With eyes to the sky, Kaneka deepens its roots in Benicia

Ever wonder how commercial aircraft, helicopters and space vehicles can withstand the extreme conditions of air and space travel? The secret is in the materials used to create these aircraft and aircraft parts. Kaneka, located in the Benicia industrial park, is a company that creates these materials and is in some ways responsible for the safe air travel that we enjoy and that astronauts rely on. They are at the forefront of creating the necessary technology for the next generation of Aerospace. While Kaneka is immersed in creating new solutions, it is also dedicated to creating and enabling the next generation of local talent to engage in this challenging technology.

The premise is simple: To become truly integrated into our community, Kaneka wants to help train future employees in Benicia. There are opportunities at every level, technical, operations, floor workers. General Manager Ekaterina Ryjkina believes in deepening the roots that Kaneka has established in Benicia while helping us reach for the stars.

After visiting Kaneka and touring the facility, we met two Kaneka employees, Michael Dominguez and Jose Cruz, who started in entry level positions. They told us their story about how they moved up within the company.

What is your current position with Kaneka and what responsibilities does that entail?

Michael: I’m production team lead in the mixing department and my responsibilities are coordinating the planning and scheduling the day-to-day, week-to-week jobs for all the operators.

Jose: My current position is a pre-preg lead, which is the other side of resins. We take the resin that is made here, and we create carbon pre-preg using carbon fiber and carbon fabric. Right now, we’re a team of three but we’re expanding.

What was your starting position?

M: I started as a production operator in September of 2020.

J: I started off in a warehouse position, in the resin mixing area.

What kind of training or mentorship did you receive from Kaneka to make it to where you are today with the company?

M: We have hands on training and computer-based training, as well as our machine training and training with specific operators like Ernesto, who was my first trainer. He told me the way things are run and the standard expectations. Our previous manager was my mentor and I still carry what I learned from him with me today. I was also sent to an All-Star Academy leadership manager training as part of the promotion to the production supervisor position.

J: I got a lot of hands-on experience with my manager. She taught me everything that I needed to know to be able to take on the shipping department through a lot of patience and working through errors. Eventually, everything just kind of clicked and made sense to me. The way the manager approached things was phenomenal, I’ve never had somebody explain something so thoroughly. I also got to work with the owner at the time; he was the one who gave me a lot of hands-on training for a lot of the pre-preg material that we make now.

What is Kaneka doing that is exciting to you?

M: The continuous improvement and constant development of new materials. We have a couple of scientists and chemists that are around the clock just formulating and creating mixes. Just a minute ago, the president of the company handed me this fork and spoon. It’s not plastic, it’s biodegradable, so that’s kind of exciting. It was a perfect example of what excites me here. It’s a very innovative company, very forward thinking.

J: There are a couple things in the works for the pre-preg side that are very promising. We are developing a transparent composite that mimics glass. For example, we take ordinary fiber glass fabric, we impregnate it with a resin that is being experimented on right now, and the fabric completely becomes transparent. It could be used for aircrafts, maybe cars, it might replace glass since it’s much more durable and it’s way lighter.

Do you see potential for further personal growth with Kaneka in the future?

M: Most definitely. We’re very small right now, with 30 employees total. So, the potential for growth is huge.

J: I do. There is obviously a lot of room for career growth here. It’s just a matter of how much work you want to put into something. If you want to grow with the company, obviously you have to put enough effort into it, to motivate yourself. Otherwise, you’ll never really know how much you can grow. This is a company that’s cutting edge and there’s a lot of opportunity.