Interview with Stephen Pygott | Biopharma Group

Matching the customer to the product they need requires in depth knowledge of the wider concept of application. Airflow product specialist, Stephen Pygott, is one such expert whose laboratory centric background gives him an interesting and unique take on the safety cabinet market

Matching the customer to the product they need requires in depth knowledge of the wider concept of application. Stephen Pygott from Biopharma Group is one such product specialist who helps identify the correct airflow cabinet for requirements. The Airflow Product Sales Executive is the southern product specialist for the company that is the exclusive distributor of Faster cabinets in mainland UK.

A large part of Pygott’s job is to find the correct product. “This can vary depending on location, work conducted (e.g. particular hazard group or chemical) and budgets,” says Pygott.

Starting on the consumer side of the fence, as a laboratory-based post-grad that regularly used fume cupboards, gave Pygott a true understanding of the demands placed on operators. “This gave me a good understanding early on of what is important when spending long periods working in the cabinets such as noise level (the Faster Premium as a noise level 0f 42.5dB, as quiet as working in a library) and ergonomics. Hopefully long gone are the days of pressing noses to non-sloped glass fronts,” Pygott stressed.

The spending time as a research assistant at The Jack Birch Unit for Molecular Carcinogenesis, the Imperial College graduate really got to grips with the flow and pace of a laboratory environment, and the demands of the equipment.

Moving to the supply side, Pygott then worked for numerous SME lab equipment companies. Responsiveness is the key trait he identifies from this experience. “There is nothing worse than waiting weeks for a quotation and this has been key in installing cabinets on short deadlines.”

The laboratory expert has obviously found an area of interest to excel in beyond the research he was trained in. “I feel I have contributed more to science through supplying the correct equipment required rather than my own scientific work where my cells constantly died for no apparent reason,” he explains. “Very frustrating!”

Speaking about what he enjoys about his job specifically, Pygott talks a lot about the customer interaction. “You never quite know what is going to be requested, the work they do, or the location,” he says. He regales me with a particularly fascinating story of a laboratory he visited that was based at the Top Gear test track in Surrey. An enviable task for many.

2020 and beyond

Like almost all who operate in the cleanroom sphere, safety cabinets have seen a significant increase in demand this year Pygott confirms, agreeing that the majority of this is COVID-19 related.

“This whole year feels like project COVID-19,” he says. “As a company we have installed hundreds of cabinets all over the country and as a team we have coordinated site surveys, installs and commissions using a variety of companies to ensure the labs are up and running as quickly as possible.”

The Faster side of the business is under a large umbrella of companies within Biopharma Group which includes freeze drying, consultancy and servicing. Pygott seems proud of the way everyone has stepped up in the year no one expected: “The company as a whole has really stepped up over the last year including using the expertise in freeze drying to create a production facility for manufacturing COVID tests which includes several Faster cabinets. For the cabinet side of the business we can’t make them quick enough!”

This whole year feels like project COVID-19

An exciting highlight for Pygott has been supplying a large number of customised cabinets to one of the world leading gene and cell therapy companies for their development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Speaking about another particularly complicated endeavour, Pygott describes one order for 30+ cabinets; these were installed at over 10 different locations up and down the country within a week. This is indeed an achievement, and Pygott expresses hope that the work of so many will soon be rewarded.

“I think this year has seen us all work together to help with the COVID-19 pandemic which is great to see and hopefully normality will come back soon due to the work everyone has put in,” he says.

“I am hoping that after the dust has settled from COVID-19, the level of investment in furthering scientific research through universities, biotech and pharma industry increases,” Pygott says. “The pharma industry will no doubt change to be able to react even quicker to pandemics in the future due to the investment in equipment and protocols developed this time round. I also hope the level of collaboration between the industry remains the same as it is positive to see some of the giants of the industry partner with smaller labs to develop cures.”

Containment

Pygott really hits his stride when talking about his speciality. “Safety cabinets are very competitive, manufacturers from all corners of the globe are present in the UK due to its scientific prominence,” he says.”

Talking about trends in containment, the UK-based expert explains the growing trend of customers looking at lifelong costs. These lifelong costs of cabinets include energy usage, filter lifespan and engineering costs. This is where he sees Faster’s stand out value, with HEPA filters that last 20,000 hours and annual running costs of less than £20.

Emphasising his view on another trend recently, Pygott talks about customisation. Designing the cabinet for the experiment, not vice versa.

“These can be a for a wide range of applications such as cabinets for robotics, vaccine production and gene therapies,” he explains. “The factory in Italy has two production lines, one for standard cabinets and one specifically for custom cabinets with a whole team dedicated to producing GA drawing, manufacturing and quality checks. Customisation examples include CCTV installation, isokinetic heads, custom work area and dimensions of cabinets.”

Powder weighing cabinets or reverse LAF cabinets are not as popular as they should be

The discussion on customisation naturally leads to the concept of automation. “The increase in automation that we have seen is related to the equipment going into cabinets such as pipetting robots, this requires a specialised cabinet with larger working areas and reinforced worksurfaces,” Pygott explains.

However, Pygott is less interested in the automation within the cabinet itself, but more the growing number of customers requesting remote control/access to cabinets where it is possible to manage all cabinet parameters/maintenance from offsite. He explains that this is particularly popular within the pharmaceutical industry, especially for the maintenance teams. Being business-minded, Pygott is keen to make sure his team stays up to date with these trends and Faster have released solutions to address both these scenarios.

Any company looking to succeed in the current era, needs to have ‘green ambitions. Pygott says Biopharma are lucking to work with one of the most innovative manufacturers globally. “Faster are constantly looking for improvements in manufacturing and green innovations for example cabinets are 99% recyclable and the new factory has over 1000 solar panels which power 100% of the manufacturing process,” he says with pride. “The more factories that adopt clean energy and make cabinets recyclable the better.”

Air circulation

“[Containment] is not a stagnant market,” according to Pygott. “Innovation and development are undertaken by everyone which creates healthy competition.”

Both CFD modelling and laminar airflow (LAF) are buzzwords that also come up in the conversation.

Of CFD modelling Pygott says: “We are coming across modelling programmes more and more and they are an important development in designing laboratories and new buildings. They are important when customers want ducted units, but not as important for recirculating units. Our most popular units are Class II units where 90% are recirculating and 10% ducted.”

He also has strong opinions on LAF: “Powder weighing cabinets or reverse laminar flow cabinets are not as popular as they should be. They have applications in a wide range of disciplines such as: weighing processes (micro and semi-micro balances according to USP requirements), weighing of no/low toxic powdered substances, sampling and decanting, product transfer and working with sifting machines.”

Ever future conscious, Pygott also brings up industrial systems such as cross flow units, pass boxes, and air showers as potential areas that Faster Air might be interested. “These would complement the safety cabinets currently supplied,” he says.

Budgeting

When asked what he thinks is the biggest influence when deciding on cleanroom containment equipment, Pygott responds: “That is the golden question.”

“It all depends on the customer and the first part of any conversation is establishing their requirements, timescale and budget,” he says. “Personally, for me the quality is of huge importance, there will always be a cheaper product available, but the Faster brand has established itself as one of the main safety cabinet manufacturers in the UK based on reliability and quality. This is backed up by several independent engineering companies recommending our cabinets to their customers because they know the support and quality will always be there.”

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