“THE World is changing. These are turbulent times. We’re in the midst of a pandemic that has turned our lives upside down and inside out in ways most of us would have thought unimaginable 12 months ago.”

Guardtech Commercial Director Mark Wheeler has seen the business landscape shift immeasurably over the past 12 months – but he and the Guardtech Cleanrooms team are not prepared to sleepwalk through it. Instead, they’ve been using their expertise to help businesses tackle the Covid-19 crisis in a variety of different ways.

One of the greatest areas of concern has been the UK’s deeply troubling shortage of laboratories – as well as workspaces for Covid-19 testing and diagnostics. Large-scale construction projects often require a great deal of time and money – and many institutions and businesses have seen their finances wrecked by the pandemic.

But the nature of Guardtech’s work is all about tackling challenges and devising innovative solutions, and they’re busy providing controlled environments, labs and Covid-19 testing units right now. “Many firms don’t have the resources to tackle the problem,” continues Mr Wheeler. “But Guardtech Cleanrooms are offering solutions. We’re helping businesses. And our work is undoubtedly, albeit indirectly, helping to save lives.”

Guardtech specialises in controlled environments, and they’ve used that expertise to create two immediate solutions – CleanCube portable cleanrooms and ISOPOD modular cleanrooms.

So what is a CleanCube – and how have they helped with the lab shortage crisis? 

A cleanroom built to the same quality standard as any of Guardtech’s large-scale modular builds, but within a mobile format. The CleanCube comes in three forms – box vans, shipping containers and modular buildings. Containers come as 20ft or 40ft units and the vans are either 3.5 or 7.5-ton vehicles and can be internally fitted out to meet the requirements of biosafety laboratories (BSL 1, 2 & 3)​, Covid-19 testing stations and ​Covid-19 diagnostic labs, as well as standard temporary ISO 5, 6, 7 and 8 cleanrooms.

Mr Wheeler explains that the development of the CleanCube began with a mission – to assist clients that had the capability and resource to provide testing and diagnostics for tackling Covid-19, but didn’t have the platform to deliver their services.

“They approached us about the CleanCube range to see if we could give them an expedited product to get them up and running with transportable testing facility in as little as three weeks, and we were more than happy to accept the challenge,” he says. “The key with the build is a fast, off-site constructed module, built to the same high standard of a modular cleanroom, with no compromise on materials or specification, but creatively designed to make the best use of a compromised footprint.”

In what other ways have Guardtech made a difference during the pandemic?

The company’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic stretches far beyond CleanCube mobile cleanrooms and Covi-19 testing and diagnostics. Guardtech’s construction expertise initially saw them become involved with the ‘ventilator challenge’ – when at the beginning of the crisis these vital machines were scarce. The Haverhill-based firm soon found themselves not only working with manufacturers producing ventilators, but also those directly supplying vital components for the life-saving machines.

“This involved repurposing facilities in super-quick time and providing our engineering skills to critical suppliers,” Mr Wheeler continues. “One project that sticks in my memory was with an Aerospace company – we worked with them to upscale manufacturing, on a project which included a canteen conversion into a new production space for valves that were to be used in the Dyson ventilators, all within the space of a week.

“One part of that project was to overcome the challenge of getting components to the first floor of the building. The client presented the problem on the Wednesday afternoon, we designed a bespoke lifting solution on the Thursday morning, ordered the components in the afternoon and on the Friday and Saturday the whole company were involved in fitting these bespoke product lifts – made from components that were sourced in an extremely narrow timeframe.”

The next phase of Covid-19-related projects that Guardtech became involved with focussed on upscaling British-manufactured PPE.

“I’m sure everyone remembers the negative press about the woeful shortages of PPE in the NHS,” Mr Wheeler recalls. “It all stemmed from an inadequate domestic PPE supply chain – due to the fact that almost all PPE is manufactured abroad and imported. We were proud to get the opportunity to work on cleanroom design & build projects for face-mask manufacturing in the UK and Ireland, supported by government funding to upscale PPE capacity quickly.”

As the nature of the pandemic developed, so too has Guardtech’s influence and level of responsibility – with activity relating to testing, diagnostics and vaccine delivery coming to the fore. The company are currently involved in a large-scale design & build project for a Covid-19 testing re-agent facility that will support the national testing effort even further, and they’ve provided more than 20 mobile testing facilities for PCR testing. Mr Wheeler adds: “We’re really proud to have been able to support businesses in their endeavour to upscale UK lab capacity and we’ll be building a good many more of these units in the coming months.”

And what about ISOPOD modular cleanrooms?

CleanCube portable cleanrooms have offered one solution to the lab shortage crisis, but it’s not the only option Guardtech has presented to the market. ISOPOD is their revolutionary new concept in modular cleanroom design & build – high-performance controlled environments which can be self-assembled and are fully customisable to best utilise the host room they are installed within.

“ISOPOD is essentially a flat-pack cleanroom,” explains Mr Wheeler. “They’re manufactured to the same quality standards, with most of the same components, as any of our high-quality modular cleanrooms, but in a simplified manner that facilitates either quick installation or self-assembly by end-users. The units are customisable, configurable, extendable, can be relocated and are available in hardwall, softwall or hybrid formats.”

So what does the future hold for Guardtech and beyond?

Mr Wheeler admits that “it’s very difficult to make any predictions in this climate”, but he is backing the Cleanroom industry to play a massive role in helping to shape best practice in a range of sectors going forward.

“In today’s world, control is the new norm,” he says. “Risk management, segregation, considered workspaces, controlled environments, filtration – these are all terms that are being adopted on a far wider basis than ever before and it is the responsibility of industries such as ours to lead from the front and share our vast experience with those that are new to this arena.

“I believe that over time we will see a new wave of industries adopting upgraded production environments, seeing this step as a responsible way to protect staff in production environments and as an added safeguard against the risk of potential downtime.”

For more information on Guardtech’s design, construction and commissioning services – as well as their associated products – email sales@guardtech.com or call 0330 113 0303.