Some skills may be found outside of typical engineering education.
Bioengineering Blog: Preparing for a Career as a Simulation Engineer in Medical Devices
Nov 3, 2020
by Arlen Ward
First, build a familiarity with systems engineering and its approach to complex systems. System engineering is the structured analysis of how different components (engineered and environmental) interact with each other in order to produce an end result. Medical device design includes a multitude of factors that are going to drive the effectiveness and safety of the device so systems engineering is a key part to understanding the interactions even if your responsibility is in individual components.
Second, become comfortable with statistics. Skills in statistics are important because there is a lot of variability in medical device systems- not only in the biological tissue but also manufacturing processes, design tolerances, and many other areas. Having a working knowledge and understanding of statistics really helps an engineer understand the contribution of variability and how to effectively communicate that to the rest of the team.
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Not surprisingly, anatomy and physiology is an area to focus some of your time. You don't need detailed knowledge of every biological system but a basic understanding of major organ systems and their functions will help you understand the device’s purpose. Knowing where organs are in relation to each other and the properties of critical tissues is part of that basic understanding.
The working knowledge of physiology is also important because these are not static systems. You will need to know how biological systems react to a stimulus and the changes in physiology that are affected by the device being designed.
For the computational modeling and simulation component a strong background an understanding in differential equations and numerical methods will help you to understand what is occurring “under the hood” with the available analysis tools. Knowing how these numerical methods are implemented gives you the background needed to create your own tools in the scenarios where commercial off the shelf software packages don’t address your needs.
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To that end, experience with programming it is also essential. Whether that experience with MATLAB, C++, or something like Python or Java, the specific language is less important than learning how to organize programs in useful ways so they can be created quickly the simulated amongst the working team as needed.
Mechanical engineering is a great foundation for working in medical device R&D and when that foundation is coupled with the electives and extra courses in the areas mentioned above it provides a solid start for new engineers trying land their dream position in bioengineering. Adding experience and skills in computational modeling and simulation will give you the tools needed to accelerate design work and open new possibilities in machine learning and AI as well.
Designing safe and effective medical devices has some unique challenges, but a background that includes anatomy and physiology, systems engineering, and statistics as well as numerical methods and programming skills provide a powerful combination for creating innovative new devices to meet the health care challenges of the future.
Arlen Ward, Ph.D., P.E., is a principal modeling and simulation engineer with System Insight Engineering LLC, a medical device simulation consultancy.
Opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASME.