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Inspiring Everyday: Embracing change moves us forward

As someone who was hired on straight from college and has stayed with the company for eleven years since, you might guess Zach Carben likes to keep things routine. It’s actually quite the opposite.
“I love change,” says Zach, development manager in Ascend’s technology division. “Working in technology, everything feels on the cusp of new and exciting.”

Zach joined Ascend at a perfect time for someone interested in shifting gears. Over the past decade, the company has transformed from a nylon 6,6 manufacturer into a premium producer of engineered materials and specialty chemicals. His career has tracked with the company’s expansion into new markets, starting in automotive part specifications and customer approvals, then managing research and development labs before moving to his current role overseeing all testing, material certifications and lab research for the technology group.
“Zach is a capability builder,” says Dr. Vikram Gopal, senior vice president of technology for Ascend. “In this type of role, you need people who are humble, willing to understand and learn from the customers, and then talented enough to build the capabilities needed.”

One of the clearest examples of these improved capabilities is Ascend’s certification in the UL Data Acceptance Program (DAP). UL certification is a worldwide industry standard for product safety, and when the opportunity arose for Ascend to advance its UL capabilities, Zach recognized it and led the effort to help the company’s labs become UL DAP certified.
“It was the perfect opportunity to advance our program, we just needed to take action,” Zach says of the achievement, which represented huge cost savings and a significant step forward for the company’s research efforts. “The two-year process was worth it – it makes us much faster and saves tremendous time in the R&D process.”

In another major advancement of capabilities, Zach led the team that developed and launched the Ascend materials database, a searchable catalog of over 380 materials and their product applications. 

“Zach has a significant breadth of knowledge and the ability to just get things done properly,” says Dr. Joe Suriano, senior technology director and Zach’s manager. “Each of the areas he improved has strengthened and expanded our core capabilities and enabled large revenue growth or significant cost and time savings for product development.”

Looking for ways to make things better every day seems to be a product of Zach’s zest for change. As a youngster, his entire family worked in Pennsylvania’s steel industry. “I knew I liked working with materials and technology,” he says. “But I also knew I wanted to do something other than steel.”

After earning a degree in plastics engineering from Penn State University, he’s found a variety of interesting ways to use his expertise at Ascend. The company has sent him around the world to advise customers on injection molding techniques and assist in technical problem solving. 

In one of his more creative projects, Zach led an effort to design and mold a set of reactor skirts for Ascend’s Decatur, Alabama, site – helping better equip a unit far outside his normal purview. This willingness to be agile and tackle new challenges is also what keeps him most energized. 

“Every day is different, that’s one of my favorite things about my job,” he says. “The wheel is always rolling forward and I get to see where we’re going next – that’s exciting.”