Continual Learning

Wow! We are half-way through our internship, the time is flying! This week, I was able to work more on my project and made some significant progress, so that made the week go by even faster than normal. Aside from working on my project, I got to attempt to insert a urinary catheter, learn about neuromodulation, and come to some significant insights about biomedical engineering.

Where I work (and eat, a lot).

Let’s start with the insights: First, while reminiscing about my previous internships in the oil and gas industry, which is a world away from the medical realm, I realized that at the heart of it, most engineering jobs are extremely similar. All involve processes accompanied by paperwork, meetings to collaborate and share progress updates, various projects that must be balanced, information gathering to understand possible solutions, and most importantly, sound decision making based on technical knowledge. All external factors aside like company culture and coworkers, the thing that differentiates between engineering jobs is the projects themselves. So it is extremely important to be interested in the products that you are working on. Currently, I’m not sure exactly what products I’m most interested in, but I do know that they reside in the medtech industry. My second insight involved quality systems. Basically, a quality system is a framework of checks and structured processes that guide all work in a company. Initially, while reading through my mountain of training paperwork, I thought that quality systems only slowed work down and made everything more laborious due to extra paperwork and hoops to jump through. However, I realized this week that quality systems are extremely important in the medical industry because patients’ lives are at risk. A quality system ensures that patient safety is safeguarded as best as possible. It catches small details that tend to fall through gaps (like new FDA standards or recently identified risks from products) that can have terrible consequences. It helps to maintain the company’s reputation by only allowing the highest quality of work. It also provides a way to track work to improve products and processes through good documentation. So although complying with a quality system can be frustrating, I am now convinced that it is absolutely necessary.

A diagram of a guidewire (similar to the ones I’m working on). From

Honestly, I have been surprised at how much I have been learning in the past three weeks. I expected the learning curve to more or less level off at some point during my internship, but it hasn’t, a fact for which I am extremely grateful. The difference is that while I was learning just facts, now I am actually understanding by piecing the facts together to create a full picture. For example, I learned about quality systems, good documentation, and the product development process during training. But it was only this week that I understood that all three are actually inseparably intertwined. My project centers around ensuring FDA compliance to new guidelines, which was caught by the quality system. But without the product development team documenting their choices and specifications, I would not be able to learn about the products enough to even start my project. So it all comes full circle. I am coming full circle by understanding what the trainings I read actually mean in real life.

Spearing the sample again and again in vain.

Trying to insert a urinary catheter into rubber organs.

Speaking of learning, this week I was also privileged to participate in a urology clinical training. I learned about the different parts of the urinary system (kidneys, bladder, etc.) and how kidney stones are removed. Then, as always with the clinical trainings, I got to try my skills with real devices on a dummy setup. I was really glad that it was a dummy because I speared it about ten times until I hit the kidney stone while simulating the percutaneous (through the skin) approach to removing kidney stones. I wasn’t even able to get the catheter in the ureter tube in the other simulation with rubber organs and a scope camera. This is especially significant because I was “cheating” by using the shadow of the device to help me, moving the fake organs around in an attempt to succeed, and watching the screen that actually showed some contrast. All three of these are advantages that surgeons do not have in real life. So my respect for surgeons skyrocketed that day. They have skills beyond anything I can imagine; I tip my hat to you all.

An implantable device and controller to stop Parkinson’s disease tremors.

Another highlight of my week was talking with the head of R & D neuromodulation (aka Chandler’s boss). He gave us a high-level view of neuromodulation which consists of sending electrical signals to nerves to decrease symptoms. It is absolutely amazing what they can do. With an implant, the tremors of Parkinson’s disease are stilled, crippling chronic pain fades to background noise, and the deaf can hear. It is an amazing field that I am looking forward to seeing what it has to offer in the next twenty years because they are just scratching the surface.



Here are more fun facts about Costa Rica:

  • Holding the door open for others is common courtesy
  • Costa Rica sits on the intersection of two tectonic plates, so small earthquakes are frequent
  • Speed limit signs are rare in the city because traffic and speed bumps are the main speed regulators

To wrap up our week, we took a trip to Arenal volcano. It was a blast! We hiked the active volcano, swam in the clear lake, soaked in the natural hot springs, browsed local art, and enjoyed the ever-shifting weather.

Hiking at Arenal volcano this weekend, 360 view!

Posted in Callie | Leave a comment

Week 8: Full Steam Ahead

Reviewing Progress

Our team made it a key point to review progress weekly, this ultimately ensures that we stay on target with our specific objectives. On Monday, I had presented the previous week’s work, detailing the research I had done. Although the information was useful, one thing that my supervisor suggested I improved on was the general detailing of the problem. At Boston Scientific, they use “problem-solving” and “fish-bone” diagrams. The reason behind these diagrams is to show the step-by-step process in tackling an issue. Being that I am only at Boston Scientific for three more weeks, I think I wanted to jump ahead and propose solutions to problems without taking a tiered approach. Although it may seem that a solution that could fix a problem relatively fast is a great approach, in reality, it can be ineffective for a few reasons:

  1. The solution does not solve the root problem
  2. The solution is not the most-effective option
  3. The solution can add cost in the long-term
  4. The solution may not be validated

Fish-bone Diagram

As an Engineer, my first instinct when seeing problems is to immediately fix them, but as this internship is teaching me, sometimes being patient and thorough can be the only way in addressing problems.  There are three main driving principles in correctly defining a problem:

  1. Data-Driven
  2. Team-Based
  3. Right the First Time

These three principles help ensure that the problem is first understood at a fundamental level, and that you have the necessary justification to further pursue solutions. Boston Scientific emphasized that “a correctly defined problem is 50% solved” and after going through the process of problem-solving, that statement makes perfect sense.

Weekly Objectives

After we reviewed last week’s progress, we also discussed what was on the agenda for this week.  Some of the objectives I had included the following:

  • Designing an Experiment to Justify a Machine
  • Conduct Daily Chemical Testing of Coating
  • GEMBA Walks (Internal Audits)
  • Begin Joint Raw Material Characterization Project

Justifying L&D Machine

For Boston’s Stents and NVI, they needed a more controlled process for lubricity and durability (L&D) testing. With the variability in testing (various French sizes, material composition, etc.) it was difficult for them to validate a specific L&D machine as they were unable to get the same tolerances across their varying products. With that in mind, I did some research on finding an alternative machine capable of adjusting to that variability. After contacting some sister plants that had used similar equipment, we found that it may be viable to implement a specific machine, but further testing needed to be done. This requires that we send samples (using a “design of experiment” method) for testing. The samples must be representative of the wide range that would be seen in the Stent and NVI product lines.

Coating Testing

An important aspect in improving the shelf-life of a coating is to look at humidity saturation over time to see what might be improved. Typically, these humidity tests were only done on a weekly-basis and so it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where a problem with the humidity was occurring. As of recently, there have been more efforts in conducting daily-testing to help in the process of identification. With that, I analyzed the conditions of the room in which the dip-coating was done and tried to see if instances of lost conditions in the room affected the coating humidity. Records of room conditions from the last year were given to me to analyze. This is just a step in data collection that could help us get closer to a solution.

An ongoing project by a colleague involved improving the tank in which the dip-coating was done. An idea was proposed to better enclose the coating to prevent any external factors from adversely affecting the coating. This of course had some overlap with what I am currently working on, and by pitching and brainstorming ideas together, we perhaps can propose an efficient solution later down the road.

GEMBA Walks (Internal Audits)

Another objective we had set out this week was to go on a “GEMBA” walk. Essentially, this is an observatory walk around the production room to see if there are any improvements that could be made and ensure that non-conforming events are not occurring. This is referred to as an informal audit of sorts and keeps a system of accountability between coworkers. Internal audits are especially helpful to a company such as Boston Scientific in that it prepares everyone for external audits (where the ramifications are much more significant) and keeps the company running smoothly from a regulatory perspective.

Joint Raw Material Characterization Project

As an additional project to work on, Ryan and I began the preliminary research on the raw material characterization project. Our objectives were the following:

  1. Understand the specifications required from the Coyol-Spencer transfer
  2. Evaluate the variation in values
  3. Try to control parameters to get better pull-test results
  4. Receive process parameters from Spencer

Boston Scientific’s Spencer location provided the raw materials needed for extrusions and among the specifications required, among the most relevant to our project revolved around us understanding the melt-index and molecular weight of the raw material received. We need to further analyze the effect those specifications have on extrusions, and then as an output, meet with Spencer’s plant and see if we can tighten the parameters of specification on the raw material coming into Coyol.

Weekend Fun

As our time in Costa Rica is winding down, we wanted to see one of the most popular destinations in Arenal. After a 3 hour drive, we were able to relax some at the Baldi hot springs and of course, have impromptu photoshoots (which I am sure Tasha and Sanjana will provide pictures for). To start the next day off right, the group went on a hike near the Arenal Volcano and got some amazing views!

Hiking Views of Arenal

And if those views weren’t stunning enough, Lake Arenal is another great place to get in tune with Mother Nature. Still in awe of Costa Rica after 8 weeks!


Posted in Joshua | Leave a comment

Week 8: Implementation Project Introductions

The end of this week marks the halfway point for my internship at Boston Scientific. It’s hard to believe it’s almost over! It seems like just yesterday we were in orientation, and the day before that that we got to Costa Rica.

An exciting thing that’s happened over the past couple of weeks is the discussion about our implementation projects for the coming fall and spring. In these implementation projects, we will be taking a device that has already had a significant amount of design work done, and take the next steps for our device to get to market. Each student will own their own project, and therefore be responsible for the results obtained for that project throughout the year.

Two weeks ago, Dr Richardson presented us with the 7 projects we had to choose from (some will have two students assigned), and then each of us chose the top 4 projects that we wanted to work on. After hearing about the projects, I’m really excited to get to started on whichever one gets assigned to me! First off, the projects are really cool! Each one seems to solve problems in underserved markets in a novel yet simple way, and frankly, I would be happy to work on any of them. Additionally, I’m interested to see how working on the back end of a project will mesh with my interests and personality. One of the reasons I chose not to pursue a career in academia is that I didn’t want to hand off the work I did to someone else in order to make it useful, but instead wanted to do the work that would be given to the customer. With that attitude, I think the implementation project will be something I greatly enjoy.

When faced with having to prioritize my projects, I had to make some decisions about what skills I wanted to develop in my time at Rice. As a mechanical engineer, I could dive deeper into mechanics relevant to the medtech industry, which could likely lead to becoming a technical expert in some field related to mechanics. However, as I consider my strengths and weaknesses, a decision-maker role seems to be one that I would be better suited for and enjoy more. For such a role, it seems to me that breadth of knowledge would be more beneficial than depth. With the growing integration of software into medical devices and my limited yet enjoyable experience with programming, I decided to focus on pursuing projects involving software development. We’ll see which one Dr Richardson assigns me!

This past week at Boston, the majority of my work consisted of finishing the design of experiment for our CAPA. I collected a little more data, analyzed it, and made my final recommendations for the parameters and their values in the official experiment. After the parameters values were decided on, I was able to design the experiment and define how each run should be carried out. (Special thanks to the MEEN 404 class I took at Texas A&M which prepared me really well for doing this DOE.) The next steps are to finish the paperwork necessary to run the experiment, and analyze and present the results. Looking back, outside of the slow start I got, I am happy with the results I have delivered so far. Hopefully we’ll get helpful and meaningful data!

This week, Josh and I were also given a new joint project involving the characterization of incoming material. Our supervisors would like to better control some of the materials they receive from other sites, so my and Josh’s roles will be to collect and analyze some data that will hopefully indicate which parameters involved in the creation of the material are most influential for the success of our processes. I’m excited for the chance to get to work with one of my fellow GMI students on this project and deepen my understanding of the need for process controls.

I told Josh to get another picture of my good side. He thinks he’s funny.

Coming out of the clean room after collecting some data

Posted in Ryan | Leave a comment

Getting in the Groove

This week I have really gotten in the groove at work. I created my own system to keep track of the tasks I need to complete and when they need to be completed, and I have also enjoyed getting to mark many of those tasks as ‘complete’ this week. I have found that I tend to be more productive when I have a lot of work to do, so being involved in several projects has helped me to work hard and fast in order to reach my goals.

For my project focused on the Design Ownership Transfer (DOT) for the cardiac catheter product, we aimed to complete several parts of the Document Review section of the checklist this week, and I also had a few personal goals for the project. For the checklist, I began a Design History File (DHF) overview, which involves identifying the product and its various models. I also read the market specifications and the three product and packaging specifications associated with the three different product models, as well as a review of the bill of materials (BOM) procedure. There are a few components of the checklist for this week that I was not able to complete, because we are trying to determine how to get access to the documents needed. I will focus on completing those items next week, along with the Design Verification Master Plan (DVMP) that I will review for this product. For my personal goals, I reviewed the process flowcharts for assembly of the imaging core and for final assembly of the product. These documents are written in Spanish, and unfortunately I do not know enough Spanish to read over 30 documents (maybe someday!) so I focused on the images of the processes. This ended up working out really well, since we had already toured the manufacturing line and had seen the process in detail. Additionally, I reviewed two PowerPoints from the manufacturing engineer at the Coyol site, which gave me a better understanding of the technical details of the product, as well as an overview of intravascular ultrasound, which is incorporated in the product.

To break up some of this reading, I have also continued to work on the project for a product that requires clarification in its FMEA in order to update portions of the Directions for Use (DFU) that are no longer necessary to include. Last week, I compared the FMEA for this product to a similar product, in order to see what modifications could be made. On Tuesday, I met with coworkers from DA, R&D, and Packaging in order to discuss how we should move forward. This meeting was really enjoyable for me, because I got to see my work making an impact on the project and helping the team make progress. On Friday, I made modifications to the product’s FMEA based on the comparison I completed earlier. Next week, we will discuss the modifications and determine our next steps. Additionally, I recently found a website through BSC that has a bunch of product demonstration videos, so I was able to watch a demo for this product. This helped me understand the purpose of the device and get a better feel for the project. I really like that BSC provides this resource, especially because I enjoy learning by watching and doing rather than only reading.

For my project involving a project scoping draft, I also watched a product demo video for the predicate device of the proposed new device, which is really similar to the already marketed device with only minor changes to the dimensions and intended use. I had already seen a brief demonstration of this product in person, but it was interesting to watch it with a model of a human body to see the application. Additionally, I learned more about this project by reading the Design Verification Master Plan (DVMP) and the Product Specification for the previous iteration of the device. This provided me with a good understanding of the differences between the already marketed device and the proposed new device. On Wednesday, I met with coworkers in DA and R&D and the Project Manager (PM) to discuss the project scope with other members of the project from different sites. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss some of the concerns with the project, including the potential need for a new supplier and any disruptions that might arise from extending the manufacturing line for the already marketed version of the device. Because of these concerns and waiting for confirmation to move forward, we may not have a completed project scope draft by the end of my internship, but I am hoping that I will still be able to contribute to the project before we leave Costa Rica.

Despite the possibility of not completing that goal, I have almost completed all of my goals for the Onboarding project! This week, I finished rereading the DA Onboarding guide and was able to provide some feedback to the project lead. I also finished checking off the items that I have completed in the Onboarding checklist, which is broken down into sections for the first week, first month, and second month. Since we are only here for six weeks, my onboarding process was a little different than the normal process, but I was still able to complete all of the tasks necessary for my job. Additionally, the team was looking into implementing a mentor evaluation for new hires to fill out, so I created a first draft that included some traits that I felt were important for a good mentor to have. My last task for this project will be to view the various links available for new hires within the guide and estimate the time of my onboarding process. I really like this project, because it gave me the opportunity to use my unique situation with such a short time period at BSC to give the team quick feedback that may have otherwise had to wait several months for a new hire.

After discussing four projects, you would think I am almost out of material to talk about, right? Well, stay tuned, because I still have some good topics to cover!

One of the best parts about being part of the DA team is that there is so much that I get to learn and experience. They have included me in so many projects that have covered all kinds of topics. This week, I also made progress on the Usability Engineering Plan for the family of guidewires that require a change to the packaging, as well as the Innovation Culture Project. On Monday, I read the Usability Engineering plan and updated it with Guiselle. This plan is being updated, because the family of guidewires being discussed needs an additional form of identification added to the packaging in order to make it easier for clinicians to identify each guidewire once removed from the carton and pouch. With this plan, we had to consider what questions need to be answered during evaluation in order to determine if the solution is effective. For the Innovation Culture Project, I created a presentation draft for the needs finding lecture using the Biodesign book and the presentation from the beginning of this summer with Paul Fearis, the brilliant English man I described in one of my first blogs. I enjoyed this task, because needs finding is something that I enjoy doing and talking about with others.

To complete my goal of learning everything I can about the different departments within the company, Chandler, Callie, and I met with the R&D Neuromodulation Manager and a Software Developer from Neuromodulation this week to learn more about what they do. We all know that the brain and spinal cord are very complex and magnificent components of the human body (OK—maybe not everyone finds it as cool as I do; I suppose that’s the nerd in me), but the extent to which we can incorporate technology within this complicated network of neurons is astounding. Neuromodulation can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms, chronic pain, phantom limb syndrome, epilepsy, bowel disease, urinary incontinence, certain types of depression, epilepsy, obesity, and even testicular cancer patients experiencing phantom pain. I didn’t realize how widespread this treatment could be, so I really enjoyed learning more about this field and the technology being developed.

Lastly, on Monday afternoon, I got to participate in the hands-on portion of a urology clinical training, where I got to practice inserting a scope into a model of human kidneys. This was a lot of fun, but it made me realize how difficult it is to maneuver these scopes inside the body. I have to give a hand to the physicians that make it look so easy.

To wrap up, I wanted to list some of the key takeaways from this week:

  • If you can’t keep a device on the market, you can’t do new product development
  • It’s important to never rush a product to please the market—the patient’s safety always comes first

Since we are working in sustaining engineering, the projects tend to incorporate a lot of reading, which can become tiresome, but it is extremely important for sustaining the products throughout their lifecycles. The only way to continue to develop new products within the company is to show that those products will survive once on the market. Additionally, while it is important to produce results in a timely manner, it is more important to provide quality results that ensure patient safety. The focus on patient safety at BSC is one of the aspects that I find very admirable about the company.

This weekend, we took an overnight trip to La Fortuna, and we went hiking at Arenal Volcano, swam in Lake Arenal, relaxed at the Baldi hot springs, and found a natural geothermal river that many Costa Ricans use as a hangout spot.

We only have three weeks left here in Costa Rica. Here’s to making the most of it!

Posted in Karlee | Leave a comment

Week 8: Turning Limones into Limonada

This week presented me with the challenge of time: too much of it! Both of my projects hit a speed bump, and I found myself with more autonomy than expected.

On Monday morning I converted my potential solutions for Project 2 into a Powerpoint presentation I would give later that afternoon. At this meeting I’d present my solutions to 7 people from different departments. I was eager to receive constructive feedback in order to change or confirm my plans. My goal for this week was to identify the top two solutions, refine the concepts, and pitch the results to several external vendors who would help me create a working prototype. However, this Monday meeting didn’t quite go as planned.

The first 30 minutes were dedicated to solving technical difficulties with the projector. Once resolved, another 30 minutes was spent redefining the problem. There was debate over the efficacy and accuracy of a 3D system compared to the current 2D system. Unfortunately, our meeting could only last one hour. As a result, no ideas or solutions were discussed and another meeting had to be scheduled.

After a short powwow with core team members and the project manager, we discussed several key points on how to improve the next meeting:
• Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the problem and purpose of the meeting
• Create and follow an agenda
• Dedicate one person as the ultimate Decider on the scope of the project-typically the project manager
• Have a timer

As frustrating as it can be to reschedule a meeting, this experience gave me significant foresight into some Do’s and Don’ts for managing time and people.

Another challenge this week was consistently keeping myself productive and busy, since this week’s progress for both projects hinged on other people with busy schedules. I had three days of free time- here is what I did with it!


• I brushed up on some trigonometry, geometry, and calculus from high school, thinking it may come in handy when communicating the geometric orientation of Project 2.
• I redid my Project 2 Powerpoint presentation, eliminating bulky words with better graphics
• I drew Project 2’s medical device in 3D
• I shipped “Pass” and “Fail” medical devices to external vendors
• I answered the vendor’s questions on the shipped devices, background, and problem statement for Project 2
• I began emailing different departments to arrange 30 minute informational meetings in order to better understand Boston Scientific as a whole
• I learned how to use Minitab statistical software

On Friday I was able to present my ideas for Project 2 at a meeting, and began contacting vendors about designing a prototype. I also ran some tests with Veronica for Project 1, using Argon to flush out air in a metal bag. The bag contained some wires, which were heated in an oven. The intention was to see if the color of the wires would change. As I was researching the safety and use of Argon, I stumbled across a fun fact-during the wine bottling process, Argon is substituted for air inside the bottle because air can facilitate microbial growth on the surface of the liquid!

Veronica and me after testing the wires with Argon-filled bags

Even though this week didn’t result in huge progress for my projects, I took advantage of the free time to gain new skills, self-improve, and network. I’m appreciative I experienced a “slow week” like this, because it allowed me to self-reflect, plan my future weeks for the remainder of the internship, and establish professional goals.

Aside from work, the team visited Arenal this weekend! One morning we hiked Arenal volcano, crossing  lava beds formed in 1968.


Posted in Anna | Leave a comment

Week 8: Never a Quiet Day

In my experience, there has always a period midway in an internship phase where my motivation is stifled by the imprecise direction of my work. I question the quality of my work and whether I am providing benefit for the company through my internship. This ultimately stems from a sense of personal motivation – am I truly taking advantage of every opportunity and minute that I am there? The answer was probably not. Looking back at previous positions, I would argue that I was not confident enough to clarify my goals, and that often led to this period of time where I would aimlessly search for solutions to no avail. I could cast out lines in all directions, but if I have no idea of what I am looking for, I would just reel back an empty hook. It was frustrating, needless to say, and it built a feeling of uncertainty in internships since I never understood the impact of what I was doing.

Fortunately, Boston Scientific is different.

There are certain factors that have contributed to my motivation and success at Boston Scientific thus far. This past week, I had the chance to work all week alongside my coworkers in the neuromodulation team, where I learned something important, and this leads to my first point: teamwork is so much more than just working in a team. It is a culture. When people get to work, they go around and greet everyone in the team individually. When it is time for lunch, we all sit together and just talk (as long as it is nothing work-related). When we need a break, we gather together and play a game to ease the stress. It is something I have come to appreciate at Boston Scientific in Costa Rica. With our ability to see each other as friends rather than just coworkers, it has helped me (and conversely everyone else) work harder and more effectively than in other experiences.

A little crowded, but we make do (for the good of the game)

This leads to my second point, where as a part of a team (not just as an intern), everyone is a resource. Something that has always been emphasized to me, but never enforced, is the effect of asking questions. We were never meant to know everything (I admit it…), but we can always ask the experts in that field to get the answers we need. It has been especially helpful for me in this internship to seek out help. Don’t know how to program a simulation in Labview? Ask Arturo. Don’t know how to use 3D printing software to print a test platform? Ask Alejandro. Need some clarification with the battery model in MATLAB? Ask Thomas. In effect, everyone is willing to share their knowledge if you are willing to learn, and it has benefited me in more ways than one. This has not only allowed me to effectively complete my tasks in a shorter amount of time, but it has also taught me more than I would have through any video or website.

Experimental setup that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of several neuromodulation people

However, remember in a previous blog where I mentioned that “plans never work, but planning always does?” Same thing goes for internships. On the second week of my internship, I created a timeline and a set of goals with my supervisor EO with how I would approach the remainder of my short time at Boston Scientific. I was excited – it seemed like there was more than enough work to do, but as I quickly realized, set your goals and be ready to adjust. This has particularly been relevant with one of my projects with creating a battery model, where I thought I could be done by this week. However, with each new compounding variable, the model needs a whole reworking that has taken much more time than I originally thought. Given that, I have been realistic with myself and have continued to work at it, knowing that this may not be done in the timeline I originally set. Especially with new projects arising every day, I need to be able to manage my time at work to address all my tasks. Similarly, I need to be able to prioritize which projects need the most attention, and adjust accordingly to reach my goals by the end of this internship.

One way that has been helpful with identifying which projects to prioritize is documentation. Not only has it been helpful to fill in time during the down hours when I am stuck on a project, but it also provides a document that shows my thought process, my goals, and my deliverables. Whether it is explaining my variable choices in MATLAB, or explaining my thought process from a brainstorming session, each thing I have written down will benefit Boston Scientific in some way in the future if they continue the work I have left for them. So if I were to cap off what I have learned this past week, it is that documenting the work is not just helpful, it is essential. Without it, my work may as well be the dead end of a project that I have previously thought it out to be. With documentation, my work can lay the groundwork for a future innovation.

On another note, we were in Arenal this past weekend [refer to cool panoramic photo above], which is why I am a little late on posting this blog. However, there will be a video about it in next week’s blog!

Just a man and his pita chips

I mentioned last week that we went to a dog sanctuary; check the video for that out here!

Until next week, pura vida mis amigos.

Posted in Chandler | Leave a comment

Week 7: Designing Experiments

This past week in my internship at Boston Scientific, I started working on my primary project. When one of Boston’s product lines first entered production, they used a particular technology to conduct one of the fabrication steps. However, in recent years, they began moving to a newer technology to conduct that step because the newer option had better process controls, and therefore should be able to more consistently produce products that meet their specifications. Currently, Boston has successfully validated (or shown that a process can consistently produce good results) this technology for products in a given product line, but not all.

For my assignment, I was added to a team that is beginning the validation process for a group of products with this new technology. The team’s next task is to conduct an experiment attempting to show the effect of all important factors on the process. The first task given to me was to fabricate some parts with the new technology under a wide range of settings and test them so that I could make recommendations for which parameters we should investigate, as well as the values those parameters should be set to in the experiment.

Got my own cubicle, with snacks from coworkers included!

Fabricating and evaluating the data took up the entire week, and I definitely learned some lessons along the way. When initially talking to the team, one of them said to just “play around with the settings to see what works”; I may have taken that a little too seriously at first. For the first product, I tended to investigate parameters as I thought of them and with little structure. This method was helpful in gaining some intuition as to how the different parameters affected the results, but I found later that it made it difficult to evaluate the data for trends because of the existence of confounding factors. I tended to change multiple variables at a time, and therefore could not get a clear picture of the data. As time went on and I started evaluating my data for recommendations, I saw the value of having a more structured approach to controlling the variables. I was also more constrained for time, having spent more time than I should have on the first of five products, so the structure also helped expedite the process. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would have tried to be more methodical from the beginning.

I also learned a little about myself this week. My experience with this project thus far has been much more hands-on than theory-based. In manufacturing, you can propose all the ideas you want for why different parameters would be more or less effective at controlling a process, but at the end of the day you have to show it. Process validation requires evidence that using this machine at these settings with these restraints produces acceptable results by actually doing it that way. I have not had much time to dig into the theory behind my process beyond the basic physical principles I know from my classes at Texas A&M, but instead have needed to use a lot of trial and error. It may be that my limited time here makes it challenging to understand the theory behind the process, but I get the impression that manufacturing engineers tend to work far more in trial and error than in theory. Undoubtedly having a good understanding of a process would guide an engineer to good solutions, but it seems that there are often too many confounding factors that render a reliance on theory impractical to the manufacturing engineer. Nevertheless, it has only been one week, and I know better than to stop at the surface. I’m excited for the rest of the internship and for everything else I will learn in my time here!

This weekend, I made it back to the States for a friend’s wedding. While it was physically exhausting, it was great to see old friends, celebrate his marriage, and have a little taste of home. Being emotionally recharged, I’m ready to finish strong for the next 4 weeks!

Posted in Ryan | Leave a comment

Week 7: Getting into a Rhythm

I’m finally getting into a rhythm at Boston Scientific! This week, I devoted the bulk of my time to really learning the nitty gritty details of my project. During the first week of our internship, I set a few key goals and deadlines to accomplish them. By the end of the second week, my aim was to:

  1. Learn more about intravascular ultrasound catheters
  2. Read Boston Scientific’s documentation for existing device prototypes
  3. Research the differences between catheters used in different organs, and understand how the physiology of these organs affects ultrasound properties

In order to accomplish these goals, I read background material, researched competitive products, and studied research papers and clinical trials that could provide insight about what we are trying to accomplish. I recognized that this work is necessary whenever you start a project, and especially when you enter in on a project after it has already begun. In order for me to be able to contribute productively, I need to make sure I am well-versed in the science behind it, and spending this time researching definitely helped.

One of the most interesting things I learned about this week was how critical the selection of a frequency for an ultrasound transducer is. The transducer is one of the tiniest components of the catheter, but  it drives the catheter’s functionality. When selecting a frequency, it is important to consider the effect it has on image resolution and penetration. High frequency catheters produce a high resolution image with low penetration, and low frequency catheters produce a low resolution image with high penetration. When modifying catheters for different applications, we must consider both the resolution that we need as well as the depth of the organ. Additionally, the acoustic impedance, or the resistance that the ultrasound beam encounters as it passes through tissue, varies from organ to organ and is also important to consider. The transfer of energy from the ultrasound beam to tissue can damage the tissue, so we must also prevent this from occurring.

On Tuesday, I also got a chance to see how the catheters are manufactured. On the product line, I saw the level of detail that goes into producing each component. Each part is assembled and tested for viability before it is passed on to the next step, ensuring that the quality of each catheter produced is up to par. I was surprised to see how much of the process is done by hand. Very little is automated, and each employee in the manufacturing line is able to assemble their components quickly and efficiently. The entire process is streamlined in such a way that makes it easy to pass parts on from one section to another. Prior to beginning my internship at Boston Scientific, I would never have guessed how much discipline, focus, and energy goes into the production of something as seemingly simple as a catheter. Having the opportunity to witness this firsthand was a really cool experience, and I look forward to spending more time on the production line.

Now that I’ve developed a solid foundation, I’m really excited to do more hands-on work this week. Our team will be conducting confirmation builds, which will allow us to characterize our results and better understand our needs for prototyping. After that, I will be able to determine the components that we need to build our prototypes, and start working on it! I’m really excited for the next couple of weeks at work, and can’t wait to see where this project goes.

This weekend, we went to Territorio de Zaguates, a dog shelter located in the mountains that provides a home for over 900 dogs. This shelter was incredible, and as a passionate dog lover I was so excited to see such a caring and healthy atmosphere for all of these pups. We went on a “dog hike” up a mountain with all of the dogs, and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We followed up our trip to the dog shelter with an outing to Feria de Chocolate in San Jose, where we got to learn about and taste dozens of different chocolates. This weekend was definitely one of my favorites in Costa Rica!

Posted in Sanjana | Leave a comment

Week 7: Starting the Project

Project Initiation

After having exposure to the processes of manufacturing, I felt as if I had a good understanding of how to implement certain improvements to product-line processes. With that, my supervisors felt comfortable in giving me definite tasks that could be accomplished on a week-to-week basis. We made sure that our goals had a reasonable scope but also long-term benefits to the production team. Being that I am working on the coating processes with Stents and NVI, my first task was to analyze various metrics that had been collected over the past years and find correlations. Certain metrics that are commonly measured in coating include:

  • Humidity
  • Isocyanate Percentage
  • Solid Percentage

These are general readings that allow for monitoring in the shelf life of the coating. If the coating fails the metric thresholds, a new coating batch is required to avoid imperfections and potential defects. Issues with coating can range from flaking and bubble-formation to discoloration. These are issues that can cause significant amounts of ‘scrap’, a term that refers to product that cannot be shipped out due to defects. My task for this week was to analyze the aforementioned metrics and find certain correlations (such as Dew Point temperatures in San Jose for the last 3 years).

The Dip-coating Process


After preliminary analysis, I proposed certain improvements to make the process control of dip-coating more efficient. The one aspect of the manufacturing process that I was not fully cognizant of was the degree of intricacy and interconnectedness to which decisions are made and just how much they affect various people. One example included a proposal to change a certain GOI which is essentially a graphic operator instruction to make sure all the product-line workers have the same standard of reference. To change a GOI, you may need to fill out a PCAF form. A PCAF form is a notification to the company identifying and justifying a suggestion in changing the process of a certain aspect of the GOI.

As an incoming engineering intern (without much experience in manufacturing), I felt as if I could come and propose all these innovative ideas and have the implementation process go smoothly. However, in now having a better understanding of manufacturing processes, I realize that every decision has certain intended and unintended consequences. It is an ethical obligation to not only make sure every decision is sound, it is also part of the GDP and GMP practiced at Boston. These procedures (although tedious), really do ensure product quality and traceability (if events such as recalls occur).

Next Week’s Agenda

For next week’s objectives, I would like to conduct more testing on the coatings (daily) and do a root cause analysis. This approach to problem solving helps eliminate solutions that only solve a fraction of the problem (surface level). Although short-term ‘band-aids’ to problems can be helpful in getting quick results, for a company as large as Boston, effective solutions to problems can save thousands of dollars a day. This is the aspect of Engineering that had always enticed me the most, to holistically approach a problem. As I emphasized in my previous blog post, although I want to learn as much as I can in my brief stay at Boston Scientific, I do want to have a palpable impact. Hopefully I can turn the knowledge I have gained this past week into tangible results. I am glad to have the opportunity here to flex my Engineering term knowledge (however basic it may be). Understanding these terms have proved crucial in helping me understand the background processes of what an Engineer does in Industry.

Weekend Fun

After a long week at work, it is always nice to have some relaxation time and enjoy what Costa Rica has to offer. This weekend I was able to tag along with a church group from Amarillo, Texas who happened to be staying at the same apartment complex we were. We helped in organizing a VBS for local kids and set-up face painting stations, arts and crafts and a bounce house (reliving my childhood briefly). Being able to go into a community here in Costa Rica and serve had been one thing that I really wanted to do, and being able to do that with a group from Texas (which is highly ironic), was an unforgettable experience.

Tempted to Jump in

To end the weekend off right, the group decided to hike up a nearby trail to get a view of the city. Mind you, I am not really a morning person, and so waking up at 6:30 a.m. to go on a 5km hike up a steep mountainside was something I needed a lot of motivation for. Thankfully, the group encouraged me along to get this amazing view of San Jose:

Worth the Pain

I made it back in one piece so that is always a good sign, but I can guarantee you I will feel this in the morning.

Posted in Joshua | Leave a comment

Week 7: Acid and Collaboration

In last week’s blog I did some research on ideas to solve Project 1- adjusting various elements of a process to change the color of wires from brown to silver. This week my coworker Veronica and I got to test one of those ideas, and we’re happy to say the process worked! Because of Veronica’s quick observations and actions contacting several departments in manufacturing and safety, we were able to test the wires very quickly and witness the color change from brown to silver. Changing colors may not seem like a big deal, but qualities such as color are actually very important in medical devices.

Imagine a doctor shows you the device he will use to perform a minimally invasive procedure on you. This device is sleek, shiny, colorful, and compact-you can see the device is designed well and your nerves about the procedure lighten. The doctor is explaining parts of the device to you and how it will interact with your body. At this moment you notice something. An important-looking wire emerges from the device and it appears brown, similar to the color of rust. Previous life experiences of fish hooks and old nails flash before your eyes, and a red flag enters your brain. Rusty brown = unsafe.

The perspective of the user is very important to consider when creating medical devices. For all the engineers out there: yes, even color matters.

In the picture above, Veronica is pouring a strong acid into a beaker for our test.

Here I am demonstrating the proper way to wear safety gear:)

Although this process Veronica and I tested was a success, the chemicals involved are quite dangerous in large quantities (like, melt-through-your-skin-and-your-bones dangerous). When planning a future upscale of this process, it’s important to consider the risks of workers interacting with these chemicals every day. Therefore, we will keep testing safer methods to change the colors of the wires- but it’s nice to know we have a backup solution.

Project 2 is in full speed. I’m working on a 3D visualization system to determine if a different medical device passes or fails a final inspection. The system must measure an intricate geometry and determine if that device will perform in the correct orientation during a procedure. I have a lot of freedom in this project in terms of the system’s design and the budget, so I’m very excited to see the result of my collaboration with employees and vendors.

This week I worked on a presentation detailing the background and details of Project 2 and sent the presentation to several external manufacturing vendors. The purpose of this presentation is to get the vendor’s feedback on the feasibility of building a prototype together. The plan for next week is to explain collective ideas from me and other team members over a teleconference. During this teleconference we will collaborate with the vendors to make those ideas even better (and hopefully get some in motion!). This type of communication on multiple platforms excites me, and I enjoy the “translation” of this problem and project to different departments of people. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with others to turn ideas into reality, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Posted in Anna | Leave a comment