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Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Utley

Experiments in the basement of the Clyde building on Brigham Young University campus was the beginning of an over two-decade career in mechanical engineering for BYU Alum Thomas Utley.

Ford Motor Company hired Utley as a design engineer right after his graduation from BYU in 2001. He utilized his masters degrees in mechanical engineering and product development to produce F-150’s at Ford for three years.

“I spent a lot of time with Ken Forster in the basement machine shop really putting into practice what we were learning in class; learning how to machine, learning about tolerancing, learning about material selection and the practical side of engineering more than the theoretical side,” Utley said. “The lessons that Ken taught me really helped me a lot to get ahead at Ford, and that leapfrogged me into my job at Raytheon Technologies.”

Now the senior manager in manufacturing operations at Raytheon Technologies, Utley helps set up manufacturing strategies for new missile programs coming online.

“One of the cool things about Raytheon is almost all of the missiles that you see in the movies that are common names like Sidewinder and AMRAAM and Tomahawk and Javelin...those are all products that we’ve designed right here.”

He credits the influence he’s been able to have as an engineer to his Interdisciplinary Product Development (IPD) experience and his education at BYU.

“My IPD background taught me early on the value of looking at engineering problems through business leader eyes,” Utley said. “Without that perspective, we engineers tend to gravitate toward point solutions that are technically elegant when we really must use a more holistic approach.”

He works to mentor his colleagues and instill in them the importance of prioritizing both the customer and the company in design.

Utley's favorite part about his job is working with his hands, and he enjoys machine restoration in his spare time. With this project came an interesting roadblock—lack of machine tags.

Thomas Utley Tag
This machine tag is a popular reproduction of a vintage lathe plate.
Photo by MechEng

“Five years ago I did a very extensive restoration of a 1943 metal lathe from the WWII era and I couldn't find any of the machine tags to go on it,” Utley explained. “I spent a couple of months researching how to acid etch machine tags so I could finish my own restoration, then I made a few for friends of mine.”

This side passion project grew into Von Industrial, a legitimate machine tag company complete with a website and an Instagram following under the nickname “King Tutley”(suggested by his children) that Utley earned after a visit to the King Tut exhibit in 1st grade. Between the artwork, the etching and the fabrication, the business keeps him busy nights and weekends delivering tags all over the world to people who are restoring old machines.

When he isn’t working on missiles or etching a new machine tag, Utley enjoys spending time with his family. Both he and his wife are BYU graduates, and one of their three children is continuing the family trend as a freshman at BYU.

After a full career in mechanical engineering, Utley stressed the importance of knowing what you love about engineering and being cautious about opportunities that could pull you away from that.

“If you're any good at all at engineering one of the first things that happens to you is you get recognized and you start getting offered leadership roles,” Utley said. “The temptation is to take these roles because they typically pay better and have more upward mobility and more responsibility and all that is super attractive, but the downside of that is you don't get to do much engineering anymore and that can be super frustrating.”

The advice Utley would give is advice he received from his capstone advisor when he was about to graduate.

“First pick where you want to live and where you want to raise your family. Find a job in that market,” Utley said. “If you go off chasing the highest offer, and you could end up living in some dark and dreary place with a super high cost of living and maybe you won't have great schools. Focus first on where you want to live and raise your family and then adjust your lifestyle so you can fit in that place.”

In the near future, Utley has plans to make Von Industrial more than just a side business. He also hopes to move with his wife of nearly 28 years somewhere greener than their current home in Arizona.

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