Awed by the forensic gadgetry seen on crime investigation dramas? R&D senior engineer Lee Way Xuang devises tools just like that.

The 32-year-old develops innovative instrument systems that are used for accelerating academic and clinical research, drug discovery and development, pathogen detection, environmental analysis and forensic DNA analysis.

His company, United States-based Life Technologies, is a provider of life science solutions. It recently launched a regional distribution hub at Singapore’s Tuas Biomedical Park to cater to customers in the Asia-Pacific region.

For Mr Lee, the road to product development is not a lone one. He works with teams of specialists who excel in areas ranging from mechanical engineering to systems integration to chemistry. He is an electrical and electronics engineer himself.

The process of coming up with an exciting new product requires a whole gamut of skills. Mr Lee has to juggle project planning, proposal analysis, countless product testings, meeting vendors and prototype development.

He says: “Time management is critical as our time is divided into testing our instrument prototypes in the lab, discussions in the meeting rooms as well doing engineering design, analysis and documentation activities at our desks.”

The strength of a team

Every project that comes his way is a new challenge. For example, for a recent project, his team was tasked with the development of a next-generation PCR (polymerase chain reaction) instrument, which is used for reading DNA sequences.

Everything went well until the final stages of the development, with the machine unexpectedly failing the regulatory compliance testing due to factors beyond their control.

After a month of research, they were finally able to resolve the unforeseen problems and deliver the equipment.

“The experience once again highlights to me the strength of a team. Each and every one of us may not be skillful in all aspects. However, as an entity, we can make up for each other’s shortfalls to scale greater heights,” he says.

Working in a team with people contributing to different areas of expertise is in itself a challenge, as they have to be able to communicate and understand the technical constraints of each function group.

Ironically, it is his team which keeps him going despite the challenges. Mr Lee elaborates: “We crack jokes and poke fun at each other but when it comes to work, most of us are willing to go the extra mile to assist each other.

“Most times, we can just walk over to one another’s cubicles to seek advice, an opinion or engage in technical discussions. The majority of us are always willing to listen and share our expertise with one another.”

People are a priority

The company also invests heavily in people development, with its online learning platforms, avenues where staff can engage in idea exchange, and regular science and techno-logy symposiums.

When he is not involved in product development, Mr Lee spends time updating himself on the latest technologies through technical journals, books and the Internet.

He also investigates new technologies that interest him. Having been in this line for more than five years, his love for the job is evident.

“I enjoy research and discovering and analysing things. My present job allows me to polish these attributes. I believe these sets of attributes will not only assist me in my work but will also allow me to work towards the various goals and targets that I have in life,” he says.

Be curious

For those who want to follow in his footsteps, Mr Lee has this advice.

He believes that the key qualities needed are a good dose of enthusiasm and optimism, and a keen interest in exploring and discovering the world around you.

He advises: “Do not be fazed by the challenges you encounter. These can be mitigated through experience and learning.

“Most important of all, do not let the scope of your work limit your career choices.

“What is really important are the attributes and skills that you can gain from one role, and how you can transfer them positively towards your future career choices.”