Salvalaggio on Leadership, Self-Investment, and Manufacturing's Future

Craig Salvalaggio speaks with Travis Miller, on episode 37 of “HIRED! the Podcast.” Craig shares his education and career journey into the field of robotics culminating in his current position as President of AMT.

Topics discussed include:

  • Craig’s career journey
  • The importance of self-investment in technical training
  • Advice to those interested in pursuing a career in the robotics industry
  • The direction and future of technology within the automation industry, with an eye on software evolution and AI

In November 2023, Craig Salvalaggio, President of Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), and Travis Miller, President of The Miller Group and host of “HIRED! The Podcast,” sat down for a candid discussion about an array of topics related to careers and the automation industry.

Craig’s interest in robotics began while attending Lake Superior State University for mechanical engineering. “One of the professors at the school, Jim Devaprassad, was a strong advocate for robotics in the industry, and really tried to tie associations and industry back into the school. One of the companies that was working with the school was Applied Manufacturing Technologies, founded by Mike Jacobs in 1989. I had the fortunate opportunity to join the organization at an early age and get started in the early days of robotics.”

During the interview, Craig discusses the opportunities he was given at AMT and the instrumental mentor relationships that helped him mature into leadership roles.   “Through the organization, I was able to develop my technical skills and work in an entrepreneurial manner in almost every position I held from project management to sales to engineering leadership. Midway through my career, I was led by Mike to get involved in different industries and with other like-minded people so that we could look at what technologies would allow us to continue growing the company,” he said. “I started getting involved in associations, such as A3 (Association for Advancing Manurfacturing) and developed strong connections and a mentor circle. That circle was instrumental in teaching me the skills needed in my current position - the ability to lead people, to influence, and to provide a culture that allows others to do the same thing that I did: technical growth alongside the maturing of the company.”

Self-Investment is Foundational to Professional Growth

Craig believes there is great value for an individual to invest in their own career development. “One thing that I find most people don’t inherently know how to do is self-invest. We provide a lot of technical training, but the opportunity to learn more, to read and listen to material on leadership and business, is something that a person can do on their own. It has to be a self-driven mission. A great deal of the leadership abilities that I’ve developed over the years have occurred through my own reading and applying of the material. At AMT, our directors are following suit, consuming the content just as quickly as I did, and learning how to apply it. It’s a privilege to be here and be able to lead AMT.”

Books that have Guided Craig Salvalaggio’s Career Growth

In addition to seeking knowledge from his mentor circle, Craig also studied books on management philosophy, and places a strong value on the work done by Verne Harnish, reflected in the book, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm.” Harnish’s insights include the importance of holding structured meetings at every level of an organization at varying time intervals, from daily standups all the way through quarterly / annual planning, and as long term five-year initiatives.

From a team and leadership perspective, Craig values Patrick Lencioni’s work, whose book, “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” highlights the importance of trust alongside accountability. He also values another Lencioni book, “Ideal Team Player,” in regards to hiring practices and selecting intelligent individuals who are always looking for opportunities to learn no matter how accomplished they already are.

Careful Hiring is Critical to Company Culture

During the interview, Travis and Craig discuss AMT’s practice of hiring new college graduates, who may not be familiar with automation engineering, and investing in their training via AMT’s own Automation Academy. The Academy is a comprehensive 12-week training program, designed to bring newly-hired engineers up to speed in the details of the robotics industry, as well as the AMT brand.

Craig discusses the similarities and differences of different generational groups of workers, and the pair notes that younger generations not only want to earn a living, but they want to contribute to an organization in a meaningful way that makes them proud of their work.

Pushing the Technology Envelope Creates Passionate Employees

Craig emphasizes the role that embracing new technologies has played in his organization and the people within it. “You can see within the engineers when they’re passionate about getting something to work or their invention coming to life. You can see the reward on their faces and in their expressions when they bring their families to see the robotic systems they’ve been working on.” He also shares the mutual benefits of taking on challenging technology application projects. “It allows our employees to find their purpose in what they’re doing; they’re practicing their craft. We give them the right tools and we give them some really tough problems to solve that are advancing the industry, which is helping manufacturers be more competitive. Pushing technology further is what also allows those individuals to feel value and purpose in their technical tasks.”

Automation as an Opportunity for Self-Investment and Personal Growth

Regarding AMT’s clients, Craig discusses how automation provides the opportunity for career growth for those individuals who were previously completing tasks manually. “As you add automation, you’re giving that plant, that facility, that manufacturer the opportunity to perform better. If you do it correctly, you could also allow that operator, that engineer, that individual to learn the robots, to learn the camera systems, to develop software and develop some of those skills.”

Craig embraces the role that industry can play in shaping educational programs, as well as motivating younger generations to get involved with robotics. “Robotics is a great example of just how industry works with education to be able to provide those opportunities. That's more on the technical engineering front, but there's still an opportunity down at the trade level, for the trades, from pipe fitter to welder, that existed in vast amounts in the early automotive days. There's not a lot of continual education back to those trade schools to get them excited about some of the crafts of a machinist or a carpenter.”

“There’s also an opportunity to reach students who are next-generation engineers and get them excited about the technology. Then get to the factory floors where the operator that may have a varying amount of educational background has the opportunity to learn these technical solutions and come home and say, ‘Wow, I just programmed a robot! I programmed a control system!’ ”

Travis asks Craig to comment on the frustration some people may feel as technology advancements result in the replacement of the very skillsets individuals have developed throughout their career. Craig shares that there is a tremendous amount of funding at the state (Michigan and Ohio) and local levels for educational reimbursement and various certifications. “There is opportunity and there are certifications out there through FANUC, A3, and other educators that would allow you to invest in yourself.”

A3 is currently developing a packaged curriculum that encompasses robotics, control and vision systems, autonomous mobile robots, artificial intelligence, and software. The goal is to provide colleges with a certification process for their students in these critically needed areas of expertise. The potential result for a student choosing this type of path can be a much better financial position over a traditional four-year degree in the areas of liberal arts or finance.

Craig advises those individuals seeking an invigorating career to spend time reflecting on the size of organization they prefer, their particular areas of interest and passion, and whether their preference is to get really good at one particular area of expertise or have the opportunity to take on many roles.   “Take me for example,” he said. “I was a software developer coming out of a mechanical engineering degree program. I wrote software development for tying camera systems to robots to do map positioning and guidance in real time. I took a role in project management, I've taken a role in sales, I've done marketing, I've done finance, and I've done operational activities that even removed me from the technology. That was the path that I desired; I wanted to get good at every aspect of how a company operates so that I could lead according to that and understand every functional area.”

Looking Ahead

Craig and Travis discuss the future of the robotics industry. Craig mentions that he sees a current push to create agnostic software platforms that can be used with any brand of PLC or robot. In his view, the evolution of software towards ease of use will propel the industry forward. Autonomous mobile robots are a great example of the direction in which technology has evolved, in terms of sensors, vision, and software, as well as computational power.

On the leading edge of the technology forefront, Craig sees the potential of AI to disrupt current methodologies, leading to substantial technological leaps. “We're even using AI now on some vision applications for warehousing where you have thousands of SKUs and you don't see the product before it enters the technical system or the storage system. AI with vision technology is the biggest use case for AI. Being able to apply AI to images and learning models is allowing and unlocking a tremendous amount of applications. For the industrial space, the ability to have images to be able to train a model is what allows the AI and machine learning algorithms to be applied at a much faster level. Site and sensing are really the two things that are allowing AI to advance at the technical level.”

In this candid discussion between Craig Salvalaggio and Travis Miller, the President of AMT shares his inspiring journey in the robotics industry, highlighting the importance of self-investment, mentorship, and embracing technology, ultimately emphasizing how automation offers opportunities for both personal and professional growth in an ever-evolving field.

Watch the full podcast here.

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