UK-based filtration expert Triple Air Technology's Sales and Marketing Manager discusses his unconventional route into the cleanroom sector, how the pandemic changed the industry, and how environmental policies are impacting new builds
A paper education is no substitute for hands-on experience. This is a principle that Andrew Marshall embodies greatly. The Sales and Marketing Manager for the UK-based filtration expert has taken an unconventional and fascinating route into the world of controlled environments, and has picked up a thing or two on the way.
Talking about when he entered the workforce, Marshall explains that he was one of the many that didn't want to follow the university route. Instead, he charted his own path and took an apprenticeship as an industrial electrician via the City and Guilds training route. "Interestingly [this] has again become a popular route into work and education for teenagers who don't want to go into university," he remarks.
It's fascinating how a group of builders, designers and skilled tradesmen can turn an empty shell into a fully functioning production facility
It was in this role as an electrician that Marshall first got to grips with the process of delivering a facility project. "I enjoyed the job, especially delivering large new build industrial projects - it's fascinating how a group of builders, designers and skilled tradesmen can turn an empty shell into a fully functioning production facility," he recalls.
However, Marshall explains that he didn't have any long term aspirations within the field, and soon followed a calling into the commercial world of sales. However, it was his electrical knowledge and familiarity with installing large-scale, long-term projects that made him stand out.
Eventually, he made it into the lighting industry and after numerous courses and programmes, including a year-long stint at the Institute of Sales Management, Marshall worked his way up the ladder.
Now readily entrenched in the industrial lighting sector as an Area Sales Manager in Yorkshire for a large UK-based lighting manufacturer, Marshall was asked if he was interested in joining the Accelerated Management Development Programme. "Always keen to push forward I said yes, and within 6 months was promoted to Clean Area Sales Manager," he explains.
The role included both product and sales development with the aim of growing the Clean Area Lighting Sector for the company. Marshall's takeaway from this is that cleanroom lighting should never be an afterthought, and should be viewed as a fully integrated component of the ceiling system.
Discussing his development programme, Marshall says, "In the current age of LED lighting it seems old hat, but I was challenged to convert the old T8 fluorescent-based technology luminaires to what was then the latest T5 Fluorescent lamp technology, whilst also reducing the portfolio of products. This in turn led to developing sales in Europe and the Republic of Ireland which as we all know has a huge pharmaceutical and cleanroom industry with some of the worlds largest Blue Chip companies having facilities there."
So here is where Marshall's introduction to cleanrooms really begins and it was in being responsible for the cleanroom lighting sector of a business in his early career that "cast the die" for him, in his own words. "It gave me a focus on one industry sector instead of a general broad view of all lighting applications," he says. "I had to learn the technical terminology and standards that guide the building and operating of cleanrooms, I had to align our products with the different grades of cleanroom and the ceiling types used on projects."
Marshall even recalls when he first came across a containment facility and the designer laid out the potential implications of supplying a sub-standard product.
"It focuses the mind to make sure you design and supply high-quality products," he says. The high demands and importance of these strict environments are actually a facet that seems to draw Marshall to the industry, as opposed to pushing him away. The challenge of making sure that the LEDs, controls, diffusers, and luminaries are all fit for purpose and integrate into the ceiling well enough to maintain the ISO rating of the room is one that he seems to enjoy rising to.
It is this drive and enjoyment of the industry and its people, that ultimately led Marshall to TripleAir and to learn the filtration side of the industry.
As a relatively small company, the team at Triple Air have a lot of shared responsibilities with roles that cross over, Marshall explains. His niche falls on growing sales with existing and new clients, with a longer-term focus on product development and new product lines that include cleanroom lighting.
"When I joined the business the first item on the list was for us to design and launch a dedicated website that could showcase our broad and varied product range, accreditations, green credentials and dedication to supporting our customers whether it is after sales, technical support or project support, including our ability to produce variants and bespoke products for the more challenging applications," he says.
This was a great starting job to familiarise Marshall with the company's offering. "When you start out, especially in sales, the focus is on product, features and benefits, USPs, price etc," he explains. "But when you get to understand the issues M&E engineers and contractors face on site, there are other key items they need - reliable deliveries, technical support pre and post order, good communication, dedicated aftersales, flexibility and available stock."
It's marvellous to be up there with the other large air filtration companies and we will be eternally grateful to the cleanroom contractors who gave us this chance
This task also enlightened him to the ever-complicated world of cleanroom regulations. Such as the revised standards of ISO 16840, that advises on efficiency against three particle sizes as used in Air Handling units as secondary filtration or pre filtration in critical extract. "E-F is no longer a thing but try telling that to the HVAC engineers!" Marshall says.
Starting at the company in mid-2020, Marshall looks back at the pandemic projects and recounts that during this time they increasingly changed scope, with delays in raw material supply unrelated to Triple Air's own products that can cause programme changes. Specifically during the height of the pandemic, the company provided some units for the vaccine efforts and worked hard to ensure minimal disruption on these prestigious projects.
"It's marvellous to be up there with the other large air filtration companies and we will be eternally grateful to the cleanroom contractors who gave us this chance, I very much doubt that Triple Air would be a name that any of the end-users would have readily been aware of," he says. "The great thing is that we now have a larger platform to grow from."
In terms of the wider industry, Marshall says he saw an increase in clients wanting to improve extract systems and upgrade to Safechange Filtration, so both the operator and atmosphere are protected. "This happened briefly during the Aids and Ebola outbreaks but nowhere near to the extent of COVID-19," he says.
With a small team of dedicated individuals coming from cleanroom build companies and major air filtration companies, Marshall says he is surrounded by the best. But they are also family-orientated and thus flexible and eager to help, both clients and each other. His gratitude to the other directors is plain to see, and the company culture seems to be right where it should be.
Speaking about Triple Air's role in the wider sector, Marshall is realistic but ambitious. Well aware of industry giants like Camfil and AAF, and their industry coverage, Marshall says that their focus is customer service and building their already strong loyal customer base. He enthuses that one day their competition might see them as more than a "slight irritation".
On most new build bids we see there is now a huge undertaking for Environmental Policies
However, this growth plan is more than just ideas, and Marshall knows that sustainability is going to be a non-negotiable going forward. That is why the company has pulled out all the stops, making its trading partner (Triple Air Technology BV) carbon negative. In real terms, this has meant investing heavily in solar power and contributing energy back to the grid. TripleAir BV was the first filter company to substantially reduce single-use plastic by introducing non-shedding kraft paper when wrapping the filters ready for shipping. "A bit disconcerting to some customers at first," he says. "But on the whole very well received."
Speaking from his electrical background, Marshall also talks about reducing electrical energy. "There are ways to improve efficiency - the use of PTFE media in HEPA filters over glass fibre media can deliver energy savings of 40%-50%," he explains. "Fan Filter Units fitted with Radical Plastic fans over aluminium/metal fans can also offer a 10% energy saving plus an 8% reduction in noise."
On the whole, Marshall believes most facilities today have been tasked with improving sustainability and lowering carbon emissions. "On most new build bids we see there is now a huge undertaking for Environmental Policies, and as a result TripleAir is constantly updating and improving our procedures," he explains. "There are grants available to assist with implementing these measures but I feel they should be promoted more widely to small businesses who do not necessarily have the infrastructure to secure such support."
A trend of recent years that Marshall is keen to discuss is the rising cost of raw materials.
"Some products are presenting weekly or even daily price increases plus in some cases extended lead times due to component shortages," he explains. "We are by no means on our own here, it is affecting all aspects of the construction industry. If we were to engage earlier with customers and share more information on projects (Notwithstanding NDAs and confidentiality agreements etc.), it would enable us to take a longer view of the project, for example, if we see supply issues or products with extended lead times we can offer alternatives or place orders with our suppliers at an earlier stage."
Another post-pandemic symptom is the unparalleled surge in the semiconductor industry as a result of a chip shortage that has brought certain industries to a grinding halt. "I am looking forward to the next wave in the Semiconductor Industry where the filtration requirements are much higher but relatively straightforward compared to pharmaceuticals," Marshall enthuses. "We have great products with our Extruded Ceiling Grid ranges, Fan Filter Units and Luminaires. This enables us to offer a fully integrated ceiling solution. Plus, we get to work with some very talented control designers."