Travis Robert, Manufacturing Manager, RND Automation

It’s Travis Robert’s responsibility to ensure that the assembly phase of all projects at RND Automation is completed on time and within budget. As the OEM’s manufacturing manager, Robert is involved in all aspects of the shop, as well as its internal machine shop, through which it aims to run 50% of its in-house parts. He’s been with the machine builder for six years, and recently saw the company experience rapid growth as it was acquired by MDC Packaging. Through the years, Robert has also grown with the company, starting out as a shop helper and then moving on to assembly, purchasing, and now being involved with many aspects of the OEM’s business as a manager.

What has your career at RND Automation been like thus far?
My time at RND has been life-changing for me. I have been able to experience more at RND then I honestly ever would have expected. I had always worked with my hands, and I felt that the manufacturing and engineering industry would be a good fit for me. In my current role, I am involved closely with almost every aspect of RND including engineering, purchasing, and sales, and I am supported by a large team of assemblers, both mechanical and electrical, to make sure we build a quality machine.

What do you love most about working for RND Automation?
I lead three departments — the panel shop, machine shop, and assembly floor. Each area has things that I find extremely fascinating, but I believe fabricated parts, specifically CNC-machined parts, to be the most fascinating because it is where I started and what I stuck with since the beginning. I find it amazing that I can be given a raw square piece of material, put it into a CNC machine, and pop out an elaborate and complicated machined part with all its shinny surfaces and complex angles.

In your role, how do you help your company innovate?
My opportunity to innovate comes from machines, tools, components, and process. With machines, I come up with new uses and technology to make our parts faster so we can reduce the lead-time on the parts we provide. With tools, this encompasses many aspects of our business in finding a new tool to use to build a panel faster, to assemble a machine more efficiently, and to be less wasteful. I introduce new and innovative components and recommend them to the team in order to reduce wiring or assembly time.

What has surprised you on the job?
We became a form, fill and seal (f/f/s) machine builder when we got into packaging machines. I would have to say the thing that surprised me was the amount of knowledge needed just in this market. It was an overwhelming process to absorb as much information as we possibly could to hit the ground running. I am still learning every day and I feel I will constantly continue to be surprised.

How have you risen above challenges or obstacles in your path?
I think my first and largest obstacle was knowledge. Fortunately, I’ve always been someone who wants to know everything about something that interests me. I put my hands into everything, and I listened as much as I could so I could make myself valuable and have my opinion heard. After knowledge, I would say one of the largest obstacles for many young emerging leaders would have to be the stigma in the industry about age. I am from a generation that is perceived to be lazy, and it makes it hard for some to push through that barrier. I pushed through by being sure I knew what I was talking about, making connections to build trust as a leader, and always staying busy so that I would be a role model for people around me.

Are there any trends or industry issues that you think about often?
Due to our growth, the primary trend I am interested in is workforce development. We are finding that, at least in our area, the schools are not teaching what we would need in our industry. We are trying to talk with the schools to inform them on the education we need. Once potential employees are out of school and hired, we develop a plan to help them understand their growth and what kind of training and development they can expect while at RND.

What advice do you have for those thinking about a career in manufacturing?
I recommend working for a company with a standout company culture, one that makes you happy to come to work and has a great sense of community.