Engineering Alum Reflects on Career at Medisurge, Collaboration with the applied Medical Device Institute, and Time as a GVSU Student
March 22, 2021
Breanna Andrews graduated from the Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering program at Grand Valley State University and is now a permanent full-time Product Development Engineer at Medisurge. During her time at Grand Valley, Andrews gained experience with 3D additive manufacturing through her co-op placement with Medisurge. This co-op placement was made possible by Medisurge’s commitment to the GVSU co-op program. The collaborative industry partnership between GVSU’s applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) and Medisurge helped to foster a $500K grant from the City of Grand Rapids that supported research on 3D Additive Manufacturing and Accelerating Medical Devices to Market. She recently shared her experiences at GVSU and Medisurge along with advice for current students.
As the daughter of an automotive engineer, Andrews was no stranger to the field of engineering. It was a two-year college-level histology program that started during her junior year of high school that sparked her passion for engineering, however. There, Andrews learned about the field of regenerative medicine and its applications and promising future. She had always been interested in science and human anatomy and wanted to make a difference through her career, but knew she didn’t want to enter the health professions, so she was excited to discover the positive impact she could have by pursuing a career as an engineer in the medical device field.
As an undergraduate student at GVSU, Andrews began working for a Medisurge, a medical device contract and manufacturing company based in Walker, Michigan, which builds disposable, one-time use medical products such as fluid patch manifolds and fluid path hubs and performs contract product and market development. Over the past five years, Medisurge has collaborated with aMDI to help doctors, hospitals, entrepreneurs, and companies bring their medical device ideas to market. aMDI provides research, prototype, and design expertise, and Medisurge finalizes the designs for development and manufacturing. The collaboration, which results in accelerated product design review, is an exemplar of the benefits of public/private partnerships. Through her role with Medisurge, Andrews began working on polymer 3D additive manufacturing and she played a critical part in completion of the certification process to become a Carbon 3D Production Partner.
John Hall, Principal Engineer and Project Manager at aMDI, explained that Andrews’s experience conducting verification runs using the Carbon 3D printer, located in a collaborative laboratory at the GVSU Cook-Devos Health Science building, makes her a top subject matter expert in liquid polymer 3D printing. In her current role at Medisurge, Andrews handles quotes and costing, working directly with customers on design, determination of feasibility, and estimates of lead time, volume, and product complexity that result in manufacturing costs. Medisurge was thrilled to hire her upon graduation from the GVSU engineering program due to her multi-faceted skillsets. “It takes a special kind of person to be customer-facing,” said Rick Shorey, Vice President of Research & Development at Medisurge. “You have to have the technical knowledge to get the job done correctly and the communication skills to convey technical information in a way that is both accurate and understandable.”
Andrews spoke highly of the Product Design & Manufacturing Engineering program at GVSU. “PDM is a really great program. You get direct project and design experience,” she said. “The biggest opportunity that the GVSU engineering school has to offer is the co-op program,” which requires students to complete three full semesters of industry employment prior to graduation. “Going into engineering can be scary. You get out of it what you put into it. I’ve become a different, better person due to the engineering program.”
Medisurge has hired four engineering co-op students from Grand Valley over the past two years and views the co-op program as an important way to retain talent in West Michigan. “All of the students from Grand Valley are really well-prepared. It’s a great program,” said Shorey. “They’re trained to ask the right questions and are ready to work hard. As a co-op employer, you’re essentially getting an engineer for the price of an intern. It’s a great value.” For other companies considering taking on a co-op student, Shorey recommended that supervisors be prepared to serve as a mentor. “It’s worth the time and effort to get a student acclimated to the company,” he said.
John Hall concurred. “Project-based and hands-on learning begins very early in the GVSU engineering programs,” shared Hall. “By the time the students start their first co-op placement, they’ve done machining, prototyping, and more.”
Brent Nowak, Executive Director of aMDI, is proud of the number of students who have gained valuable experience with 3D additive manufacturing through the partnership with Medisurge. “Co-op helps students figure out what line of work is right for them and what they don’t want to do,” explained Nowak. “Co-op gives you, as an employer, the opportunity to decide if you want to hire an individual long-term.”
Andrews recommends that current engineering students “find a supportive group of friends to encourage you and help you get through the challenges,” noting that her engagement in student organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers was beneficial during her time as a student. “Don’t forget to stand up for yourself and don’t let others convince you that you’re not smart enough or that you can’t do it.”
As for the Medisurge and aMDI collaboration, exciting changes are on
the horizon. Progress is being made on the addition of a 3D
manufacturing metals program which will be housed in the GVSU
Innovation Design Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The focus for
2021 is on laser-sintering and electron-beam processing, and they are
searching for industry partners interested in testing this emerging
technology as a production system. Those interested in working on
investigative development, or those who have products they’d like to
manufacture using 3D printing with metal powder, are encouraged to
contact Dr. Nowak to learn more about how to get involved. “Most
importantly,” said Nowak, “this initiative will provide GVSU students
with hands-on experience using another new, cutting-edge