Alasdair Mercer, Project Manager, Product Development, Surgical Innovations.
There is a lot of talk about the challenge of attracting talented young people into manufacturing and articles like these can have a tendency to focus on the ‘against the odds’ stories of star employees who nearly missed out on manufacturing careers.
For some however other industries simply never stood a chance. Alasdair Mercer of Surgical Innovations, medical device manufacturer and designer, talks to TM of his deep-set passion for his work.
TM: What first attracted you to a career in manufacturing?
I have always been interested in how things work. Since my GCSEs I have chosen to study design and technology as well as science based subjects. I went on to study Design Engineering at University and was then completely convinced that I would like to pursue a career in this area.
TM: What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
Manufacturing as a career is extremely rewarding with one project being very different from the next. I am able to see designs become reality – seeing a product which I have personally developed go to market is personally very rewarding.
TM: What are the main responsibilities of your role?
AM: My role is to manage the product development team. Having worked previously as a development engineer at SI, I am able to offer advice and guidance in a wide range of technical areas. For the past year my main responsibility has been to manage the development of pioneering new product PretzelFlex™ – the world’s first reusable pretzel shaped organ and tissue retractor for use in minimally invasive surgery. The shape gives it strength and stability. The product was launched in November this year.
TM: What are the key skills you use?
AM: It is vital that I am able to plan and prioritise in order to ensure that the project timeframe is on track. Problem solving – backed up with technical experience is essential as well. On the ‘softer side’ being good with people is an asset – I believe that looking after your team ensures that they work to the best of their ability.
I am very focused and driven in all that I endeavour to do – something I try to enthuse into everyone who works around me. I am passionate about SI and what we achieve – after all the devices that we make at SI can save lives.
TM: What do you consider to be your biggest personal success at the company so far?
AM: In just over 2 years I have been involved in the development of 5 new medical devices which are all now in production and being used in operating theatres around the world. This includes the 3mm YelloPort+plus™ for cutting-edge ultra-minimally invasive surgery. The device forms part of the YelloPort+plus™ range which won the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2010.
Most recently I have been tasked with sole responsibility for the PretzelFlex™ project. This was a technically challenging project however, I am proud to say that it was completed on time and the device is an international success. An additional factor which makes the PretzelFlex™ project such an inspiring piece of work to have been part of is that my team are all young engineers, new to the company.
TM: How do you think best to get more young people interested in manufacturing?
I think it is important to make young people aware of manufacture at an early age, building with toys like Lego can be a great way to get them interested in the first principles of mechanics and how things work. Being ‘hands on’ is key and school trips to factories and engineering museums would help young people to see the industry in practice and the products they can create.
CV in brief
Qualifications and accreditations: BSc Hons in Design Engineering. 9 GCSEs, 3 A levels, associate of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers
Industry experience to date: Motor sport, oil and gas, medical devices
Hobbies and interests: Motor sport, climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, snowboarding and skiing