AMT Employee Spotlight: Kevin Ockert

Meet Kevin Ockert article collages-1A true asset to our team, we are excited to share Senior Automation Engineer Kevin Ockert’s story with you. From his work here at AMT to his life on his family farm, Kevin is a source of inspiration to many!

Chances are that you haven’t yet met Kevin, a longtime AMT employee and 2019 RISE Core Values Award recipient.  That’s because Kevin lives in northern Michigan and works in China.  And Germany. And Taiwan. And Canada…

“I grew up in Kingsley, MI and I still live there,” said Kevin, of the rural town which is more than a three-hour drive from AMT’s office.  When he was first hired in 2000, Kevin moved south to reside close to the office.  “In the first two and a half years of that tenure, I only stayed in my apartment about 100 nights, so I moved back north.” 

Kevin is still on the road most of the time.  “My current assignment started in April 2018, and is in Holland, MI, a two-hour drive.  This allows me to be home every weekend that I am in the country, and is the closest to home I’ve ever been while working for AMT.”

Although he doesn’t spend much time in the AMT office, Kevin has been able to develop close relationships with his coworkers.  “Kevin is a model employee,” said supervisor Jason Markesino.  “Although Kevin isn’t in the office often, when he is there, he does a great job of taking care of newer employees through training and mentoring. Kevin also shows excellence in his work. He works long hours when required and is often away from his family for extended periods of time, either on one of his frequent trips to China, or at customer sites in Michigan.”

Early in his career, most of Kevin’s travel was domestic.  “In the 20 years I have been in automation, I have worked in or traveled through at least 75% of the continental United States.”  More recently, Kevin’s non-Michigan travel has been outside the U.S.  “I have worked in Canada, Germany, Taiwan, and China.  Last year, I spent 144 days in China working in a plant making gas particulate exhaust filters.  I also spent 21 days in Germany for a sister line to the ones in China.  I am currently working on 2 more for China and waiting to go finish the first one.  I have another line in design right now that needs to be installed late this year or early next year.”

Kevin’s career started in the automotive realm, but after a year he split his time between automotive and heavy welding.  “A little over a year into my career, I got involved in adaptive MIG welding for Kawasaki.  During this time, I also helped in redesigning the code and the welding systems for Caterpillar so that the robots were even more adaptive.  I have worked on adaptive MIG welding for FANUC America, Kawasaki, ABB, and in the Caterpillar track-type tractor division.  A lot of the heavy equipment projects I have worked on were for Caterpillar building D6 to D11 bulldozers.  During these years, I helped companies like these develop their system to be more adaptive than their major competitors.”

Besides working in automotive and heavy equipment, Kevin has worked on a wide variety of manufacturing projects in medical, food, agriculture, railcars, motorcycles, semis, ATVs, and lawn mowers.  “Some of the big projects I worked on were for the Belvidere’s Chrysler changeover to the Compass, Caliber and Patriot lines, and on Tesla’s Model 3.  I worked on Staubli meat packing lines for National Beef and a Komex/Medtech project (now IMA) building Calibra multi-dose manual insulin injectors.”

Kevin is a boomerang employee who has worked for AMT several times since he was first hired in 2000 after graduating from Lake Superior State University with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering technology.  “As many people know, I have worked off and on for AMT.  My current stint with the company started in February 2015, so I just passed 5 years for the second time at AMT.  It was my first job out of college and has given me so much experience.  The management at AMT truly cares about the employees.  This is what made me want to work for AMT in the first place and has been a big part of why I keep coming back.”

Currently a senior automation engineer, Kevin has held several titles during his tenures at AMT, including robotics engineer, automation engineer, systems engineer, and project leader for robotics. “In my current role, I do a little of everything pertaining to automation.  Most people think of this role as a robot and controls programmer, but it is more than that.  I also do simulation, controls design, training of other engineers, and some quoting for our customers.”

With his decades of experience, customers tend to think of Kevin as one of their own and utilize his knowledge. “Being in the field for 20 years now, when I am at a customer’s site, they sometimes expect me to teach their younger employees.  Also, they ask for my opinion when they are quoting projects that they do not have the same depth of experience as I do.  This happens at least once a week at this point.  I am currently working with a system integrator on projects they are building for a global Fortune 500 company who leads the world’s innovation in material science.  The customer likes the fact that I have had experience with this Fortune 500 company and have a good working relationship with their customer.”

Kevin enjoys his work and seeing the world, but his heart has always been with his family’s farm in northern Michigan, where he grew up raising cattle with his father.  “Many people know that I grew up on a farm and that I took over financial responsibility for the family farm in 2000.  This took up most of my time when I was not working.” 

Kevin met future-wife Melanie in 2002, and the couple married in 2003. Melanie is also passionate about farming.  “Until two years ago, my family farm had a cow-calf operation on it.  We were breeding 28 cows a year during our biggest year.  It was a good experience for me and Melanie to work the farm with my dad.   I had to sell the cows two years ago because both Melanie’s and my dad’s health had gotten bad enough, they could not physically handle the day-to-day operation of the farm.  They tried very hard for many years and it took a toll on all of our bodies...  Farming is not for the weak.  I still keep the farm going, but now I only cut and sell hay in the summertime.  My hope is that one day when my grandkids are old enough to help and I can be home more that I can start raising cows again.  Until then I will be happy with haying and working with our puppies.”

“Without the cattle, Melanie and I are doing more gardening together.  Two years ago, we put up a big greenhouse for her to work in so she can grow even more plants earlier.  She now sells multiple types of houseplants including aloe, spider plants and spiderwort from home and at farmers’ markets with the kids.”

“Although Melanie and I were unable to have children together, she helped me build our beautiful, unconventional close family.  From a previous marriage, she brought my son Warren.  He was 12 when we met, but I still think of him as my son.  After several years of trying and several miscarriages, Melanie and I decided to adopt.  With my job traveling and the farm, we didn’t think it fair to adopt a baby. We adopted two teenagers that needed a good home, our son Kyle and daughter Fallon.  We now have five grandchildren that I try to spend as much time with as I can.” 

Kevin reflects on the many things he likes about his work.  “I like that we work on many types of projects at AMT.  This helps keep people engaged because you frequently get new challenges to keep your interest.  We are exposed to new technologies often, so if you are a person who loves to learn, you are always researching how to keep up with the latest innovations.”

When asked what he likes best about working at AMT, Kevin replies, “AMT is a family, you are not just a number.  You know people care about you and how your career is progressing.  The older AMT employees are willing to help any of the younger employees learn and grow in the field.”

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