When plastic heals
Liesa Glaess, materials scientist at B. Braun talks about a typical work day in research and development, her personal interpreter qualities and the advantages of working at a family-owned company.
“Developing materials for products that help people to regain their health or even to survive” – this is how Liesa Glaess describes her enthusiasm to go to work every day. As a materials scientist, the 31-year-old specializes in the properties and research of materials and substances. She has been working at B. Braun for four years, developing infusion systems as a laboratory and project engineer. Polymers and medical-grade plastics, which play a significant role in the production of numerous medial technology products, are her passion. Whether infusion systems, syringes, catheters, suture material or even implants, the application areas of polymers in medical technology are diverse – and this is where Liesa Glaess comes into play: they can always be developed further. This is what the engineer is responsible for, as she uses her expertise to manage and support primarily material-focused projects.
Translator at the behest of the material
On an average day, Liesa Glaess spends most of her time on analytical tasks in the technical laboratory or in meetings with colleagues from product development. Together they tinker with refining materials or exchanging ideas on certain product requirements. “Here we deal primarily with identifying the relationships between the product features and the material composition, in order to develop new or improved products,” says Glaess, describing the collaboration with colleagues. “Basically, thanks to my subject matter expertise, I am a translator for the properties that certain materials have and I help colleagues to incorporate these into product development.” Her job mainly requires analytical skills, an understanding of plastics and quality management know-how. Communication skills help too, though, since Liesa Glaess interacts closely with suppliers and the company’s strategic purchasing department in order to get the perfect combination of material properties. With her “interpreter qualities” in the fields of natural sciences and technology, Liesa Glaess excels here as well.
Fascinated with medical technology
When we take a closer look at the creation of a product, from the selection of the material to its use on the patient, the laboratory and project engineer uses her skills in materials science and technology to provide support during the first phase of the development cycle. Following this are product development, approval and the finished product, which can be used by the patient. On the other hand, however, she also receives feedback from users on existing or missing material properties. Developing a new material can take several years, as quality and safety are priority at B. Braun and complying with regulatory requirements is also time-consuming. Over the past three years, Liesa Glaess has been conducting research on her latest project: a special material for plastic hoses that has much better properties than the current one. “Instead of short-term successes, we prefer to focus on sustainable, far-sighted development – one of the advantages of working for a family-owned company like B. Braun,” explains Glaess.
The thing she likes most about medical technology is the combination of analytical thinking and scientific knowledge: “both skills that I need in order to tackle the diverse challenges in my daily work.” The industrial sector fascinated her early on: “While many of my fellow students saw their professional future in the automobile industry, I knew already in my fourth semester that I wanted to pursue a career in medical technology,” recounts Glaess. That’s why she did an internship in process development at B. Braun and later wrote her bachelor thesis in the field of mechanical engineering at another medical technology company. The engineer then penned her master thesis at B. Braun for the University of Erlangen in the field of materials science and technology. During the four years of her working career, she has even done some work related to her master’s thesis topic: thermoplastic elastomers as hose material in infusion technology. This work mainly involved conducting research on the aging characteristics of medical hoses.
Holistic product design
The desire for continuous development and greater proximity to patients are the reasons why Liesa Glaess's professional journey will now continue – in a southern direction, in fact. Since a few weeks, she develops stopcock system products, such as 3-way stopcocks, at the B. Braun location in Escholzmatt, Switzerland. Liesa Glaess is looking forward to the new opportunities and experiences: “I would like to design a product by taking a holistic approach and use the knowledge gained in my early career so that I can be independently responsible for the development process.” The parent company has assigned her to this post for a three-year period. The rural surroundings, in a town with 3,100 residents that is an hour away from the city of Lucerne, do not bother her. “I grew up in the countryside and I am looking forward to being around nature and the new language,” she says with a wink of an eye. Translation is one of her strengths, of course – both in the realm of natural sciences and where languages are concerned.