By: ANDREW WHITE, Senior Editor, BIC Magazine
What do Bugs Bunny and Covestro’s Dr. Amber Hinkle have in common, besides frequently hearing “What’s up, Doc?” After she completed graduate school, Hinkle joined Covestro as a senior chemist for the company’s consumer care business in Elkhart, Indiana. It was here she helped to manufacture the Looney Tunes-shaped Bugs Bunny vitamins and Alka-Seltzer®.

It’s been more than 20 years since Hinkle first joined Covestro, known as Bayer MaterialScience until 2015. Today, she is the plant manager for Covestro’s Channelview, Texas, facility. Hinkle oversees Covestro’s polyols production in Channelview and Pasadena, Texas. In addition, she helps manage Covestro’s polyols joint venture with LyondellBasell. The Covestro Channelview team provides management and technical expertise, while LyondellBasell personnel operate production.

Growing up in Idaho, Hinkle earned her first job in high school, working on the office staff for Sen. Jim McClure. After graduating high school, she earned her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Utah and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Washington. During her college years, Hinkle worked for a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor at the DOE’s National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho and on special assignment at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.

After her time as a senior chemist for Covestro, Hinkle transferred to Covestro’s polycarbonates (PCS) production area in Baytown, Texas. In 2000, she was promoted to PCS lab manager before assuming additional responsibility as PCS quality lead. By 2010, Hinkle was leading health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) for Covestro’s Baytown facility, the company’s largest manufacturing facility in North America. From there, she developed the HSEQ role to the vice president level before stepping into her current role at the Channelview facility in November 2017.

“While I was at the Baytown facility, I was proud to introduce and lead a site-wide change management initiative in 2009 that has since helped move people through massive reorganizations, job shifts and Bayer’s transition to Covestro,” Hinkle said. “I have been a champion of this methodology and instituted a change council at the facility to help further embed the practice.”

As you can tell from Hinkle’s experiences above, strong leadership skills are among her main strengths. She leads by example and supports her team. In 2013, Hinkle was recognized with a national Women in Manufacturing STEP Award, presented to women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers. In addition to leadership, Hinkle also recognized some other key skill sets for her position:

  • Communications: Share information and practice good change management.
  • Problem solving: Leverage the experience and skills of the entire team for the best solutions.
  • Emotional intelligence: Strive to bring calm to stressful situations.

Leading polyols production

Covestro’s Channelview site produces polyether polyols, a key component in the development of polyurethanes used in everyday products such as furniture cushions and car seats.

“Although this plant is small in its overall footprint and employee headcount, it’s large in terms of production capabilities,” Hinkle said. “In fact, the Channelview plant is one of the world’s most efficient facilities for the manufacturing of polyols.”

According to Hinkle, investments in the Channelview plant build on Covestro’s market-leading IMPACT technology, based on its proprietary double metal catalyst (DMC), while also taking advantage of the plant’s economies of scale. Hinkle is adjusting to the role of being a plant manager, but she never loses focus of Covestro’s mission: to make a high-quality product safely and efficiently.

“It is a challenge to balance efficiency and flexibility, whether in meeting the customers’ requests or adjusting to supply and service availability,” Hinkle said. “It’s personally been challenging for me to transition from being a member of the site leadership team for a primary Covestro site to being a plant manager for a production plant within another large host facility. These and most other challenges can be addressed through communicating well and building good relationships since none of the processes work without the people!

“We are also streamlining our processes and upgrading limited equipment that would better prepare us to increase capacity should the need arise. This will allow us greater flexibility in production planning and meeting customers’ needs.”

An experienced safety professional

While Hinkle is still fairly new to her role at the Channelview facility, she brings her experience in safety where it applies. In her past role as vice president of HSEQ, she introduced a safety program for turnarounds that helped lower Covestro’s injury risk and increased visibility and attention to safety. Hinkle’s safety program brought in block captains to ensure greater awareness of safety procedures and risks and to improve contractor safety.

“In fact, this program was recognized globally by our CEO as a best practice in our company,” Hinkle said. “As an incident commander for our emergency response over the past seven years, I have leveraged my passion for emergency preparedness, leading the enhancement of our emergency operations center at the Baytown site. Through biweekly team sessions, a variety of drills, additional training and general education throughout the site, I’ve seen a more structured and improved approach to dealing with an incident safely and calmly.”

Active in community, professional organizations

Covestro is a Responsible Care® company and partners with other like-minded companies in associations such as the American Chemistry Council and Texas Chemical Council. According to Hinkle, these partnerships enable sharing best practices in areas such as safety and environmental protection, improving the industry overall. There is also a great opportunity in leveraging shared knowledge to provide solutions for legislators, she said.

Hinkle believes in giving back with her time to associations that can help others find success. In fact, through the American Chemical Society (ACS), she has shared her experiences by serving on a national level since 1997. She has also served as chair of the national Women Chemists Committee and co-chair of the leadership advisory board responsible for leadership development courses offered through the ACS. In ACS, she is also a lead facilitator for assisting ACS governance groups with strategic planning.

“In 2012, I was humbled to be honored as a distinguished ACS fellow for my professional and volunteer accomplishments,” she said.

Locally, she also believes in working with chambers of commerce to support the communities where employees live. She recently served as the chair of the board for the West Chambers County Chamber of Commerce.

“I also support local educational institutions to help develop the workforce of the future by advising on several technical college programs and serving on United Way’s investment program panels,” she said.

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