That’s So Metal

Rob Stroup is the Quality Director at Big River Engineering & Manufacturing and a graduate of Embark at New Memphis. To learn more and start your application, click here.

At Big River, we’ve got a saying: “you learn something new every day.”

It’s true, scouts honor. We’re a medical device manufacturer who specializes in orthopedic implants and instruments—in other words, everything you ever wanted to know about metalworking. For example, yesterday I explored the thermal expansion of 6061 aluminum versus 17-4 stainless steel.

I know, right? Fascinating 🙂

A bit of backstory. As an undergrad at Mississippi State, I was fortunate enough to find a job with a spinal implant company. There I discovered that I enjoyed learning by doing. After graduation, most of my fellow biomedical engineering graduates went to medical school, but I knew I wanted to start working right away. With a little help from Memphis Bioworks, I found a position at Big River as a quality engineer.

Four years later, I’m still here, whistling while I work. I started out at the micro level, physically inspecting each part we produced. If we manufactured 100 spinal lumbar cages, then I picked up and inspected 100 spinal lumbar cages. Today I’m the Quality Director, which means I get to pass those technical skills along to newer employees.

I love working with my hands. In the process, I have learned how to measure lengths, diameters, thread forms, and hardness—techniques used all over the world in the machining and quality trade. It’s rewarding to finish inspecting an order of parts, wrap them up, and deliver them to the customer. Every day, it gives me a sense of progress.

Over the years, I’ve had other employment opportunities—some of which would have taken me out of Memphis. I’ll admit; some of them were pretty sexy. But none has been more exciting to me than Big River. I love working side-by-side with inspectors and machinists. I love making things, a subject Mike Rowe touches on in his 2008 TED talk.

More important, I love the community I’ve found here in Memphis. The professional community, my Embark community, and my ultimate frisbee community—everything just fits. Here in Memphis, the future is bright. Our city is big enough to have the resources to grow but small enough for one person to make a meaningful impact.

It’s true, we face some steep challenges—both in Memphis and at Big River. As our resident manufacturing wizard John Monty might say, “Ain’t no hill for a stepper.” But after four years, I’ve got the lay of the land, and I can confidently say that we have the skills, the tools, the knowledge we need to overcome even the most intimidating obstacles.

Here’s the good news: there is joy in doing the work. Hard work is about finding your niche, putting your head down, and doing what needs to be done.

Rob Stroup is the Quality Director at Big River Engineering & Manufacturing and a graduate of Embark at New Memphis. To learn more and start your application, click here.