Petra Klein spends her days thinking about things that don’t exist — yet. As the VP of quality assurance for Kingston-based FALA Technologies, whose services include manufacturing and engineering high-tech equipment, her job is to shepherd ideas to fruition.
“When a customer comes in with an idea for something that hasn’t been built before, usually equipment for the semiconductor industry, my role is to make sure the equipment meets their requirements,” says Klein. “If the technology doesn’t exist, we design, build, and test it. Our company is a little secret in Ulster.”
FALA’s offices are positively futuristic. Workers in sci-fi spacesuits work in the Class 10,000 Clean Room, so named because it can have only 10,000 airborne particles per cubic foot, as opposed to 1 million in an ordinary room. “When you’re building parts for nanotechnology and the semiconductor industry, you can’t have any contamination that can contribute to a fault,” says Klein.
Various clients, from tech companies to big-box retailers, call upon the company for help. When IBM needed to solve a heat problem with a chip testing machine, Klein and her team created a custom-designed blade to meet the cooling requirements. When an aircraft company wanted a high-alloy steel transmission clutch for a helicopter, they provided a prototype. And Kohl’s recently asked them to solve an engineering problem in a distribution center. Involved at every step, Klein ensures that both the customer’s requirements and national regulations are being met.
Atomic-level attention to detail is part of her job description and one of her great talents (she is also an amateur mycologist who spends weekends foraging for mushrooms). But she also takes time to focus on the big picture: She was one of the founding members of a volunteer congressional committee called the Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), a nonprofit that seeks to grow renewable energy manufacturing in New York as well as advance solar and other green energy research. As executive vice present of technology and strategy, she manages over $9 million in funds and leads projects across the state. One local example of her work was the installation of LED lighting on the Mid-Hudson Bridge. And she saw to it that TSEC funded the SUNY Hawk, a solar car that competed in a timed race from Texas to Chicago. “I think we came in sixth out of 16,” she says, “which is pretty good when you consider we were up again UC Berkeley, MIT, and a German university team who flew in their car for the race.”
Solar is not as big as it should be, says Klein. “I think TSEC has been ahead of the curve, but solar is making a resurgence now and the state resources to support it are tremendous.” Her newest venture, Galileo Technology Group, a consulting company for startups she founded with three partners, explores cutting-edge solutions in the solar sector and beyond.
Although she seems to live and breathe technology today, a few years ago Klein was actually director of medical affairs for Kingston’s Benedictine Hospital, a job she held for eight years after working as a critical care staff nurse and in various administrative positions. While at the hospital, Klein earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at SUNY New Paltz.
“I never really slept much,” she says. “I worked from seven to seven on weekends and holidays so I would have hours off during the week for school. I had a lot of drive, and the science was so interesting, it kept me going.”
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Even in her high-tech world, the medical training pays off: “Before I was an R.N., I was a paramedic. When you’re thrown into a chaotic situation with police, flashing lights, and noise, you have to find order in the chaos. You have to visualize a way out and see to the other side.”
As the magazine was going to press, Ms. Klein reported that she has accepted a new job at Ceres Technologies in Saugerties.