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Mar 16, 2021

The Interview: Head of R&D Maria Rosenkranz

- By Jacqueline Wheeler

Maria Rosenkranz is our talented Head of R&D. Here she describes what it’s like to work with inspirational people and how she helps her team to create products that are at the forefront of X-ray imaging technology.

Jacqueline Wheeler: Why did you want to work for Direct Conversion?

Maria Rosenkranz: I want to work with products that have a good purpose and Direct Conversion products capture fantastic X-ray images which can then be analysed for positive outcomes. Also, I’m fascinated by technology and Direct Conversion offered the opportunity to work with technology that’s breaking boundaries. Of course, innovative environments attract creative and inspiring people and that makes for a very interesting workplace too. And the company is definitely agile.

JW: Is agility important to you?

MR: Yes. I like to see progress, for things to happen. Here, I can influence things in the short term that have long-term benefits. I’m a bit impatient, so I don’t want to wait forever until I see results, and I find the pace inspiring.

JW: Describe your role in the company

MR: Christer Ullberg, the CTO, and I collaborate across the whole scope of R&D. Christer is responsible for the technical aspect of R&D, while I lead the organizational and personnel side. I’m very hands on with the projects. You could say that Christer is responsible for the “what” and I’m responsible for the “how” and we are able to use the full potential of our skills in combination.

JW: Do you feel this collaborative structure results in better products?

MR: Well, that’s the ambition, of course! But I think the goal is that we have a strong organisation where people feel supported in all aspects of their work, from the innovative, technical side to the daily problem solving. And we want everyone on the team to be well-informed about where we are going and what our objectives are. Very importantly, we want to ensure we can give time to reflection, to analyse how things went, if we could have done things differently, what we need to integrate, if everyone was on board on the project, or something was overlooked.

At the point I joined the company, it was felt that in order to grow, another set of skills were required. The strengths in software and hardware were in place in our CEO, Spencer Gunn, and CTO Christer. I was taken on to bring different skills to the R&D leadership that would extend what could be achieved.

JW: What skills are essential to your role?

MR: An interest in technology, of course, but also, and significantly, people. Naturally, understanding the nature of research and development processes. You need to identify what’s important when you develop a product, what space is required, what’s difficult and what’s easy, where the challenges are in the process. You also have to manage the balance between long-term goals and short-term deliverables.

JW: Is there a difference between developing industrial and medical products?

MR: Industrial customers have much faster integration times for new products, whereas implementing a new detector into a medical product will take years. So, speed is key in industrial collaborations. But we do use the knowledge gained from research on the medical side to solve problems on the industrial side. We primarily focus on similarity and simple interfaces, meaning our products can be easily swapped into the customer’s application and the software is straightforward. Then, of course, robustness is essential because the customer will use the product a lot.

JW: Do you feel customer relations are key to the success of R&D?

MR: Yes, it’s really important that R&D understands what the customer is trying to achieve and what kind of problem they have to solve. We speak directly to the decision makers, so our in-depth discussions aren’t filtered through too many people and diluted or misunderstood. And we are prepared to cater for specific customer needs and provide customised solutions.

JW: What is the main challenge of your job?

MR: Staying ahead of the competition. We are ahead but we aren’t complacent.

JW: How do you achieve this?

MR: I make sure we are a learning organisation, and this happens in a variety of ways. We learn from academia, or we apply learnings that we’ve acquired in one sector to another sector. And we learn from the challenges of our customers and keep focused on the problems that are on the outskirts of what we are facing in the present, the problems that are not yet solved.

JW: What kind of culture do you need to nurture in R&D?

MR: We have to know how to learn from our mistakes, to make it possible to be open about things that have gone wrong. This is a trusting environment where people take their experiences, reflect, and apply them in the next project so we can move faster.

JW: Something you are really proud of?

MR: The XC-Pyxis proof-of-concept is a great achievement and important part of our roadmap going forward and it’s happened because our team think fast and creatively, on a daily basis. That’s exciting.

JW: How do you see R&D ten years from now?

MR: We will have developed products that build around detecting multiple photon energies, following on from our existing dual energy devices. We will be selling “detectors +” which might include detectors + motion, or detectors + software for reconstruction, or exploiting the potential of Varex for detectors + source.

And what is incredibly interesting, we will be part of the CT journey from reactive diagnostics to preventive diagnostics. Our products will produce reconstructions that show things that indicate where disease may develop but has not yet fully happened in the human body.