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Right Where I Belong: Creating a Place for Myself in Manufacturing

Marcia Ayala

I knew I wanted to work in a manufacturing environment the whole time I was earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering. I’ve come a long way in manufacturing since, and (with an MBA to boot) I am now an experienced leader with a demonstrated history of working in various industries including textiles, carbon materials, and coatings. 

In 2019, I became President of Aurora Specialty Textiles in Yorkville, Illinois. 

Founded in 1883, Aurora’s core strength is the application of water-based coatings and finishes to fabrics. Aurora’s domestic manufacturing capabilities in ultra-wide coating and finishing, up to 134 inches in width, sets it apart from its competitors. My company produces digitally printable textiles, fabric backing for pressure-sensitive tapes, fabrics for power transmission belting and military applications, and other specialty fabrics.

I’ve been with Aurora for 17 years, serving as Director of R&D before I became President. My R&D role stemmed from my background in product development for manufacturing companies in the carbon industry. I worked in that industry for more than a decade, and I traveled globally to develop new products at carbon production facilities. 

What I love about manufacturing

There’s so much that I enjoy about manufacturing. I love using science, math, engineering, and technology to make products. I enjoy spending time in the manufacturing environment collaborating with others on product development. I’m fascinated by investigating the chemistry and process of successfully producing new products. I also love the challenge of learning new processes and technologies. And finally, there’s nothing more satisfying than commercializing new products that generate the revenue my company and its customers need to grow.

Being a woman in a male-dominated field

The manufacturing industry is still a male-dominated field. Fortunately, that is changing. During my studies and early in my career, I felt that I had to be better than my male counterparts to be taken seriously. To get noticed, I worked hard to learn new things and find better solutions. This experience made me competitive and has served me well both in my career and personally.

Advice for women interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing

Manufacturing is an exciting and challenging field, and very rewarding. The best advice I can give is to be open to continuously learning, be confident, and capitalize on opportunities. Learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them – move on to the next challenge instead. Collaborating with others to encourage gender equity and a diverse and inclusive environment is key. Building and supporting diversity in manufacturing will not just benefit you and your career but those around you as well.

About the author

Marcia Ayala

Marcia Ayala is the President of Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., a textile processing operation in Illinois that has been around since the 1880s. She is also a board member with IMEC, the Illinois MEP Center.

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