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Meet the team at Cambridge Design Partnership – a brief profile of the experts, engineers and interesting people that work here. This month we’re talking to James Davies, senior consultant and mechanical engineer, who’s been with the company for 18 months. He is speaking at MedTec Europe in Stuttgart next week.

Why did you join Cambridge Design Partnership?
I was initially drawn to Cambridge itself – the city is a hotbed for science and technology and a hub for product development. I could see that Cambridge was flourishing despite the recession and that was an attraction. Cambridge Design Partnership appealed in particular as, at the time I applied, the company had just opened its new R&D centre and was expanding its office in the US – so it felt like an exciting time to join an entrepreneurial company that was clearly going from strength to strength.

The type of projects that CDP does for its clients is similar to the work I’d done in my past: breakthrough product design using novel technologies. I really like the variety of industries you can work in: from consumer goods to healthcare and packaging. On top of that, the company is a fun and friendly place to work!

What background do you come from and how do apply this knowledge to your current role?
For the nine years prior to joining CDP I worked on several product development projects for the transport and FMCG sectors – with a main focus on medical projects; designing and developing the next generation of insulin drug delivery devices.

And before that, I was at Jaguar for six years, working on V8 engines in their base engine design team. Jaguar was a great place to ‘cut my teeth’ and I gained a lot of experience in manufacturing processes, developing an understanding of design for manufacture, robustness and other quality tools. The best practices taught in the automotive industry have provided a great foundation for the rest of my career – to always consider cost effectiveness in design, quality tools and methodologies, design for manufacture and use of appropriate manufacturing processes. The key elements are cost, quality and time – trying to find the most cost effective way to achieve the functionality required but ensuring the product functions robustly over time, with consideration to the environment it’s used in.

What interesting projects are you working on at the moment?
Currently my main role is leading a team of engineers in the development of a new drug delivery device for one of our clients. It’s great to be working on such a technically challenging project where human factors and usability are so important to get right in the design.  Other challenges we face are navigating through the torturous IP landscape and delivering a robust and elegant design at the right cost so that we can achieve commercial success for our client.

To balance working on rigorous processes for safety critical regulated devices I still love getting involved with other projects currently under development in different market sectors. These are as varied as generating ideas and concepts for kitchenware to a novel approaches to dosing liquids.

What do you see as interesting hot trends and what might be coming up in the future?
I’m really interested in how the treatment of illness is moving towards a more preventative approach, focusing on keeping patients well and the maintenance of good health through monitoring fitness, nutrition and diagnosis of ill health. There is a lot of innovative technology being developed that will enable the early detection of disease, with a focus on self-monitoring and diagnoses that could allow for earlier, more effective and less invasive treatment before conditions become chronic.

Systems are already routinely used to monitor athletes for trends in their performance with spikes and dips over time giving clues to future fitness levels.  What is interesting is that by analyzing the data, training coaches have noticed subtle indicators allowing them to generally detect illness 24 hours before the athletes even begin to feel ill.  Development of this type of technology and application to the general population could completely change how we think about healthcare. 
It’s a great time to be in Cambridge – it’s the leading centre for advanced research and development in areas such as biotech, genetics and pharmacology. Novel ideas and findings are breaking new ground daily. Even when the technology doesn’t currently exist, breakthrough advances in science and technology continually feed into the future of healthcare and will eventually deliver huge benefits to the population.

Tell us about outside work…
From an early age I was naturally curious about science. I blame this on the BBC’s popular 1980’s TV programme Tomorrow’s World! I was always interested in the next new technology or invention so I guess this, coupled with an interest in science and design, led me towards engineering as a career. One of the great things about working in engineering is that it’s one of the few industries where you can actually be an inventor! I still love the excitement of that light bulb moment as an idea pops into your head, seemingly from nowhere, which solves a problem you’ve been grappling with.

So I guess I apply this approach to my hobbies as well. My main passion is mountain biking – and a few years ago I designed a shock absorber for a mountain bike, which has been patented. I’m also into snowboarding – though clearly Cambridge is not the best setting for either snow or mountains, so they give me a good excuse to travel, which fortunately I also love to do!

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