Medical devices, whether it is a simple blood sugar monitor or BP machine or a stethoscope, have become so common these days that it is difficult to imagine living without them.

Our next pathbreaker Salman Kapadia’s first exposure to human interaction with machines began with Industrial Engineering followed by a masters in Industrial Design.

Salman talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his motivation to pursue a career in medical device design that led him to work on cutting edge technologies such as Surgical Robotics and experience the tremendous impact Medical Devices have on the lives of patients.

For students who want to make an impact, read this interview on Medical Devices and how they are making the world a better place …

Salman, tell us about your background?

I am from Seoni, a small town in Madhya Pradesh where I grew up and completed my SSC in CBSE board. I had very common surroundings and the upbringing of a typical middle-class family of a small town in India. I had the usual past times, such as playing cricket, badminton and other sports. But these were strictly pastime, as I had to focus on studies, which was generally a norm in those days. Growing up in the nineties there was not much of TV/ mobile/ Internet, so there was a lot of interaction with friends and family after school. 

My father had an automobile spare parts shop which I used to visit quite often and all the intricate details and mechanisms in those parts always used to intrigue me. Growing up and learning about possibilities of further education, I realized that there were only few options at that time, becoming an Engineer or Doctor. Almost all my cousins were either studying to be an engineer or doctor/dentist.I was good in science and had interest in working of typical toys and goods around me, so I was inclined towards becoming an Engineer.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I graduated in Industrial Engineering. This is a branch of mechanical engineering with all the subjects of mechanical engineering, however mechanical engineering only focuses on machines whereas Industrial Engineering also focuses on “Human” interaction with machines. The focus is on how humans interact with machines.

I was always inclined towards design, focused on the end user. After my graduation I started looking for Master’s in a related field. I came to know about the Industrial Design course offered by few IITs and NID in 2008/09. I was intrigued by the course and went ahead to prepare for the same. Finally, I completed my masters in Industrial Design from IIT Delhi. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

My initial focus towards engineering was shaped by my father, who being a science graduate, had good knowledge of how machines were made and how they work, especially in relation to automobiles. During my engineering days I used to read a lot of automotive and computer magazines which gave me a decent idea about Product and Industrial Design.

Once I enrolled in IIT Delhi for masters, I had several choices to pursue my degree in either toy design, furniture design, automobile design or general product design. My initial work was in toy design and later a project in the medical device domain, which was my first step towards looking at opportunities in Medical Devices and how the user interacts with these devices. User interaction and usability are important aspects of Product Design, especially in Medical Devices as it relates to lives of patients.

One thing which enticed me and kept me glued to this field was the positive impact one could create in the lives of patients directly through designs and an innovative thought process. This has given me the motivation to keep me going and challenging myself to improvize.

Tell us about your career path

I got placed in a Medical Device startup through campus. This was a great experience and molded me with the skillsets required in this realm of design. I learnt lots of things in this organization, and still go back to the basics from that learning. I was with this organization for 6 years and worked on multiple medical device design projects such as Laparoscopic Tissue Morcellator, Hair Transplant System, Surgical Staplers and Urethral Anastomosis Device. Each project was a huge learning in every aspect such as design, manufacturing, quality, regulatory, innovation and imparted me with important soft skills such as teamwork, interaction with customers, business etiquettes as well as understanding cross-cultural values. This was a great on the job learning experience for me. I travelled to lots of places in the world and interacted with many healthcare professionals and providers. For one of the projects I was stationed in China at Covidien’s R&D center and I even travelled to various medtech expos and exhibition around the globe.

Nice thing about this journey was the way this startup was structured. Started by a young, dynamic, IITian, this startup treated all the staff as a part of family while rewarding the performers. This gentleman taught me a lot about medical device design. I saw this startup grow into a mature product-based company fulfilling its dream to launch a product designed, manufactured completely in India and being sold throughout the world, successfully.

At this point I moved to an MNC to gain more experience which was somehow missing in my previous organization.

My first job in the medical device sector, as mentioned above, prepared me for future challenges by imparting me with critical skills in design, manufacturing, regulatory, testing and trials of medical device. I learned medical device terminology, human anatomy, dos & don’ts and a crucial skill of understanding the customer/user needs through lots of customer interaction. I was ready to take on new challenges in new medical device domains and moved to an MNC. Here I got to learn about the culture of a US MNC, nitty gritties of corporate life and a structured way of doing things with checks at every stage. This was an international experience working with the one of the best businesses in the trade. Here I worked on a complete end-to-end project for development of a class II medical device from conceptualization to market launch. The team for this project was a cross-functional and cross-cultural one which helped me understand and gain knowledge of a complete lifecycle of medical device development.

My next opportunity led me to work in surgical robotics and learn newer things and solve newer and bigger challenges through innovation. As a Tech Lead in this organization, I successfully led a team of engineers for design, prototyping and animal testing of Surgical Robotics. Initially, this was a completely new field of medical technology with its own set of technical challenges and complexity. The complete team put lot of efforts in understanding the requirement for such a system. A great help to overcome this initial learning curve was the overall holistic view of what was required, provided by its founder, a robotic surgeon. I was responsible for mechanical design and development of few sub-systems out of this whole robotic system and later integrate them. Finally, we tested the system with animal trials by performing a procedure on live pigs.

The journey till now has given me a good number of skillsets and knowledge about medical device design. I started as a fresher in this field more than a decade ago and worked in almost every aspect of medical device design, whether it is MNCs or startups. I learned how to commercially launch products and perform cutting edge research. This knowledge and experience helped me work with groups and organizations who require help with their ground-up product development, all the way from front end research to commercializing the product in the market successfully. 

Where do you work now? 

Today, I work with medtech companies, groups and organizations who are passionate about making an impact in the lives of patients and are committed to improving their lives. I help them through design and development of medical devices to help them achieve this common goal. Currently I’m working with an MNC, a medical device leader. This company already has a huge product portfolio and does business in many countries around the world. Now they want to develop a product tailored to Indian requirements and they see a gap or white space which needs to be fulfilled. I am helping them through the design for this requirement.

How does your work benefit the society?

As the world is evolving and new technologies are impacting every industry, medical device industry also is gaining from this change. From connected tech to automation, medical devices are embracing these technologies which are benefitting patients in the end. Automation in medical devices has not only led to a better clinical outcome but has made devices safe and reliable as well as increased their reach to areas where these benefits were difficult to reach. Automation and connected tech are contributing to various domains of medical devices in different ways. Automation in surgeries has resulted in creation of surgical robotics which has already started making difference in clinical outcome and efficiency of the whole process. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I think in today’s day and age, students are more informed, have better access to knowledge compared to the previous generation. Also, the choice of careers is much more diverse, each career with its own interesting and satisfying roles. At the same time this variety might be a reason for anxiety and difficulty in choosing, as it is easy to get impressed or depressed with any career path. I will advise students to choose a career which is somewhat related to their interests and hobbies, which could really help them enjoy their work. Sometimes people have multiple interests and it is difficult to choose between the options. In this case prioritize your interests in terms of various factors which will be part of your journey towards your career of choice. However also believe in destiny, things will happen as they are supposed to.

Future Plans?

I wish to grow in this domain and become an expert in medical device technology and in turn contribute to the development of innovative medical technologies which can help to touch the lives in every corner of the globe. To realize this, I might partner with likeminded people and companies and develop and launch such products and services.