According to Michael Thai Trung King, a 3D-printing product-development chemist at Henkel, communication and teamwork are crucial for the job.
Michael Thai Trung King is a 3D-printing product-development chemist at chemical and consumer goods company Henkel. Having completed his studies in pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry, he interned with the company straight after college.
“Henkel Ireland is one of the few places in Ireland that has an industrial R&D facility, so that was very appealing,” he says. “At Henkel, I met some fantastic people who advised me to undertake a PhD if I truly wanted a career in research. I obtained a PhD from [the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland] and returned to Henkel to pursue industrial research.
“My experience in adhesives and polymer chemistry, through my work with Henkel, together with a strong understanding of chemistry, has helped immensely in my current product development role in 3D printing.”
The skills you need for R&D
Although this is a highly technical field, teamwork and communication have been some of the most crucial skills Thai Trung King has had to draw on in his career so far. These are the skills that have helped him deliver projects with tight deadlines, for example.
“Through cross collaboration between teams at Henkel, we solved one of the project’s properties that required steam sterilisation properties for a resin,” he says. “Through cross-team collaboration, we were able to deliver on a requirement for steam sterilisation properties for a resin under development.
“Leveraging existing developmental resins and current technology understanding, we screened for properties that would impact the steam sterilisation process, which led us to a solution and all within the project’s tight timeline.”
The fact that people across all levels in Henkel are “very approachable” makes solving problems across diverse departments easier, Thai Trung King adds. But employees also need to be strong team players.
“I’ve always been a strong team player and willing to communicate to solve problems, be they issues of my own or issues facing colleagues. I’m always willing to listen to others and offer help in any way I can. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes,” he says.
“Separately, I’ve always been naturally curious, with an appetite for learning. These attributes are crucially important in R&D, where we are constantly looking for innovative applications or learning new technologies and applying them to solve current problems.”
Moving into 3D printing
Thai Trung King now occupies a developmental role in 3D printing. This allows him to see “ideas transformed into tangible products that have practical and functional applications”, he says, which gives him “great satisfaction”.
“It is also great to see how the materials we have developed at Henkel are applied to a range of industries, from automotive to medical,” he adds. “It is especially satisfying to see how Henkel 3D product applications are helping with the current global Covid-19 situation.”
To arrive at this point in his career, Thai Trung King initially began in adhesive research. He worked with coatings and process development, both of which had “a significant polymer technology element”.
“An opportunity to move into 3D printing, requiring experience in polymer chemistry, came up and the support from Henkel’s management helped me get there,” he says. “Henkel has many mechanisms in place for career progression and development.
“The company’s structured scientific career path has clear guidelines for every candidate and outlines the necessary steps and requirements for progression. There are always opportunities for vertical and horizontal development within the organisation, so the only limits you have at Henkel are the limits you set yourself.
“In my field, most people have a science or engineering degree when getting started. Education is, of course, important, but in my view, communication is also vital. Never shy away from asking for help and always be hungry to learn.”