MDIFS#4: The Product Development Process

I received this feedback from Sean Corrigan, B.S. Physics, B.S. M.E., M.S. M.E., Engineering Program Manager, Insight. Sean’s master’s degree is in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in structural design and vibratory mechanics. His specific areas of expertise include structures and motion, technology platform development and product platform development.

“I have always felt that engineers in general do not get much exposure to the full development process during their education. I think predominantly in college, engineers are drilled on problem solving, but not exposed to the process by which the problems they solve are posed. In other words, given a problem, engineers will always be able to solve it given time and money, but the real crux of it is “are you sure you’re solving the right problem” or “are you solving the problem in the best way”. This requires engineers to be comfortable with lack of definition early on (sometimes not a natural instinct) and demonstrate a great amount of discipline regarding when one stops brainstorming the 101 ways one could do something and starts down-selecting to the one you’re actually going to execute. Perhaps others may have had better exposure to this than me during their education, but most often I’ve seen engineers have to develop these skills for the first time on the job”.

The product development process is an area that is often glossed over in the engineering education curriculum.  Particularly the front end process that involves determining the customer needs or answers the question “are you sure you’re solving the right problem(?)”.

Sean is a mechanical engineer working in the medical device industry.  Engineers trained in the traditional engineering fields have a specific set of knowledge that will always be important to the creation of a commercial product.  It is that depth of knowledge that is important where the rubber meets the road.  A graduate from a B.S. Biomedical Engineering program who wants to work in the medical device or pharmaceutical industry needs to have a similar set of knowledge to maximize their potential for being hired.  Being able to work at the interface of biology and engineering is not enough if the entry level BME does not have sufficient depth in a traditional engineering field.

His point is well taken when you consider that the only time many students get exposed to the product development process is during the Senior Project or its equivalent.  An internship or co-op experience is more likely to expose the student to one or two aspects of the product development process.  I, for one, would advocate either the integration of important product development steps in the BME and BMET courses or a separate course before the Senior Project that specifically steps through and explores the product development process in baccalaureate programs.

See also Medical Device Industry Feedback Series (MDIFS)

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