moved into her childhood home which they remodeled. They still live in the same Edinburg, Pa., house. Tim's consulting business is in the basement.
YSU gave him a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1982.
A few months before he graduated, Womer got the first of a series of breaks that led to quick promotion. He chuckled as he told the story: “I was close to getting my degree, and my engineering supervisor was retiring. And they thought, ‘Oh geez, we're going to have to pay like $40,000 or $50,000 a year [for a new engineering supervisor]. Ah, we'll just give Tim another $2,000 and make him the engineering supervisor.”
Soon came a deja vu moment. “Then six months later, the vice president of engineering retired and they were going to have to pay $50,000 or $60,000. And they said, “Ah, we'll give Tim a couple of thousand more and make him head of engineering.”
At age 28, Womer was head of New Castle Industries' engineering department.
In 1989, he left New Castle for a job as process engineering manager at extruder maker NRM Corp. Womer moved to Conair Group when NRM went bankrupt in 1992 (and later became part of Davis-Standard LLC). Less than a year later, he got back into the screw business, becoming research and development director at Spirex in Youngstown for five years.
That was followed by his first stint as a consultant, before he returned to New Castle Industries as vice president of engineering and technology in 2000. Xaloy bought New Castle in 2003 and went on to purchase Spirex in 2009, completing a major consolidation in the screw and barrel sector.
Womer joined a management group that bought the company off Xaloy's Swiss parent in 2004. The group sold the firm four years later to Industrial Growth Partners of San Francisco, the current owner. Several key executives departed, but Womer stayed on as chief technology officer.
Womer left and started TWWomer and Associates in early 2011. His firm does screw design, conducts training seminars at customer plants and offers expert witness service.
Womer will be joined at the Plastics Hall of Fame ceremony in Orlando by another ex-Xaloy executive, Gunther Hoyt.
SPE and education
Womer, who likes to talk and network face to face, was well-suited to become SPE president in 2006-07 when SPE became more global. He credits Xaloy with letting him piggyback SPE trips onto regular business travel.
He is a fellow of the SPE, a distinguished member and received SPE's Honored Service Award.
Womer served as the liaison between SPE and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. He is on the Education Committee for NPE2012.
Womer is a strong advocate of technical education and engineering. His son, Brock, will graduate in May from Penn State Erie with a degree in plastics engineering. Daughter Brianna is working on her master's degree in biology and plans to go to medical school.
Womer was active in SPE's educational efforts, contributing to the SPE Toolbox series of books. He fills in to substitute teach at Penn State.
International travel has opened his eyes to vocational training. “In Europe, they have a good apprenticeship program where they work closely with manufacturing. An engineer coming out of college gets that exposure to manufacturing.” That needs to happen in the Unites States, too, he said.
Womer spreads that message in his travels. Barb, who is quiet and low-key, often joins her husband on plastics-related trips.
Womer says he's a lucky man. “For some reason, God's just given me this ability. It's not like I studied it. But it's something that's always intrigued me. You know how you get a knack for it? We're all given gifts. Just understanding how machines are built and how plastic runs, that's the gift that I got. And I enjoy it.
“Barb thinks I'm nuts half the time, because I can sit down here till midnight running calculations and thinking of new ideas.