GROWING up during the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Sam Lit Min saw how Singapore was transformed into a sophisticated modern city. Since then, he aspired to be an engineer to play a part in building a better place and a brighter future for all.

“I got into engineering school and found myself enjoying the process of getting my hands dirty in the labs and creating new engineering prototypes, no matter how crude they were. I figured I would fit into a position as a research and development (R&D) engineer,” says Mr Sam.

The 32-year-old graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Honours) in 2003.

He is currently an R&D electro-acoustic design engineer and has been with Siemens Medical Instruments for the past nine years.

High-tech challenge

Siemens Medical Instruments is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hearing aids. A leading innovator in the audiology industry, it is the only major industry player to base its global headquarters in Asia and in Singapore. Its Singapore operation boasts a full-fledged R&D department that encompasses fields like electrical design, mechanical design, software design, advanced manufacturing process innovation, audiology and technical project management.

A rising trend is the implementation of wireless communication technology in hearing aids and, coupled with the greater complexities of digital signal processing features in them, this creates demand for professionally trained engineers in this field.

“Patients need the gain to compensate for their hearing loss. So by providing more gain, the hearing aid will benefit more customers. On the other hand, patients also want a product that is as small and as discreet as possible,” says Mr Sam.

As section head of electro-acoustic design, Mr Sam leads a team of electro-acoustic design engineers in designing the electrical hardware of a hearing aid. The main challenge they face lies with designing a stable product that can provide the “maximum acoustic gain in the smallest size possible”.

As biomedical products, the hearing aids are designed under stringent industry requirements and are tested in an anechoic environment, which is one that tends to absorb or deaden sound.

A culture that encourages career growth

With colleagues from all over the world, his work environment is like a mini United Nations. And diversity is what gives the company an edge, says Mr Sam.

“We draw strength from each other. It is great to see colleagues friendly and professional towards one another and perform as a big happy family,” he adds.

He notes that the open culture encourages open dialogue between bosses and staff, which is important for the R&D staff as it improves their proficiency and knowledge. They are also encouraged to identify the training and mentorship they need. “It is this culture, as well as the collegiate environment of R&D, that encourages my personal growth and career development,” he says.

One career highlight was his posting to Germany for a month to work on a project in 2007. “It was an eye opener and I was deeply impressed by the Germans’ open and direct communication culture, and their high level of professionalism, efficiency and focus,” he says.

Anyone who is interested in following his footsteps should know that the R&D engineering career is a knowledge-intensive one that requires a mind open to new ideas and passion for acquiring new knowledge in science and technology.

Says Mr Sam: “As an R&D engineer, you have to constantly expose yourself to new technology and embrace them so your design will stay innovative. You also need an analytical mind to solve technical problems.

“You must not be afraid to get your hands dirty in the creation of new things, and be willing to invest a substantial number of years to overcome the challenges before you can see success. Most importantly, be proactive and have a great attitude knowing you are part of the driving force that will take the product from the drawing board to reality.”