Featured interview - Craig Salvalaggio

Craig Salvalaggio is chief operating officer of Applied Manufacturing Technologies, Orion, Michigan.

Craig Salvalaggio, Applied Manufacturing Technologies

ADDEDWednesday, June 10, 2020

  • Q
    Are you optimistic about the future of the automation control system industry and if so, why?
    A
    I’m very optimistic. Long term, automation, robotics and how the technology is maturing, and the ease of use is really going to be required for manufacturing to stay competitive. I’m sure some companies are going to be going through reshoring exercises here to manage the risk globally so that will provide opportunities as well.
  • Q
    What challenges are your customers facing right now?
    A
    A lot of them right now are asking us to increase the rate in which automation is being deployed. So, the biggest challenge our customers are facing right now is how to get automation deployed quickly to ensure my manufacturing facilities move at the rate at which the demand uptick is predicted.
    
    So, there’s a respect for a timeline and what it takes to order a capital equipment and to design something versus order equipment without a spec. There’s that healthy balance where maybe a project to the 28 and to the 32-week delivery, the expectation is now 16, 18 weeks.
    
  • Q
    How should a customer go about choosing a system integrator?
    A
    Some people have these detailed RFQs. Some have a napkin sketch that they give you and go out to 10 or 6 bidders, and then come in and make the selection process.
    
    The communication internally within those organizations is very critical. But sometimes, it gets vetted in first round and then handed off to a procurement team where they have maybe a selection grid.
    
    I say go a little bit deeper. You know, there’s a couple of things that you can follow regardless of who you are and where you’re at. I always like to say right size your business with the end user. These are both two-way street conversations.
    
    So, the size of project, the type of application and the experience you have. So whether you’re a manufacturer going to the integrator network with a certain size of a project, that size, whether it’s a revenue size or technology scope or just kind of floor space-related, it has to align well to get that proper attention within the company.
    
    So that’s critical on both sides of the fence. Follow the processes within your organization. I always tell people to not skip steps. It goes back to stick to the process, and it will not let you down.
    
    Then update yourself and your team. Know what the latest standards are. Sometimes safety standards drive cost into a project based on maybe some historical ways, but they also drive what’s required to meet new industry standards and keep your workforce safe.
    
    Open yourself to communication channels both ways and remind your team even when things get hot that it’s a partnership and we’re going to live to fight this again and we’re all here to support one another.
    
  • Q
    When someone asks, why should I hire a certified company, what would you tell them?
    A
    The CSIA certification is great because it’s a self-assessment and a benchmark in the industry that says, hey, I went through this rigorous process. It might have been painful. I might not have had enough time for it. But boy, I’m glad I did at the end of that. Here are the reasons why.
    
    AMT is not currently certified by the CSIA, but we are investigating that program right now.
    
    As I  mentioned previously, we are highly involved in the Robotics Industry Association.
    
    Finally, when you hire a CSIA integrator, it gives you confidence that you’re working with a company that follows best practices and understands some of the industry’s standards. It says, “I’m working with people that want to achieve a high level of quality.” You’re working with proven industry leaders. You’re working with organizations that want to measure customer satisfaction and document that based on previous projects.
    
    Basically,  you’re doing risk mitigation by ensuring the company you are working with has business practices in a higher level of proficiency. 
    
    At the end of the day, it’s about staying out of trouble for everybody. 
    
  • Q
    Are you certified or endorsed with any companies or organizations you would like to mention?
    A
    There are really two specific certifications and partnerships that we work with and then two associations that we’re involved in. I mentioned earlier GMF and Fanuc and our tight relationship with many people in the entire organization, leadership all the way down. That stems from Mike’s early on initiatives and relationships with GMF, and we’re an exclusive Fanuc Robotics Certified Integrator and partner and that has allowed us to achieve great things with a great product.
    
    Then Rockwell is our other technology partner where we work with them almost exclusively.
    
    We are also involved in industry associations. One of the largest is the Robotics Industry Association, a daughter association to A3, where we serve on many boards and committees. The other is CSIA.
    
  • Q
    What suppliers do you work with?
    A
    We have several suppliers. We work with everyone from conveyor companies to all the technology companies, whether it’s the robotic arms, the conveyors, the POCs, the vision systems, the barcode readers. We work with all those technology partners, fabricators as well. So, there’s quite a long list. 
  • Q
    What’s unique about how you approach a project?
    A
    Our philosophy is: Stick the process. Even when it’s uncomfortable, stick to the process. Early in the company’s history, we developed a great set of tools. It was very process-driven toward program management. It created very habitual efforts that ultimately created consistency in our approach.
    
    It starts right from the sales process, understanding the application, the process, the solution, and the relationship. In some cases, a customer asks for something. But it’s not the right thing for them. So, we start really at the frontend by saying, “Here’s what you really need.” We’re not afraid to have those difficult conversations upfront.
    
    Then it’s about data transparency from project kick-off all the way through. Our latest enhancement has been a longer, more-detailed kickoff process, that you really capture the time-scope based milestones and then calibrate internally and then once we’re calibrated internally, ensure that the customer has an open line of communication, is never waiting for the next round of communication. They’re anticipating that you will be ahead of what their expectations are.
    
  • Q
    Aside from the COVID-19 disruption, how has AMT grown or changed in the past year, and what do you expect for your company in the next 12 to 24 months?
    A
    The size of our turnkey automation projects has started to get larger with a lot more content. Back maybe 10 plus years, we did a lot of single robotic cells, smaller automation, single application. Now our ability to really take on more scope and more content has been increasing with every project due to the maturity of the relationships with our customers and our ability to take on start-to-finish type projects, where we own the process all the way through.
    
    That’s where the size of the project really starts to develop in scope and that started with some engineering analysis, building our first turnkey thermal-forming handling system where we’re handling product from press, conveyance, through palletization and pack-out and we’ve done a number of similar projects related to case handling, sortation and pack-out automation.
    
  • Q
    Turning to AMT then, tell us how it began and evolved?
    A
    AMT started in 1989 as an engineering services organization, really focused on the growth of robotics in the automotive. Our founder and CEO Mike Jacobs started the company after his initial role with GMF which was a joint venture with General Motors and FANUC, where he was really pioneering the early days of robotics simulation. He envisioned a future of needing more engineers in the market to service the growth that was happening in automotive, body shop welding and other such industries.
    
    He started this organization to support that growth. Early on, the automotive growth and our strong tie to General Motors served us very well, allowed us to build a full-service engineering capability. We were early adopters of developing very specific standards for large-scale automation deployment.
    
    A lot of that foundational work led to our competency and the ability to expand and do more complete design and build-up solutions. As we diversified the business starting in the early 2000s, we started building turnkey solutions and really saw that as a necessary growth path for the company to stay on top of latest technologies. 
    
    A series of strategic acquisitions, leadership hires, keeping some strategic objectives within the organization to enter new market segments, allowed us to be where we are today, which is a full-service engineering company that does systems integration for a diversified customer base.
    
  • Q
    How do you describe to laypeople what you do?
    A
    In one sentence, what I tell people is that we place robots and automation in factories to help companies become more productive and competitive.
  • Q
    How did you get started in control system integration?
    A
    I’ve been excited about robotics and machine vision from my early days in the Lake Superior State University lab working on very dated robot arm technology.
    
    Early in my career, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to get started with a great company at AMT and find a great technical mentor within the organization.
    
    I was also fortunate to be part of some leading technologies within the robot industry space. As I got more experienced learning the technology, I really kind of adapted my passion toward the business case for automation and started asking fundamental questions such as, “How do we make manufacturing within the US and globally more competitive?”
    
    The other passion for me is getting people started in their careers because I personally experienced that and welcome the chance to give back.