by Jay Connolly
Our region is experiencing a cluster of mutually reinforcing growth around biotech companies and medical device suppliers. As startups and long-established companies at the nexus of healthcare, innovation, and manufacturing grow and expand, so too does the need for facilities. In this sector, construction projects require a level of expertise and oversight that transcends the commonplace. It is imperative that those involved in designing and building these facilities hold themselves to a higher standard than the norm regarding safety, resilience, continuity of critical processes, and capacity to implement future improvements in the least intrusive way possible.
Based on our experiences with biotech, laboratory, and clean room spaces for companies and organizations such as Abbott Laboratories, Analog Devices, Bio-Techne, Boston College, and HighRes BioSolutions, I would like to share four high-level considerations for medical device suppliers and biotech firms to consider when evaluating potential construction partners.
Make sure your construction partner understands they are working on more than “a building.”
If your facility is producing items for use in medical and healthcare settings where sterility is critical, your construction partner must understand that a typical HVAC system is not sufficient. You will want to select a partner who does not look askance when you start speaking about relative humidity (RH), particle count, HEPA filter testing, and other mandates, but one which demonstrates ample knowledge of all relevant requirements. In addition, your design and construction partner should infuse this understanding into the building materials that they recommend. For instance, surfaces routinely wiped down with antimicrobial cleaning agents should be able to stand up to stringent daily cleaning over the long term.
Be sure your architectural partner has expertise in engineering to protect people and equipment.
If your facility involves processes that generate radiation or harmful vapors, your physical infrastructure can go a long way toward protecting the health and safety of the building’s inhabitants – or not. It is crucial to partner with architects and engineers who incorporate this broad scope of responsibility into their work. The same holds for highly-sensitive equipment. If machinery must be sheltered from vibration, a standard approach to buffering equipment areas may not be enough.
Find a partner who will plan for the unexpected.
If the power goes out in an office building for a few minutes, it is typically not a major problem. In a highly-sensitive medical device manufacturing process, even temporary loss of electricity and/or heating/cooling options can be a major disruption. If this is the case at your organization, make sure your construction partner has a solid plan for reliable emergency backup systems.
Find a partner that will facilitate your future success.
The specialized machinery you use today is likely to change – hopefully for the better – a decade from now. A construction partner with foresight can help you by erecting a building envelope that may be removed and replaced in sections such that future heavy machinery can be lifted directly into spaces where it will live. Such a structural “portal” may provide future market advantage over competitors who did not plan in this way.
In general, specialized facilities require a specialized approach, so it is wise to ask any potential construction partner about their experience in building for clients with similar operational needs.
Jay Connolly is president of Connolly Brothers Inc.