A FLINTSHIRE firm has broken into the Chinese market with a ground breaking system which is cleaning up in the pharmaceutical industry.
David Catherall, Managing Director of TDC Services, in Ewloe, is the brains behind a high-pressure water system which has transformed the cleaning out of huge reactor vessels used to mix up some of the world’s most important, life-saving drugs.
Known as the TDC Hydrodynamic Cleaning System, it centres around a robotic head which is lowered into a drug vessel, generally in three different positions. It then rotates in a predetermined pattern and uses high pressure, low volume, directional water jets to break down and remove debris build up with no need for costly solvent or intensive manual labour inside the container.
The energy of the jets of water are strong enough to remove physical debris but not powerful enough to cause damage to the glass equipment inside which is crucial when the vessels can cost around £1m to replace.
The system is also fully Atmosphere Explosive Approved (ATEX) which is required when equipment operates in a solvent laden environment.
Conservative estimates suggest it is saving companies around £750,000 a year on their cleaning bill.
The hydrodynamic system has proved so effective within pharmaceutical firm Novartis’ plants in the UK, Ireland and the US that it has now caught the eye of Senior Production Managers at Novartis in China who are looking for ways of reducing costs and time when the vessels are out of action.
They have recently placed another order with the industrial cleaning specialists based in Deeside.
David, a mechanical engineer and inventor, said: “China is our biggest breakthrough to date.
“It is a notoriously difficult global market to break into and you have to jump through all sorts of hoops. To finally make it is a huge achievement for us.
“In terms of revenue, it gives us about five per cent of our turnover with one order so it is significant both financially and in terms of reputation.
“Breaking into the Chinese market is like a form of accreditation. It gives us a real boost of credibility with the pharmaceutical industry and it gave us a great buzz to achieve it.
“We are bucking the trend in many ways. Lots of firms are importing from the Chinese industry but how many can say they are exporting?”
David’s success with the cleaning system, which helped the company win a prestigious Welsh government award for business innovation and creativity in 2000, started back in the late 1990s when he was contracted to do a job for AstraZeneca in Macclesfield, Cheshire.
For many years, the pharmaceutical industry had relied upon costly, time wasting cleaning measures which involved expensive solvents, vast water consumption and sometimes even workers being lowered down into the vessels to clean them by hand.
It meant the vessels were out of action for considerable amounts of time, costing the global firms thousands of pounds at a time.
David, who describes himself as a ‘common sense engineer, rather than a university educated one’, developed the hydrodynamic system when he looked at the cleaning problem at Macclesfield’s AstraZeneca plant in 1997 and realised it was simply a case of getting the cleaning heads into the right positions so they could access the entire vessel.
David, 68, said: “Other people have tried to overcome the problem that these vessels present, but they have not persevered with their ideas long enough to get them to the point where they have actually worked well enough to sell them.
“I simply worked out that the cleaning heads needed to work in a predetermined pattern and that by lowering them in to the vessel in three different positions would normally be enough to clean everywhere.
“They achieve 360˚cleaning from the predetermined positions that we programme them to be set and this is how we achieve such a clean finish.”
The former vice chair of the North Wales Economic Forum, Chairman of the CBI North Wales and member of the CBI Council has now sold hydrodynamic, ATEX approved cleaning packages all over the world including Singapore, Canada, America and Switzerland to giants within the pharmaceutical industry including AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
It has cleaned out vessels used to produce drugs for the treatment of a host of different conditions including leukaemia, asthma and diabetes.
Not only has it been snapped up due to its obvious financial benefits, taking the cost per wash down to around £120 from more than £5,000, but it also helps companies improve their green credentials too.
David said: “We have conservative estimates that it can save up to £750,000 a year on their cleaning bill.
“It also prevents the need for solvents to be used which is not only good in terms of the environment but also helps reduce cost significantly because not only do you not have to buy them in the first place but you also do not have to go through the costly process of incinerating the solvent and the water used afterwards.
“I have seen them having to put up scaffolding inside these vessels and send two men inside with abrasive pads to clean them by hand.
“Our system eliminates all of this and has proved to be extremely useful in its field.”
For more information about the TDC Hydrodynamic Cleaning System go to www.tdchydro.co.uk