Who would have thought that those ubiquitous syringes and injection devices that we have seen in hospitals would be the most sought after products today in our fight against Covid !

Sumit Mane, our next pathbreaker, Product Development Engineer at BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), works on design and development of medical delivery solutions which consist of highly precise products used to transfer and deliver medication and other hazardous drugs. 

Sumit talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his interest in product and engineering design which led him from the world of consumer products such as refrigeration systems to the highly regulated world of surgical instruments and medication devices.

For students, don’t let your interest in engineering go in vain. Develop your curiosity by exploring summer projects during school and internships during college !

Sumit, can you take us through your background?

I’m from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. My father is a professor of Mechanical Engineering and I can say that I developed a liking for mechanical engineering from him. I have been fascinated by engineering from my younger days and decided to pursue Mechanical Engineering during my 10th. So I completed my Diploma and Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and then decided to pursue Masters in the same field. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

After completing my diploma in 2012, I got admitted directly to the 2nd year of bachelors and completed my graduation (B.E, Mechanical Engineering) in 2015 from Pune. I had decided to pursue a Masters in the last year of my graduation and later prepared for the GATE exam. Through GATE, I secured admission for M.Tech in Mechanical Engineering (specialization in CAD/CAM and Automation) at VJTI College in Mumbai. 

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

As I said, I had developed an interest in Mechanical Engineering during my late school years and I followed it. During the last year of my M.Tech program, I did an internship at Whirlpool in Pune. 

That was my first exposure to the corporate world. Here, I got exposure to various engineering activities and their applications in the Product Development field. Hence I decided that I would like to start my career in Product Design/Development. After my post-graduation, I got selected through campus recruitment drive at Stryker which is a medical devices manufacturer. I was offered the role of a Design Engineer. 

My time at Stryker not only provided me the opportunities to get familiar with all the aspects of the product development lifecycle but also raised my interest in technical and engineering challenges in product development.  

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I always wanted to pursue my graduation in Mechanical Engineering. I felt that completing a diploma first would give me a good taste as well as some exposure of what lies ahead in this field. I started learning about engineering drawing and tools such as AutoCAD during my summer vacation (after 10th ).Of course, my father, being a Mechanical Engineer himself, helped me as well. While pursuing my graduation, I felt that I had an advantage over other fellow students in terms of understanding the concepts as I already had some exposure during my diploma days. During the last year of graduation, I was facing a dilemma whether to look for a job or pursue post-graduation. Eventually, I decided to go ahead with my Masters.   

I always wanted to be an R&D/design engineer and fortunately I landed my first job as an Intern in the same field at Whirlpool. There I worked as a Design Engineering Intern in the refrigeration department. Therein, I was responsible for supporting various engineering activities like design calculations, modeling of parts, preparing drawings, root cause analysis of problems and creating Augmented Reality experiences to name a few. I also worked on concept generation, developing detailed designs, and testing prototypes which were a part of my M.Tech academic project as well.

After one year at Whirlpool, I got selected at Stryker. The experience of working in a product based company like Whirlpool in the product design field surely helped me in getting selected here. At Stryker, I was placed in the Joint Replacement team which worked on designing and developing Knee and Hip implants and surgical instruments for the same. Here I worked extensively on many product development activities like understanding customer needs, generating concepts, creating design outputs, conducting product qualification and managing other aspects of the product life cycle. I got great insights into various design activities and tools such GD&T, Risk Management, FMEA, DFM, Product testing and customer validation which are core elements of any product development cycle. My time at Stryker was very knowledgeable and full of learning.   

How did you get your first break?

I got my first break during the 2nd year of my post-graduation in the form of an internship. Towards the end of my 1st year, I was actively looking for internship opportunities for the next year as I knew that such an experience would give me a good start. I tried to get to interview opportunities through my college and my personal connections. Overall, I appeared for 4 interviews and got selected at 2 places and finally decided to accept the opportunity at Whirlpool.  

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Transition from academic world to practical environment

In fact, everyone faces this situation when they begin their career. Transitioning from your day-to-day academic world (which is mostly theoretical) to working on actual, real-world and pragmatic applications could be demanding. I needed to put in extra effort to start afresh and learn almost everything from scratch in the field of product design and engineering. I made sure that I understood the expectations from me as a working professional and how I could use my knowledge amassed over the years to better my output. Luckily, I had really good mentors and supervisors who helped me a lot.   

Challenge 2: Switching to Medical Devices industry

To be honest, as a mechanical engineer, one hardly anticipates himself/herself designing and developing medical instruments and products. Once I entered this world, I found that there was a plethora of things to unearth. Switching to the development of medical devices came with a lot of its own challenges, starting from understanding the anatomy and biology of the human body, understanding the responsibilities of working in a highly regulated industry and following strict design controls to understanding the whole process, from extracting the needs of customers and patients and delivering the final product. This required lots of effort and most importantly, the drive to learn and grasp as much as I could.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?

Currently I work at BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), which is a US based medical devices manufacturer. I’m working as a design engineer responsible for designing and developing products which fall under Medication Delivery Solutions. Medication Delivery Solutions consist of highly precise devices which are used to transfer and deliver medication and other hazardous drugs. 

For instance, some of the products that we make are used to deliver hazardous drugs like chemotherapy medicines and antiviral drugs. Such drugs could have adverse effect on health care workers (such as nurse and other hospital staff) if they are exposed to it. In order to prevent this, we have to make products which are closed-transferred and totally leak proof. This involves complex arrangement of internal parts as well as ensuring adherence to rigorous international performance and safety standards. This makes design of such highly precise products really challenging.  

I work on solving all the engineering challenges in the current product portfolio, which we call as sustenance engineering as well as designing new products as per customer needs. This includes understanding the needs of customers, generating concepts, developing the design of the product and ensuring that products are easy to manufacture and safe to use. Also, I work on improving the current products for better performance and ensuring that our products comply with latest standards. 

Looking back at my career, what I have learned is, in order to be a “sound” design engineer, it is important to understand who we are designing for, why we are designing, and how we need to design a product. In order to do that, one needs to understand their customers thoroughly by understanding their needs, what are the engineering means to address these needs effectively and how can we manufacture and deliver products. 

My typical day includes some of the activities like creating and maintaining design documentation of products, working on 3D modeling and drawings, generating new innovative ideas to address unmet needs of customers and patients, conducting tests to verify product performance to name a few. As a design engineering aspirant, I would say that a good way to enhance your skills for such a role would be to have a good understanding of all the engineering principles we learn in academics and try to understand applications of it.

How does your work benefit society? 

We deliver products with a vision of making healthcare better and easing patients’ lives. Our products are used in every corner of the world which directly impact the wellbeing and lives of our customers. For instance, BD has already committed 2 billion injection devices to countries and nongovernmental organizations around the world in order to facilitate anti-COVID-19 vaccination. This is really impressive!

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

This is really difficult and I couldn’t simply choose one. In my previous organization, Stryker, we used to make customer specific surgical instruments which were specially made catering to a particular set of patients. The mere thought of me having helped make something which could be used to make someone’s life better gives satisfaction. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Well, I’d definitely advise students to have a long-term vision and act proactively based on that. Set your long term goals and then figure out which path would lead you to your ultimate goal instead of just moving along a path and let your path decide your ultimate destination. Sometimes it’s completely fine not to have set long term goals, should you wish to explore more options along your journey and simultaneously figure out what you’d want to achieve in the end. Also, your academic performance won’t necessarily decide your success as a professional, as you will get more than enough opportunities to carve out a successful career. Just get ready to work your socks off!

Future Plans?

I intend to continue with my current role as I believe that I have an ocean of things to learn. One day, I see myself leading a team of people with a common goal of delivering much more positive impact to society.