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Getting to the heart of Engineering
Nick Devich, a mechanical engineering senior, found his senior design project while working as an intern at Sadra Medical in Los Gatos, California. The innovative company needed a test fixture for their prosthetic aortic valve, so Devich enlisted classmate Billy Hendricks’ help, but needed one more teammate to get the job done. After pitching the project to fellow seniors during their weekly design class, Edward (EJ) Hayes was on-board. His experience interning at Velomedix, a small start-up in Menlo Park, made him an asset for the team.
With so much riding on the efficiency of the device, it is critical that the prosthetic valves function perfectly, so the team designed and built an in-line manufacturing system which subjects the devices to a fluid flow that imitates the heart’s pulsatile flow in order to verify that the valves are free of all known manufacturing defects. They included everything from ultrasonic flow rate monitors, and transvalvular pressure and temperature sensors, to a high speed camera for visual inspection and quality assurance. The result? A fixture that performs tests within an environment equal to that of the human body to effectively measure the safety of the device in less than a quarter of the time of the previous test system. “We’ve also improved the ease of use for operators on the line,” said Hendricks.
“Most companies don’t put this type of project in students’ hands,” said Devich; “but they came to us and said ‘we need a test fixture,’ and left it up to us to design, test, and construct the system for them.” This entailed months of meetings with Sadra personnel—everyone from junior and senior engineers to vice presidents and the CEO—to define the specific (and seemingly ever-changing) needs for the system.
“Getting all the requirements satisfied was stressful,” said Hayes, “but the scariest moment was when we learned Sadra was being acquired by Boston Scientific, right when we were getting ready to purchase a $16,000 pump.” Fortunately, the new owners were equally enthusiastic about their student partners, so funding for the $50,000 project was not in jeopardy. “It was a massive relief,” said Hayes.
The teammates agree the experience has given them an incomparable opportunity to work with industry on a project with real value. “Mechanical engineers have so much to offer the medical device industry,” noted Hayes. “You don’t have to be a bioengineer to contribute; MEs have very applicable knowledge for this field.”