BEMIDJI - Robb Detschman was a freshman at Bemidji State University when he first met Andy Wells, who was the professor for a material sciences course.
That was 1986. Now, more than 25 years later, Detschman is the operations manager of Wells Technology, where he oversees all of the operations of the manufacturing floor.
Detschman, born and raised in Bemidji, first started working for Wells in 1988, when he began part-time with Wells Technology, then a relatively new startup firm that manufactured Wells' Air Snip and Air Knife, powered by compressed air.
Wells himself took Detschman under his wing, showing him how to operate manual wells and manual lays as he introduced the core skills necessary for working in the manufacturing industry.
"Andy taught me all the basics," Detschman said.
It was a small crew in those early years - only six employees were on staff, including Wells - but as the company started taking on contract engineering work, developing automated systems, and branching into robotic conveying systems, Wells Technology began to grow.
"It was definitely exciting from the get-go because you're part of the team," Detschman said.
He graduated from BSU in 1990 with a B.S. in industrial technology. He was hired full-time at Wells Technology as the production manager.
"The course work at BSU definitely helped prepare me for the industry," Detschman said. "But there is nothing like on-the-job training."
Wells Technology now has about 47 employees and the building itself has been added onto six times. Each year, the company grows by about 20 percent.
"When somebody succeeds, it's a success for everyone," Detschman said of the team effort at Wells Technology. "You're not just a number. It's one of the great joys of being with a small business versus a large business."
Detschman became operations manager in 2003 as the company began moving into distribution. Wells was on the road more often, so Detschman now oversees the day-to-day operation of the company instead of just supervising the people on the floor.
"I love projects," Detschman said. "It's almost a curse in a way. I'm always walking onto the floor and focusing on something that we can do to improve."
He said he enjoys the interaction between employees, engineers and the customer as they all examine a project or process and work to identify ways to improve their work.
"The job is very dynamic," he said. "What keeps me in the industry is that tomorrow we could be presented with an option that could lead us in a whole new direction. The nice thing here about Wells Technology is that we're open-minded enough to take a look at that. Every day can be something new."