BES' Paul Marsh reveals the biggest priorities for his cleanroom clients

By Sophie Bullimore | Published: 12-Jul-2023

Talking to the COO of the UK-based design-led cleanroom construction expert, Marsh reveals what he sees as some of the biggest priorities for his clients today

“If I were to sum up [the industry] in one word, it would probably be speed,” says BES’ Chief Operating Officer, Paul Marsh. As a design-led cleanroom construction expert, he sees his client’s priorities, and in this day and age it is often time-to-market.

Marsh explains that though this has always been a factor, “the industry changed through the pandemic”. Medicines now need to be delivered faster than ever.

“Primarily we operate in pharmaceutical, biotech and healthcare sectors,” Marsh says. “Although I guess all sectors want results in shorter timescales than ever before for many reasons. But for many of our clients, the pressures of getting a product to production or critical operations functional speed is paramount and highly demanding.”

In response to this, Marsh says BES has been exploring other avenues where it can deliver what our clients want, “in shorter timeframes and through the most economic but effective routes."

This is where Marsh’s 30 years in the biz come into play. Prior to the founding of BES 20 years ago, he worked for a company called Thermal Transfer with a one-day founder of BES, Tom McBride. Together the team was working on a project for AstraZeneca. “We worked with AstraZeneca who at the time delivered projects under an approach called ‘alliancing’, where commercial tensions were removed by collaboration and sharing risks. It was highly successful in delivering fast projects of high quality in an enjoyable environment.”

We’re currently working on projects with robotics and cobots to help improve safety in chemical environments and essentially remove operators

Both Marsh and McBride made sure this is very much engrained in how they deliver and operate at BES today.

It was actually on this AstraZeneca project that Marsh first entered a cleanroom. He recalls the whole change process was very daunting despite his training in a degree on built environments and his understanding of the underlying processes. “I was very much focused on watching my host and taking their lead to ensure I put on all the extra garments correctly,” he says. “As we walked around the facility, I was very conscious of following where they walked to make sure I didn’t step outside designated areas! Somewhat nerve-racking when I was in my early 20s!”

Teamwork makes the dream work

Of all the founding members, Paul is not the only Marsh. In fact, his older brother Steve has been working alongside him the entire time. In an executive reshuffle that happened in early 2022, Steve became Executive Chairman and Paul became COO, both coming from Director roles.

Paul is also proud to say that his nephew, Jake Marsh, has also followed in their footsteps and worked at BES for the last nine years. “I appreciate it might not be for everyone, particularly working with an older brother, however, I have worked with Steve for most of my working life,” he explains. “Hopefully he won’t mind me saying that we have huge mutual respect, and we don’t let work and social spill between the two. It has worked for us!”

Together with the other founding members, Marsh has built the company up from a team of six to one of over 180. “Mind-blowing, really,” he says. “I was talking about this only recently with some colleagues, reflecting on how at the time we needed to be ‘a jack of all trades’ then – project management, design, procurement, QS, planner etc. We could end up carrying out all the roles that today would typically have much bigger teams leading each of those tasks/functions. But things have moved on hugely, the scale of the projects and the level of complexity required has changed, so not sure I would cope on my own anymore!”

BES' Paul Marsh reveals the biggest priorities for his cleanroom clients

As Marsh has taken on more leadership roles, his role has evolved and broadened. “l have some closer responsibilities on projects, directing and leading those teams and I was always involved in general business performance. However, I’ve started to take further responsibility for all operations, so resources, performance management, commercial and SHEQ etc.”

As his role becomes more leadership focused, he explains that it has been nice to reflect on his leadership style. “On balance, there is sometimes the need to have a bit of ‘push’ and a bit of ‘pull’, but I like to think that I am a democratic leader, I endeavour to listen and provide support. However, in essence, we are humble and pragmatic here at BES with a focus on pulling together as a team.”

The basics of getting started on a project

The start of a project is often make or break, and Marsh explains that the questions of “how much” and “how quick” come up very early in the conversation. He says that BES works with a lot of new startups who have not necessarily gone through the process of designing and building facilities before. "They often welcome a discussion about the process to get there, the design stages and reviews, when and how early estimates and programmes can be provided, planning approvals, regulatory compliance etc,” he says.

For planning, Marsh explains that a lot of the customisation comes from the production process itself, which is often highly bespoke and sensitive in terms of Intellectual Property (IP). “Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of customisation, to be honest,” Marsh explains. “Many clients want visibility, so incorporating glazing can be an interesting challenge, especially where there are many low-level extracts to accommodate into the wall systems too. We’ve also been challenged to include corporate colours and branding into schemes as well.”

Marsh is hugely excited about some upcoming projects, which are massively varied from multimillion-pound new build schemes, to equally interesting smaller refurbs that are demanding in a different way. There is some sensitive information here, so that is all he is willing to say for now, but it will be interesting to see these developments come to fruition in the future.

What trends are worth their weight?

Something that Marsh is free, and very enthusiastic, to talk about is what trends the company is looking into going forward.

Marsh says the focus on modular solutions should be on the table for everyone. “We are doing this through our own in-house prefabrication capabilities alongside our cleanroom partition manufacturer, Norwood. It is because of [the importance of speed] in the industry that BES have taken an even greater look at modularisation as a concept, looking to incorporate it to shorten the construction cycle yet still adapt to a client’s bespoke specification.”

Though modularity is one of the top ways to modernise, automation is another facet that should be addressed in 2023. “We are seeing a considerable amount of automation already,” Marsh explains. “We’re currently working on projects with robotics and cobots to help improve safety in chemical environments and essentially remove operators from the process and reduce risks. It’s all fascinating in terms of what is possible, but feel we are living through change every day, what is interesting is to see how far it is all going to go.”

We now challenge the norms via calculation and CFD

Along a similar vein as automation, digitalisation is another venture that is stealing headlines. As part of Marsh’s new COO role, is a wide remit that he is currently using to push digitalisation and standardisation across the business. A digital technology that is being increasingly used in cleanrooms is CFD (computational fluid dynamics), and Marsh is keen to emphasise the importance of this tech not just for better running of a cleanroom, but for the environment. “It’s fair to say that historically the pharma industry has not been massively focused on energy efficiency and carbon reduction, because for them the paramount issues have been about medicine production. But that’s now changing.”

Marsh explains that historically air changes in cleanrooms have been high, but they are now starting to be driven down. “For many years they have been set in stone, following the mantra that they have worked before and clients don’t want the risk of failure, so won’t risk changing it. Nonetheless, driving down those air changes can save huge air volumes and CO2 while not compromising compliance or safety. We now challenge the norms via calculation and CFD (computational fluid dynamics), which is a method of digitally representing the airflow patterns in a room and checking the ventilation system's effectiveness in removing airborne particles.”

BES' Paul Marsh reveals the biggest priorities for his cleanroom clients

As an analytical person, Marsh says he often misses his days being involved with the challenge of HVAC design, “I actually miss looking at psychrometric charts and drawing schematics!” he says.

Meeting challenges head on

One of the biggest challenges for shortening time-to-market in 2023 and in recent years is supply chain issues.

But in a cleanroom, these supply chain delays are not just as simple as the delay. Marsh says that these projects are often planned around live production areas. So a simple delay can cause more problematic logistical and planning issues.

“It has been difficult, but we have coped fairly well in the circumstances,” Marsh recalls. “I believe the key to that has been awareness and sharing concerns and risks with our clients. This open communication has allowed us and the client to prepare and deal with issues in a timely fashion to minimise any impact.

At the time we needed to be ‘a jack of all trades’

Regulators are also a common hurdle to pass, and with the new EU GMP Annex 1 being introduced in August this year, it is going to make a big difference to sterile manufacturers. “The technical issues involving the flow of people, materials, and waste and consequently the adjacency of rooms are critical aspects that need careful consideration,” Marsh explains. “We’ve had a copy of Annex 1 for some time, and we have been adopting it into designs as they progress. We’ve also attended several workshops and conferences and have our own series of in-house workshops planned for 2023.”

Though clients often converse with the regulators themselves, with the new Annex 1, there has never been a better time to involve the building design team in these discussions.

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