Education: Undergraduate degree from University of California, Davis
Big or small, every pharmaceutical drug that enters the market has a significant impact on someone’s livelihood. For process engineer Kayla Kuhl, that reality is what drives her excitement and ambition in her career with SK pharmteco.
A desire to solve the problems of the world and have a direct, positive impact on someone’s life is what led Kayla to initially pursue her education in chemical engineering. A native of Sacramento, she has spent her entire career with AMPAC Fine Chemicals (AFC), now a part of SK pharmteco, growing her career alongside the company.
As organizations across the globe started evolving their businesses into more sustainable models, she honed her skills in Simulated Moving Bed (SMB) manufacturing, a process of particular expertise of her team, to provide lower manufacturing costs for customers while supporting SK pharmteco’s expansion of waste reduction practices, a true double bottom line. SMB manufacturing is a unique process that enables substance mixtures to be continuously separated and extracted in two fractions, making it more efficient.
We caught up with Kayla to talk about her work at AFC the growth she has experienced for herself and the company, and what keeps her excited about her career.
What made you interested in chemical engineering?
I always had a pull towards engineering because I wanted to be a problem solver and fix large-scale issues. Translating that engineering experience into the pharmaceutical industry allows my work to have a direct impact on the lives of people around me. It’s so exciting to me to watch drugs go through the testing phases and reach launch, or see how a seemingly small change can have such a positive impact on its efficacy.
How would you describe your role as a process engineer?
I work in the SMB team at SK pharmteco. SMB processing is a unique ability that few drug manufacturers are able to do, but we’re experts in it. In my role, I work to split chemical compounds into two different products. This is done to attain either better yield or remove impurities from the product. What makes SMB special is the fact that it is able to produce a high volume of product in a more efficient and less waste-producing manner.
What’s the best part of your job?
I choose this career because of the direct impact it would allow me to have on the livelihood of others. Every drug we work on at SK pharmteco is important, no matter its scale. Having the ability to work on a product, watch it go through rounds of production and testing until it’s perfect, and reach the final stage of approvals is really exciting.
Now that AMPAC Fine Chemicals is a part of SK pharmteco, how do you see the company growing?
I think it’s great that we are now an SK pharmteco company. While my day-to-day has not been affected in this particular role, the opportunity for AFC has greatly expanded with this integration. Companies come to us to manufacture the active ingredients in their drugs. With SK pharmteco’s support, we have the backing of a larger organization that will allow us to bring in more opportunities and scale up our facilities to take on bigger contracts.
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
I am a big lover of nature. Our office is located in California is away from most of the urban structures and in what could almost be described as a nature preserve. The wildlife around it is beautiful. I’ve always been interested in the local wildlife in the area I grew up, and I actually have four pet lizards that are all native to here.
If you were to give advice to someone interested in pursuing a career in chemical engineering, what would it be?
It is a great and incredibly rewarding career. But, it is important that you have a very good attention to detail and ability to work through frustrations. Anticipating issues and learning to step back and analyze a tough a situation clear-headed is crucial to being able to find the root cause of a problem and bring a solution. In chemical engineering, we say you have to know that good enough isn’t good enough. The work we do has such a big impact on the lives of others that you have to be diligent and believe that better is attainable.