Mechanical engineering alumnus helps guide medical device company’s role in COVID-19 solutions

Portrait of Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson, mechanical engineering alumnus, and president of the Advanced Energy Group at Applied Medical.

Editor’s note: The Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering is occasionally featuring alumni who are helping to find solutions to challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis.

After COVID-19 hit this spring, Applied Medical, a California-based medical device company, quickly redirected its team to making plastic face shields and nasopharyngeal swabs.

“Applied Medical has the advantage of making everything in-house, from raw plastic pellets to medical-grade stainless steel,” said CSU mechanical engineering alumnus Gary Johnson, who is president of the Advanced Energy Group at Applied Medical.

Johnson oversees a team of about 150 engineers and scientists who have designed and developed nasopharyngeal swabs in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This team typically designs and develops surgical energy devices such as Applied Medical’s Voyant technology, which divides and seals blood vessels to enhance surgical procedures.

“We manufacture 100 percent of everything we put in the marketplace,” Johnson said. “We have a vertically integrated manufacturing environment with a cohesive Rapid Response team that can quickly implement an approved, sterilized and packaged device in days or weeks.”

Ramping up quickly for COVID-19

The company provided more than 600,000 face shields to hospitals and their frontline healthcare workers within a few weeks of the pandemic hitting the United States.

Nasopharyngeal swabs have been a little trickier because they are a regulated medical device that requires validation and testing, he said. Once the design was ready, the company quickly got the products through their on-site injection molding and sterilization facilities and into the marketplace for validation.

Gary Johnson, in black shirt, pictured with members of his Advanced Energy Group at Applied Medical at a charity event.
Gary Johnson, in black shirt, back row, third from right, with members of his Applied Medical team at a charity event.

Healthcare providers such as Premier Inc., which serves more than 4,000 hospitals nationwide, are validating Applied Medical’s swab design for potential use in millions of COVID-19 and other tests.

Johnson joined Applied Medical shortly after graduating from CSU in 1992. As a first-generation college student, he didn’t have parents to guide him on careers, and when he got to CSU, he nearly left two weeks later.

“I called my mom and said, ‘I’m coming home.’ I was not well prepared, but the school generously reached out and did some amazing things to get me caught up,” he said.

Finding the perfect career

Johnson built dragsters that he would race, wreck and rebuild as a kid growing up in Penrose, south of Colorado Springs. A high school adviser told him to check out engineering.

“I didn’t even know what that was. I said, ‘What, people will pay you for these things? That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard of!’” he said.

His CSU degree prepared him to work in a cross-training environment like the one at Applied Medical, where he now leads a 40-person in-house Applied Learning team.

“We’re interdependent and we learn from each other,” said Johnson, who is a member of the Industrial Advisory Board for CSU’s School of Biomedical Engineering. “CSU has always had this incredible multi-disciplinary collaboration where different perspectives come together. You’re not just zeroing in on creating an individual who is super-skilled at one role but also helping them understand the impact and value of others’ roles, all of which benefit the team as a whole.”