Connecting Medicine with Manufacturing

February 17 2017
Category: Academics

This week’s #SoaringToSuccess spotlights James Fritsche '18, a biology and biochemistry double major. He recently interned at the manufacturing company, Ahlstrom Nonwovens, LLC in Connecticut. Aspiring toward a future in medicine, his internship gave him an inside look and deeper appreciation for the products doctors use and wear everyday.

James Mullen

Let’s learn more from James…

Ahlstrom Nonwovens, LLC is the fourth largest non-woven production company in the world, with its largest factory located in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. This factory produces high performance fiber-based materials and medical care products, such as sterilization wraps, consumables, scrubs, and drapes. 

My internship involved working with our health safety environmental manager and chief microbiologist. By working with our environmental manager I learned about Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocols and the regulations we needed to follow to maintain business. In doing so, I helped put our products in a unique device identifier (UDI) system, which allows the FDA to track manufacturing facilities if there is a malfunction, or recall in a particular product. Furthermore, I also updated our safety data sheet (SDS) with new chemicals and hazardous wastes the company uses to manufacture product(s). This enlightened me on the importance of understanding exactly which chemicals are necessary to catalyze certain reactions during production.  

Environmentally, I was responsible for testing emissions regularly to ensure that the water expelled into the Connecticut River was purified. Because the factory is located between the Windsor Locks Canal and Connecticut River, the company uses energy from the canal for production. Once the energy is used, the byproducts are run through a water treatment plant where it is purified and then expelled. This exposed me to the role factories play in maintaining a clean and sustainable environment for all.

James    James

The other part of my internship involved working with the company’s microbiologist and focusing on the presentation and function of the products. Through extractions, I tested the permeability of the company’s medical products. That is, I made sure that bodily fluids would not contact the medical professional upon wearing the product(s) during extensive operations.

Additionally, I also ensured that the product was ‘breathable’ and comfortable by working with our R&D team. Regarding product presentation, microplatting was performed weekly. Binders, which are natural products like starch, are used to create pulp, which will then solidify into paper and other fibrous materials. These binders are stored in 100-foot tankers where bacteria from environmental sources can grow. By microplatting the binders every quarter in a series of dilutions, it was easily determined whether the tanker needed to be cleaned. By preventing the growth of harmless bacteria in the tankers, the product maintained a fresh smell for our customers.

This internship showed me how a factory operates and connects to different fields of work.  It is crucial for people to understand how and why products they use in everyday life are manufactured. As a doctor, your only focus should be on your patient, not the product in use.  It was reassuring to witness that this factory ensures that. 

Elmira College’s internship requirement prepared me for the manufacturing side of medicine as I hope to become an orthopedic surgeon wearing the same products I helped create a decade earlier.