Change is a constant for senior engineer Chong Yoon Hing, who is in charge of process development at Illumina Singapore.
The company, which employs 170 people, is part of the Illumina group worldwide. It develops next-generation tools that will permit the large-scale analysis of genetic variations and functions to enable the development of personalised medicine which is key to the field of genomics.
Its customers include academic, government, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other leading institutions around the globe.
As the company’s technology changes every few months, she has to adapt to changes quickly.
“In a working environment that moves rapidly, we must be flexible to changes. As process development engineers, we have to think and react fast. We have to apply the development and improvement works to changes and variation in processes,” she says.
Ms Chong,33, graduated with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, specialising in biopharmaceutical engineering, from the National University of Singapore in 2005. She has been with the company for almost three years.
She says: “I’m not only a member of the engineering department in the Singapore plant, I am part of the engineering team in Illumina as a whole.
“I have very frequent meetings and discussions on the process development with my counterparts in San Diego.
“We solve technical problems and improve processes with engineers or scientists from various Illumina plants globally. The teamwork has allowed us to share our knowledge, solve problems effectively and move fast together.”
She starts her day with teleconferences with her counterparts in San Diego, followed by a department meeting. She spends the rest of the day on the production floor for process improvement and troubleshooting work. She also works with cross- functional groups within the company, such as manufacturing, quality and supply chain.
The biggest challenges faced in her job was troubleshooting a new machine that had broken down. Ms Chong and another equipment engineer were the only ones in the Singapore plant who possessed the knowledge to operate the equipment and processes.
“A key piece of equipment had broken down just as it was close to delivering a product for an analytical test during a pilot phase that would qualify an entire production line. We had to think and work fast to perform experiments to identify the root cause. We succeeded in the end by working round the clock to get the problem fixed,” she says.
Despite the challenges of her job, she is motivated by the “opportunities to learn, explore and discover”.
“It is a fulfilling career realising the work I am doing brings great impact to the well-being of humankind,” she says.
To prepare for the plant start-up, Ms Chong attended three months of technical training on the technology and processes in San Diego in 2008. The following year, she spent another three months there to learn about a new production process.
A vibrant working culture within Illumina that is receptive to new ideas promotes her growth and career development.
“People here are open to thoughts and discussions. They don’t fear changes and are encouraged to be innovative and creative with ideas for inventions and improvements.
“The opportunities to work with many people and take up different technical challenges shape me to become flexible with people and to be able to adapt fast to changes. To be able to step back, listen, comprehend, respect the opinion and differences in people make me see things in a different angle and develop a broader view,” she adds.
Ms Chong is also gratified that the biomedical sector is brimming with opportunities that were not available previously.
“More companies from the biotech and life sciences sectors are coming to Singapore to set up manufacturing lines and R&D centre which was not common years ago, so scientists, engineers and technical experts in these fields are in demand,” she says.