How one man's engineering skills are making the world healthier

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Optiflow Junior provides critical support for vulnerable infants, and Chris Montague's engineering skills helped make that become a reality.

With 5,000 premature babies born in New Zealand every year, Montague says that using his engineering skills to be part of such life-saving technology is highly rewarding “It's pretty amazing to see the impact it has on the families going through such a difficult time. The device enabled parents to pick up their baby and have skin to skin contact much sooner, and that aided their recovery time. It’s really rewarding to know that the device you’ve spent so long making and refining, with the team, actually helps save lives.”

With an intrinsic curiosity and a desire to explore, Chris Montague first started working on cars when he was just 12 years old. “I’ve always been interested in how things worked, trying to come up with my own ideas and put them into practice,” he says. “When you take a step back and realise you’ve put this together yourself and it actually works, it’s an incredible feeling.”

From what started as time spent tinkering with cars and motorbikes, Montague took that initial curiosity and went on to study a three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree. “I just couldn't see myself behind a desk all day, so I decided to study that because it had a practical and creative element”.

While still studying, Montague started working for a company called Glidepath, which manufactured baggage handling systems for airports. After graduating, he took on a full-time position at Buckley Systems Ltd which built electromagnets for particle accelerators. “A lot of those magnets were being used for cancer radiation therapy, so there was a healthcare element to that job too,” says Montague.

Chris Montague (left) and his dad (right) reviewing the camaro that he built from scratch.

Four years later, it led to a job as a process development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare where he specialises in plastic injection moulding. Notably, he was part of the team that helped develop the Optiflow Junior, a nasal cannula designed to help babies breathe. This was a breathing apparatus specifically designed for small children, with Chris and the team helping take the product from idea to reality.

“There was a team of us that worked on this project with a research phase that took over a year, and involved sending engineers to hospitals around the world. We needed to make sure the apparatus was as comfortable as possible for premature and fullterm babies,” explains Montague. “What we did was take the finished design and develop the moulding process that produced the final product.” There is a lot more to engineering than what most people have historically seen as just buildings and bridges.

Like Montague, thousands of other engineering graduates are helping to create innovative solutions in unlikely areas, such as film, sports, design, and healthcare. But experts insist that based on the status quo, New Zealand requires 120 percent growth in the number of engineering graduates.

His best advice for those looking to get into engineering is to put yourself out there and learn as much as possible. “You've got to be practical and you've got to be open to new ideas,” he says. “You have to be willing to put yourself out there and gain experience. That's what I did at Glidepath and after two weeks, they offered me a job.”

For his next step, Montague is eyeing a move into more leadership roles. “I like the mentoring side of things and I do a bit of that at the moment, so I'd like that to be something I build myself up to.”

Make the World by considering a career in engineering. Visit maketheworld.nz.