EECO Asks Why Podcast

157. Hero - Scott McNeil, The Industrial Wi-Fi Guy

October 06, 2021 Electrical Equipment Company Season 6
EECO Asks Why Podcast
157. Hero - Scott McNeil, The Industrial Wi-Fi Guy
Show Notes Transcript

Scott McNeil is one of the most passionate people in industry and his love for what he does comes out in everything he does.  In this hero conversation Scott takes us back to where it all began when he jumped into the wireless game 16 years ago.  He served some time in his local school district and even supported a community college.  Since joining GPA he's ad the opportunity to service the industrial market and he's loving every minute. 

Scott speaks to the opportunities that exist in the industrial sector and how projects at manufacturing plants such as BMW to efforts at pulp and paper producers create unique and fun challenges for wireless solutions.   As "The Industrial WiFi Guy" he's building a community to help people learn more about these solutions and for those that follow him on LinkedIn you'll quickly see how much of an advocate and support Scott is for others along their wireless journeys.

Scott is a big supporter of autism awareness and has a son that drives him to educate others about autism and his social media activity highlights how Scott is addressing this head on. He's also a huge water guy and has an annual Disney trip always on the books.  This is such a fun conversation from an industry hero!  Do like Scott does - grab a cold beverage of choice, sit back and enjoy the tale of the Industrial Wi-Fi Guy!

Guest: Scott McNeil - Industrial Network and Security Architect II at GPA

Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Podcast Editor: Andi Thrower

Global Process Automation (GPA)

The Industrial WiFi Shop

00:00 Scott: 

Honestly I just have this passion for wireless communications. I really enjoy it. It's like magic. It's amazing it even works. It's amazing that radio communications was ever even really discovered being that it's not something you can feel touch or taste. And that's one of the things that really keeps me going I've really helped push GPA to more and more industrial wireless work. And I just have so much fun with it. I really enjoy the challenges of it. And then, when the job is done, just seeing everything work. It's that personal satisfaction of a job well done. 

00:28 Chris:

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 to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a fun hero episode where we're going to sit down with Scott McNeil, who is the senior network insecurity engineer at Global Process Automation. So welcome Scott. 

01:09 Scott: 

Hey, how are you doing today? 

01:10 Chris:

Good man. How are you? 

01:12 Scott: 

Oh man. If I were any better, I wouldn't be able to stand myself.

01:14 Chris: 

I hear you, buddy. I hear you. We love to start these hero episodes off by giving our listeners a chance, just to understand a little bit about you and your journey. So can you walk us through that a little bit? 

01:25 Scott: 

Sure. Probably, oh gosh about 15, 16 years ago, I got into the wifi game and started with a company, a wireless integrator called Epproach Communications. And we did all kinds of integrations. We did a lot of little small local beach resorts and we ended up pretty much going up and down the east coast, doing multi-user dwellings, IE, apartment complexes hotels other resorts. My favorite one is we did a resort in the British Virgin Islands of Anguilla. It was 12 days of hard work, but it's the British Virgin Islands. It was gorgeous. 

From there moved on to our local school system and was responsible for a fair amount of wireless as far as in 14 different schools in administrative buildings here in our county moved on from there to one of our local colleges where I spent.

Bit of time. And I took their wireless from just a few hotspots throughout their downtown campus to a full total coverage and integration across all four of their campuses implementing a user access control and machine authentication and, increase their user base from 15 people a day to, when I left the college, they were well over 3000 users a day on their systems. And it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed my time and the private sector, and I really enjoyed my time and in higher ed then I got recruited into the outfit I'm with now with GPA. And it's been no looking back. I've been taking my wireless skills and applying them to the industrial environment. And I've been learning a whole lot along the way. And I got to tell you, man while I'm a, I'm an OT network guy by far the wireless projects are my favorite because that has just for years now has been my personal passion.

03:07 Chris: 

Very cool, man. Where did you go to school to study something like this? 

03:11 Scott: 

Well, you know, I started actually here in Wilmington at Cape Fear Community College third, largest community college in the state, I learned quite a bit, I got my associates in network administration. Also graduated the Cisco academy through Cape Fear. And then I went to work, And I worked for, gosh, eight, 10 years and got pretty darn far on that that two year degree. And then finally, we were in a position and I went back to school online and graduated from ECU with a degree in what they call industrial technology, which is their IT degree. And essentially it's another networking degree so school was good. I was there towards the end. I was getting really burnt out and I was done, but, Hey, go Pirates! 

03:55 Chris: 

So you did that all, was it a hundred percent online? 

03:58 Scott: 

A hundred percent online. ECU has a fantastic education department as far as distance learning for their IT degree. Their instructors are great. And even after being in the field for as long as I was I still had a lot to learn. So that was nice. 

04:14 Chris:

Nice man. That's really cool.

04:16 Scott: 

You never stop learning, and any time that you sit there and you think that you know everything, life is going to smack you down because you're going to run into somebody who knows so much more than you. And they're going to embarrass you. 

04:29 Chris: 

So that's right. He's very true, man. Very true. Now you spent a lot of times in industry and you work with a lot of our heroes. You're definitely one of our heroes too. But what are you seeing as some of the challenges out there, man? What's hitting in front of you?

04:43 Scott: 

I work for an automation company and automation really that's a big part of what's going on in the universe right now. And really, I think more and more as we go along. It's the need for industrial security professionals and industrial wireless professionals, because there's just not enough of them out there.

GPA is a company, one of the top 100 integrators, we've got named one of the top 100 integrators in the country. We just keep getting bigger, but there's not a lot of industrial integrators that do everything soup to nuts, from not only from your PLC and DCS and SCADA, but all of your network deployment that goes along with that. All of your cybersecurity deployment all of your wireless deployment there's not a lot of us that do that and their needs, the industry needs more of us.

05:33 Chris: 

No doubt, man. You're all over it. We hear a lot of times too, when I talk to people about the challenges, it's about, there's so many people retiring and that aging workforce, there's nobody back filling that. And this is maybe some of that, but also this is a new skill set. 

05:50 Scott: 

It's a brand new skill set. And, you're losing a lot of that knowledge transfer because what's in place is not being replaced fast enough in order to gain that knowledge from the 20 and 30 and 40 year veterans, but now you add all of this new technology on top of all that, and it's even worse.

06:10 Chris: 

Now, part of this podcast, what we're trying to do is inspire people, man. And to get them to come to this industry to embrace it because it's great. The people listening and the people out there working these plants, if there's some advice that you could offer up from your experience, that if somebody out there is listening, that they're considering coming in, what would that be?

06:32 Scott: 

You know, if, you're in the tech and you're into all the various aspects IT, and you want something challenging, but you want something that's really rewarding. Don't be scared, man. Go into the industrial sector OT needs people who know how to use this equipment who can speak the language and who can help understand how to deploy it properly, but the flip side of that, you also have to make sure you're flexible enough to understand that you've got to operate by the OT rules of the road, which are different than the IT rules of the road.

So if you're flexible. And you really want to do that. Some cool stuff and go. And honestly, one of the coolest things about this job is all the different facilities we get exposed to and go into because, you know, oil refineries, damn, those things are cool, man, with just how they're developed and how everything runs. It's fascinating. I had personally haven't been into an automotive plant, but that's one of the things I want to see that I want to see a car being built. I want to be part of that, "oh, Hey, you know what? I did work there at this BMW plant and it was impressive," so all these just amazing facilities that you get to go into that's half the enjoyment of the job, right there.

07:38 Chris: 

No doubt, man. I think we've heard a couple of people say, you know, my life is that show How it's Made, and you get to do really when you were in the industrial sector, you're there, you're in the plants and if you're seeing steel being made, or like you said pulp and paper, being made, it's just, it's fascinating.

07:56 Scott: 

I find it fascinating. And it's one of the things that helps keep me going, I'm doing a job. I love to do. I'm getting to see some really cool places in the process. And really you get to meet a lot of great people too. So it's definitely not a job for your anti-social engineer. You've got to be fairly outgoing to be able to make the most of it. 

08:18 Chris: 

That's right. And have a little fun with it. I was talking with a lady yesterday, who's a director at an integrator and she was just talking to me about her network and how influential people have been in her career and in helping her along her path. And, when you just said that, it made me think of her and some of the things she was saying, and I love on these episodes to give the opportunity for you to recognize that there are people or mentors or people who've been influential to you and your career and your path, because I think that's important to recognize the people that have helped us, and give them that shout out.

08:53 Scott: 

It's interesting because there's so many people who have moved in and out of my life work-wise and so many people that I've learned a lot from one of my heavier influencers a guy by the name of Marty Hollingsworth, he owned Eppraoch Communications who I worked for right after I graduated with my first degree and he is the one who really instilled in me the passion for wireless communications. And for that I will always be grateful. He was a great guy to work for. And we had a lot of good times and did a lot of great work from Metro area wifi to integrating in beach houses. It was just awesome seeing the end result and a turnkey installation, turning it over to the end users and then just being super happy with it. And just the magic of wireless in general. So he really influenced me a lot there. 

And then my parents they're both I'll actually have my dad, my step-mom. And then my mom, my stepdad, they're all just hardworking people and really helped instill that work ethic in me. And to love what you do. Those are probably the most influential overall, but, I learn a lot from everybody I work with. I really try to pick up on things from other team members to number one, to help me sharpen up my game. But number two, it just makes me a better overall person.

10:08 Chris: 

Absolutely, man, absolutely no doubt. And if you're not learning, if you're not constantly learning something new, you're not going anywhere.

10:15 Scott: 

No, you're not. You're sitting still and you're stuck and that's it being stuck as a, is not only is a terrible place to be, but it's a terrible feeling.

10:23 Chris: 

No doubt, man. I really appreciate you walking through that. And you may like this question too with your personality. I think you may have some fun with it. People have perceptions of certain professions and when they hear the terms you know, security or networking engineer, they may think it is dude walking around with it a pocket full of pens or some blue hose, hanging out of his pockets, some ethernet cable, things like that. I'm just saying, I'm not saying that's what they're thinking, but it could be. So if you had, if you could debunk a myth about your profession, man, what would it be?

10:57 Scott: 

Every, you know what every pretty much every cybersecurity professional I have met none of them have been your stereotypical kind of nerd profile. Absolutely none of them, all of these ICS security guys they're all brilliant because otherwise they wouldn't be in the field and doing what they're doing. But oh my God, are these guys ridiculous personality wise. And if you meet them at conferences and you spend some time with them and you get to pick their brains and they're just, they're a lot of fun to be around, but, they're also the first one buying the beer. They're also the first one buying the first round of shots, they are by no means wallflowers, if that makes any sense, I find more bookish types in the standard process engineer, genre than I do in OT/IT. 

11:40 Chris: 

Gotcha, man. Very good. You drilled that one, buddy. So if you were to talk about when you're in that moment of flow, man, things are really rocking. You're enjoying what you're doing. You're the happiest in your career. What are you doing at that moment, man?

11:57 Scott: 

I'm just enjoying where I am. It's living in the now not living in the past and where you were thinking about where you could have been, and it's not sitting there doing nothing but dreaming about the future on where you could be. It's living in the now. It's enjoying what you're doing, and then it's just rocking and rolling and moving right along.

12:12 Chris: 

Very good. And what are you studying? What anything that you're curious about or that you're things that you're spending some time learning about?

12:21 Scott: 

I'm working my way towards the CWNE certification, that's the certified wireless network expert. That there's a trail of certifications that you have to get before you can go for your CWNE I'm about halfway there. And the CWNE itself, you there's no test for it. It's an application process. You have to have these prerequisite certifications. Like I said, I'm about halfway there. There's a community aspect where, you know they look and take a look at your involvement in the wifi community as a whole.

And then they look at have you been published? What have you been doing? How are you contributing to help this technology move forward? And all that's really important to me and it's one of the reasons I started my blog because when you look out there, man, there are so many resources and so many podcasts and blogs and so many people in the wifi community.

And they're all about higher ed. And they're all about private industry or there, or I'm sorry. They're all about enterprise and they're all about hospital or they're all about doing like football stadiums and these just mass productions, but there's no real community out pushing forward educational stuff for industrial wireless communication.

And on my blog I'm trying to get something started in trying to push forward and build that community because, it's becoming more prevalent and when you bring a guy who's used to doing nothing but enterprise wifi into an industrial environment, he's already batting at a negative because he's got all these challenges he's not even familiar with because the environment is so different. We need more people to be aware of and support the industrial wireless community there needs to be more education in that there needs to be more certifications specifically for this environment. You got to hand it to the CWNP, which is the governing body of the CWNE. That's the certified wireless network professional. They just recently came out with a certification called the CWSA the certify wireless solutions administrator, which is the first vendor neutral, wireless certification that has anything to do with industrial protocols and industrial wireless aspects.

It gets into IIOT, it gets into some of your wireless, industrial protocols. And I got to give it to those guys and I'm so happy to see that they're actually starting to put some certification material together, specifically for this aspect of wireless communication. And trying to help build that support, 

14:46 Chris: 

I mean, one quick question a lot of times on LinkedIn special groups or things like that are custom tailored to the, to certain topics, does anything like that exist for the listener that may want it to participate or support industrial wifi?

15:03 Scott: 

Honestly, not that I'm aware of and I've searched. And there's a ton of regular wireless groups out there. But I haven't really been able to come across anything that is not directly vendor related if that makes sense. Vendors are out there pushing their wares for industry be it fluid mesh, be it Siemens. be it Cisco, be it, whoever. But the whole point is for a vendor neutral group for inner support of the community. And that's just what I'm not seeing anywhere out there for industrial Wi-Fi. And so I'm trying in my own way to get that started, with talking with you guys with the creation of my blog Someone has got start it. 

15:39 Chris: 

You're starting revolution brother and that's great. We're proud of you and we're glad to support you and wishing you the best there. And we love to take these hero episodes, man, and get a little bit off of work and get to the more personal side. So share with our listeners, if you will, some things you enjoy, maybe some hobbies or things you'd like to do in your off time.

16:00 Scott: 

I'm a big supporter of autism awareness. My son is on the spectrum, so everything I do, I do for him. So that's a big part of my life outside of work is just talking with others and other groups and helping educate people in awareness of autism in general.

Otherwise, we're big water people. We love getting out there in the water, be it in the beach or be it in the pool or be at a water park. That's probably our biggest fun time. And then my wife is a Disney addict. I tell people I actually worked to support her Disney habit because, we go just about every year down to pay homage to the giant mouse and spend all our money and just have a great time. So that's our other passion is just these just amazing family trips down to Disney. 

16:45 Chris: 

And that is awesome, man. That's why I love talking and visiting the guys at GPA you're right there in Wilmington is beautiful part of North Carolina. Anyway, so man, yeah, a lot of fun stuff going and I didn't realize on the autism part, but hats off to you, man, for the stuff you're supporting and and working with what your son there, man. That's awesome. 

17:03 Scott: 

I appreciate it. 

17:05 Chris: 

So you got one son, you said, is there any other kids?

17:08 Scott: 

I have twins. I have boy-girl twins. 

17:11 Chris: 


17:11 Scott: 

Yeah, and they are. They're awesome. And as with any parents they're my reason for doing everything that I do. I'm just so happy that I have a job that I love to do because that makes it a whole lot easier. Some of the travel can be tough sometimes, with Skype and all these different video chat protocols it's even when I'm on the road every night we're talking and laughing and carrying on. 

17:36 Chris: 

Got you man. So for the listener that may be visiting down in your neck of the woods, man what's the local hot spots you like to hit up? Where do you have to go if you're in the Wilmington area? 

17:45 Scott: 

It all depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for a great burger then you got to go hit Winnie's Tavern, if you are looking for beach time, there's so much beach around here from Topsail and Surf City to Wrightsville beach, to Carolina beach, to Oak Island, you can find your flavor of beach, man. It's just, it's awesome. There's a ton of history around here from the battleship North Carolina to historic downtown Wilmington. This was part of Blackbeard's stomping ground. So there's a lot of nautical history around here too. 

That's one of the things I like about this town, because there's so much going on, we are a destination where at the very end of I40, but we're a college town, we're a beach town, we're a tourist town, but we're starting to develop a fairly strong manufacturing base around us as well. So there's a lot. This area has a lot to offer. 

18:34 Chris: 

No doubt, man. So you did say you have to do some travel with work. Is that pretty regular? 

18:40 Scott: 

Oh yeah, probably 40% of my time is on the road. So I'm going all these places, I love when I go to Texas. I really enjoyed Alabama, Indiana and a lot of Midwest states and most of my travel tends to be down in the Southern part of the country, but no matter how great a town I go to Wilmington is always home.

18:59 Chris: 

I hear you, man, there's nothing like getting back home, right? 

19:01 Scott: 

Yes, sir. Well, you know what? I've lived on the coast along now that if I'm gone for more than a week or two things start smelling funny becuase the salt is not in the air.

19:11 Chris: 

That's right. That's right. Well, Scott, man, this has been a lot of fun. We love to, to kinda tie these EECO Asks Why episodes up, the hero episodes in particular with the why man and what we're trying to talk to here, the whole purpose of the EECO Asks Why hero episodes is to inspire people.

And I think you've definitely done that. And hopefully perk some interest out there, definitely looking into the industrial wifi space and maybe that's that somebody is going to do a little more research now that they've heard you talk about it and how passionate you are about it, but what would be your personal, why man? What drives you? 

19:47 Scott: 

Honestly I just have this passion for wireless communications. I really enjoy it. It's like magic. It's amazing it even works. It's amazing that radio communications was ever even really discovered being that it's not something you can feel touch or taste. And that's one of the things that really keeps me going I've really helped push GPA to more and more industrial wireless work. And I just have so much fun with it. I really enjoy the challenges of it. And then, when the job is done, just seeing everything work. It's that personal satisfaction of a job well done. 

20:15 Chris: 

Absolutely man if there's something about that satisfaction, and it just drives you to, you just want more, right.

20:21 Scott: 

It does. And I don't know if anybody wants to check me out, they can check me out on LinkedIn. I'm also on Twitter at @AmericanMcNeil and don't forget to hit my blog. The Industrial Wireless Shop at Wordpress.

20:35 Chris: 

Absolutely. We'll definitely put your blog in and I think we can even put some of your social ways of people to contact you in this, in the show notes as well. For those that want to, I want to talk to you, man.

20:45 Scott: 

That'd be great. I love talking about this stuff and I'll sit there and talk somebody's ear off about it. Cause to be honest with you, my wife doesn't care about what I do so it's I don't really get to talk about it here at home, but she's a teacher, so she's got her own stuff that she's got to get taken care of. 

20:58 Chris:

I got you. Man, this has been a lot of fun. Scott really enjoyed talking with you and learning more about you personally, and just thank you for being so open and sharing with our listeners. And I really enjoyed this conversation. 

21:11 Scott: 

Oh, no worries, man. I hope to come back and talk with you guys again. It's always a good time talking with EECO. 

21:18 Chris: 

Thank you for listening to EECO Asks Why this show is supported ad free by Electrical Equipment Company. EECO is redefining the expectations of an electrical distributor by placing people and ideas before products, please subscribe and share with your colleagues and friends. Also leave comments, feedback, any new topics that you would like to hear. To learn more or to share your insights, visit That's E E C O A S K S W H