Working together at a confidential life sciences project in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, project engineers Devin Kennedy and Ben Salsman noticed that their customer was disposing of a few old bioreactors. Designed to grow and develop cells to extract proteins that are used to create injectable medicines, bioreactors are an important aspect of life sciences–a piece of equipment that engineers usually learn about out of a book.
Wanting to gain more hands-on MEP experience in DPR’s culture of continuous learning, Kennedy and Salsman decided to turn the discarded 60-liter bioreactor into a learning tool. With a core team of DPR’s technical experts, they brainstormed what they could do, such as adding valves and instruments, building a control panel and developing a sequence of operations. They stepped up to the biggest challenge: making the out-of-service bioreactor fully functional.
A team of 20 project engineers in DPR’s Raleigh-Durham office set out to create a physically self-contained bioreactor on one skid and understand how its components (sensors, valves, pumps, controls, wiring) interacted in a highly controlled, pressurized environment. Through hands-on workdays led by DPR experts focused on mechanical, controls and electrical aspects of the bioreactor, the project engineers gained experience from design through commissioning.
Focusing on the “why,” not just the “what,” the project engineers looked at the bioreactor as a holistic system that helped them connect to DPR’s work. They gained hands-on experience with concepts including controlled automation systems, welding and wiring–all of which reappear in projects across core markets, and all of which project engineers typically don’t get to touch with their own hands.
“Knowing how the bioreactors work, and knowing how to build them through their own experiences only makes our project engineers better team members for our customers,” said David Ross, who leads DPR’s life sciences core market in the Southeast. “On a broader level, Project Tinman helped them better understand our life science customers, as well as the perspectives of trade partners and equipment manufacturers.”