Most biomedical engineering students around the country will eventually end up working for a medical device company. For this reason, biomedical engineering capstone design courses should not only provide students with a hands-on design experience, but they should also prepare students for careers in the medical device industry. These courses should be relevant and up to date to reflect current design trends, processes, and practices followed in industry.
In a past column, I presented several ways that faculty without industry experience can learn about current trends and practices in industry to maintain a relevant, up-to-date design course . In a later column, I discussed how a faculty internship can provide design faculty with helpful industry experience that can inform their teaching of design and improve their courses . In this column, I will discuss how faculty with industry experience can benefit from gaining additional, more current experience.
Industry experience can be extremely helpful in teaching capstone design courses. It can help faculty understand the industry mindset and priorities and see how what they teach in their capstone design courses is used in a medical device company. Having some exposure to and first-hand knowledge of how medical device companies operate, with a focus on the design process and the various personnel and disciplines needed to support the development of a new product, can help faculty prepare students for careers in the medical device industry. Capstone design faculty with industry experience can provide a unique perspective to students and help ensure that what students are learning is relevant to professional practice.
There are many capstone design instructors with significant industry experience obtained prior to their academic careers. For these instructors, the longer the time spent away from industry, the more things change in industry, and the more helpful a “refresher” internship experience can be in keeping current. They can return to industry to update their experience, expand their knowledge into new technical areas, and validate the relevance of what they are teaching in the classroom.
As the instructor for the biomedical engineering capstone design course at Marquette University, I often share relevant stories and examples with students, drawn from my 14 years of industry product development experience with four medical device companies. Each year, my course evaluations indicate that students appreciate these examples and like that I bring my industry experience into the classroom to show how I applied the topics they are learning about to real-world projects in industry.
My last industry position was Director of Technology and Quality Assurance for a dental products startup company. I left this position in 1999 to start my career at Marquette University. Thus, my most recent industry experience was 22 years ago. Recently, I decided that I wanted to return to industry for a short time to confirm that what I am presenting in class is still relevant and up to date and reflective of professional practice. I have been keeping up to date with the latest industry trends and practices by reading industry trade publications, discussing important topics to include in my course with members of our Industry Advisory Board, and discussing various design topics with industry guest speakers. However, I felt that the best way to determine current practices and trends in industry was for me to return to industry to update my experience.
During the summer of 2021, I participated in a four-week faculty externship offered by GE Healthcare through Marquette University’s Office of Economic Engagement. My goals for this externship included: 1) learning about the design, project management, and other processes and tools used by a large medical device company such as GE Healthcare, and 2) providing value to the company by offering a different perspective on design and how to approach it in a different way than what some GE engineers might have been used to. I was very interested in learning things that I could bring into the classroom to possibly update and improve my course. Although my previous industry experience was mostly with implantable and indwelling devices, and my doctoral research was in biomaterials, learning about the design and maintenance of a highly complex, technology intensive, and expensive magnetic resonance (MR) imaging scanner was a new experience for me that I found interesting and eye-opening. It provided me with a new perspective of large medical device companies, the importance of a strong supply chain, new technologies, and a new medical device market segment that I was not previously familiar with.
During the externship, I quickly learned about GE Healthcare’s design processes and identified potential technologies that could be used to enhance the design and function of their current MR products. I also learned about their project management processes, tools, and documentation, including their use of electronic project notebooks and how they use Agile methods along with traditional Gantt charts to schedule and manage nonsoftware projects. These are tools and approaches that I will consider incorporating into my design course. I also learned about how they form design teams, their approach to managing technical risk, and some of their technology management processes.
My experience with GE Healthcare confirmed that what I am presenting to students is relevant and up to date and it provided me with some ideas for enhancing my class. It also allowed me to apply my design skills and what I have learned over the years about how to think differently to create potentially innovative improvements to a medical device. This experience also helped me establish new relationships that could lead to future collaborations including company sponsorship of senior design projects, industry guest speakers, and consulting opportunities.
Although my externship was short compared to a full summer or sabbatical experience, I was able to learn a significant amount in a short time. This was due in part to: 1) my previous industry experience and understanding of how companies function and how they design and develop new medical devices, and 2) the well-organized and efficient plan for my four-week experience that was created and implemented by the GE Healthcare personnel with whom I had contact. In my first few days, I met with engineers, industrial designers, product managers, quality assurance engineers, and engineering managers to learn about MR technology and the MR market. I was able to observe scans of volunteer patients conducted by a certified MR technician to understand the workflow of a typical MR scan and view the process through the eyes of the user (MR technician) and patient. I communicated with GE field scientists and other experts in cardiac and respiratory gating to understand the future of MR imaging, and I observed testing of scanner tables in a quality assurance laboratory. I learned how GE Healthcare identifies the voice of the customer and implements the early phase design practices that we ask our students to follow in their design projects. The final deliverable of my externship was a report and presentation of technologies that I recommended for further investigation as to their potential to produce innovative enhancements to GE Healthcare’s next-generation MR scanners.
In summary, for those of you with industry experience, I highly recommend seeking new “refresher” experiences, even if only for a short time. Your previous experience will be helpful and witnessing firsthand the current design practices of a medical device company can help you maintain a relevant, up to date design course that will best prepare your students for careers in the medical device industry.
- J. Goldberg, “Maintaining a relevant, up-to-date capstone design course,” IEEE Pulse, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 64, 72, Jan./Feb. 2012.
- J. Goldberg, “Faculty internships for capstone design instructors: Maintaining an up-to-date capstone design course,” IEEE Pulse, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 62–64, May/Jun. 2014.