Interview with Don Donovan | Camfil

By Sophie Bullimore | Published: 22-Oct-2021

The company’s President of EMEA speaks about his 32 years in the industry, upcoming trends he is anticipating, and why companies should get over their fears and implement adaptive air change rates. Written by Sophie Bullimore

There are few people that understand the runnings of Camfil better than Don Donovan, the President of Camfil EMEA. Donovan didn’t get to this stage overnight, this impressive achievement comes after 32 years of learning the ropes.

It is interesting to hear how Donovan climbed the ladder, and some key parts of his career. “When you have been 32 years with one company there is very little space to have previous work experience but there were others not related to the air filtration business. In terms of education, I have completed various senior management courses including an MBA from Henley Management College, London,” Donovan shares. His varied experience instead comes from his differing roles with Camfil over the years.

The executive explains that many of his duties and responsibilities have evolved over the past 32 years. Though initially starting as a Sales Representative covering both North and South of Ireland, he progressed on to Sales Manager as the team grew and then on to Managing Director of Camfil Ireland. It was during this time that Donovan says the growth of industries that required Cleanroom environments took off. “While managing the internal Camfil Ireland teams that included both sales and production, one of my passions was working with the cleanroom construction industry,” he says. “From design stage with both the final client and consultant engineers, through to the construction and delivery stage with the contractors and then back again with the client.”

Your time is as important as everyone else’s

It was after this that Donovan hit what he would call the turning point of his career, when he took the role as European Biopharma Segment Manager. He explains that it allowed him to combine his Managing Director role, while still be able to work with the consultant engineers and cleanroom contractors that interested him. Donovan explains that this definitely helped cement the biopharma industry as his favourite to work in. “[My favourite industry] must be the BioPharma/Medical Device industry where there are many challenges. The people that you meet tend to stay in the business, so I have built some long-term relationships,” he says.

Don Donovan, President, Camfil EMEA

Don Donovan, President, Camfil EMEA

Speaking about some of the most interesting projects of his life, Donovan says that he has worked on many cleanrooms over his time, but the most interesting ones are those that come with a high containment requirement. “I worked on several government projects that required BSL4 containment and I found that I needed to educate myself as I went along as these don’t come around too often,” Donovan says. “Fortunately, we had the knowledge and experience within Camfil from the USA and France that I could lean on for support.”

Today however, Donovan’s duties look totally different to back then. “Now I am responsible for Camfil’s business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and with this I have a team of over 2500 people. While I am not in direct contact with the cleanroom industry anymore I still support and drive my team as best I can on the importance of this to our success as an organisation.”

Things get introspective when Donovan discusses lessons he wish he could have know when starting in the clean air business. “Your time is as important as everyone else’s,” he says emphatically. “Always work with partners/colleagues that have the same mindset as you and don’t look for short-term gain. The old saying ‘The customer is always right’, this is not always the case and many clients will reach out to you for advice as a subject matter expert. Some take it, and some don’t. I find the ones that take the advice overtime always benefit most from their actions.”

In what he calls his most controversial cleanroom airflow opinion, Donovan talks about dead spots, and shows this another case where client’s should take the word of the expert. “We work with many industries that require different types of airflows, some turbulent and some laminar. In both cases we can achieve the required outcome. Turbulence can create dead spots which have their own issues but, in most cases, they are not a concern to some clients.”

The challenge of air change rates

The debate on whether to balance the air change rate to the required level is one that has been popping up more and more and Donovan is more than qualified to speak on the matter. Donovan says that some designers will take a safe approach and over specify costing extra money. “I understand the reason for this but there needs to be a more sustainable approach here going forward across the industry. Many of the design companies have already taken this on board and work with the sensor approach.”

Donovan explains that engineers using well above required rates for certain cleanliness levels is a trend in older cleanrooms. “Some of these cleanrooms run 24/7 and this is just not required in most cases,” Donovan expains. He goes on to say that adaptive air change rates based on particle/gases sensors measurements are far preferable. To the question of why clients don’t always take this advice, Donovan replied that some just aren’t willing. He explains that as long as the environment maintains cleanliness levels needed for quality control or production yields, those that take this road do see substantial energy savings.

We have heard the term HEPA filter used many times since the pandemic

While this is a relatively easy problem to solve, structurally speaking, the reverse issue of increasing air change rates has always been far more impractical. Where an existing facility has mould issues of is not delivering enough air changes per hour. Donovan explains that this problem was the inspiration for the Camfil’s CamCleaner Range of air cleaners.

“The beauty about these air cleaners is that the air does not need to be conditioned in terms of heating or cooling as they are just turning the existing air in the room,” he says. “These air cleaners, or as they are called today, air purifiers come complete with H14 HEPA (according and tested to EN1822) and if required an additional molecular (Carbon) element can be included to remove any unwanted gases/VOC’s that might be present.” Donovan further explains that because these units can deliver air on demand, with the use of sensors they can even ramp up or ramp down depending on the level of particles or gases in the room. This means that these can actually improve the rooms efficiency as well as its cleanliness.

This more personalised and adaptive approach to airflow in controlled environments is thankfully gaining some steam. Tools like computational fluid dynamics, which Donovan says is getting to be very advanced, are being used to predict issues and ensure the most efficient use of the energy and resources.

News and views

A topic that Donovan brings up and is keen to talk about is the future of HEPA filters, particularly in regard to the global pandemic. “We have heard the term HEPA filter used many times since the beginning of the pandemic, whether it was a CEO of an airline or even government ministers,” Donovan recounts. “HEPA filters are the tried and tested solution but some vendors will say that their product includes a HEPA filter but when tested they will not match up to the requirements of EN1822 which the industry test method for HEPA filtration is.”

Donovan is eager to reinforce that a good HEPA filter is needed to avoid these issues. He explains that is must be one that will deliver either a H13 or H14 according and tested to EN1822. Outside of immediate function, Donovan adds that a large surface area will extend its lifetime and reduce energy cost.

Speaking on how his team took on the pandemic, and what the importance of HEPA filters, Donovan says: “There was a lot of confusion and misinformation at the beginning of the pandemic around solutions on how to treat the spread of the virus in terms of air management. Like everything, once we get to know what we are dealing with and how it moves in the airstream we could then look at the solutions to address it.”

Some of these cleanrooms run 24/7 and this is just not required in most cases

He explains that many alternatives were put forward and they found based on known technologies and unknown concern for safety around some of the solutions it kept coming back to the tried, tested and trusted solution of using HEPA filtration to capture and reduce the spread.

Forwarding thinking as is integral to his role, Donovan is also thinking of future trends. It is important to think ahead as the industry can shift quite rapidly when technology makes a big push. “The easiest project used to be the large “Ballroom Cleanroom” but they tend to be a thing of the past. The industry has moved to smaller environments and this makes a huge amount of sense from a cleanliness point of view but more so from an energy perspective,” says Donovan. It seems from his discussions that sustainability trends are making big impressions on the filtrations market.

When speaking about future filtration trends, molecular filtration is a buzzword that comes up. “Molecular filtration is becoming more prevalent in industry, especially to protect against corrosion in the electronic industry but it also has a part to play abating VOCs/Gases to protect people’s health and even capture odours on emissions from production facilities,” Donovan explains.

The company you keep

At the centre of a core management team of various disciplines (including Sales & Marketing, Finance, IT/IS, Human Resources and Operations), Donovan is well connected with his team, and he emphasises that this can not be understated for running a successful organisation.

“All these functions need to be intertwined, and the leaders of these roles should all have an understanding of each of these functions,” he says. “You could have the best Sales & Marking structure in the business but if you don’t have the capacity or knowledge in the Operations to deliver this will all fall apart very quickly. IS/IT systems today can really enhance efficiencies if the correct ones are selected that are aligned to your business model. And of course, our people need to be protected and empowered, so the HR function is so important to all organisations.”

Donovan says that at the end of the day if you surround yourself with competent people, and the deadlines are reasonable, achievable, and more importantly agreed with all stakeholders, then they will be met. He leaves with on final piece of advice, “Don’t try and do it alone.”

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