When our mechanical engineers started design work on a new vaccine manufacturing facility, they never expected to be completing it during a global pandemic. The timing increased the project’s complexity and demanded innovative thinking and flexibility from our team.
COVID-19 Pandemic Arrives on Our Doorstep
In early 2020, mechanical engineer Daniel Riske was looking forward to being lead design engineer on a unique project that would help Canada prepare for future pandemics.
“There’s only a handful of facilities like this across North America,” says Daniel. “These are the kind of projects that are once-in-a-career. So, to be able to do that 12 years into my career was really exciting.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly arrived a short while later, the importance of the project – and engineering’s role in it – really hit home.
“It reminds you of the day-to-day impact that engineering has on the world and the importance of the profession,” says Daniel.
A Boost to Vaccine Manufacturing in Canada
The new vaccine manufacturing facility is part of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), located on campus at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
VIDO-InterVac is one of North America’s largest vaccine and infectious disease research institutes. Its goal is to become the centre of pandemic research in Canada, and it has already developed a COVID-19 vaccine, which is now in clinical trials.
We worked on a 5,000 square foot (464 square meter) renovation to an existing building, transforming it into an integrated research and vaccine manufacturing facility.
The original spaces were intended to operate at Canadian Biosafety Standard Containment Level 2
Our role in the innovative project was to design the complex HVAC system required to support the facility. This included some of the specialized systems for pharmaceutical production, along with ductwork, cleanroom HEPA filtration, plumbing, and cooling and heating systems. We also provided specification of the carbon dioxide and oxygen gas manifolds and nitrogen gas generation system.
Throughout the project, we kept sustainability in mind and, where possible reused existing cabinetry, faucets, and sinks from the original renovated labs. We also achieved
a balance between the recommended maximum and minimum air change rates to meet ISO 14644 particle count and cleanliness recovery. This balance ensured cleanroom particle count would be met without excessive fan power use.
Dual Requirements Posed Challenges
Our biggest challenge was balancing the requirements of a containment facility for vaccine research with those of a cleanroom for vaccine production.
Daniel had worked on containment and cleanroom facilities before, but always separately – combining the two was a first for him and the team.
“Containment requires that you try to keep any viruses or diseases internal to the facility,” he explains. “With pharmaceutical manufacturing and cleanrooms, you want to keep potential outside sources of contamination out of the facility, so balancing both becomes a bit of a challenge.”
Complex Solution Required Innovative Thinking
To meet the requirements for both containment and manufacturing, the team designed a series of positively and negatively pressurized ante-rooms to act as buffers and sinks to capture appropriate contaminants in the correct locations.”
The ante-rooms were positively pressurized to keep outside contaminants from getting in. The internal sinks were negatively pressurized to ensure any live viruses are drawn into the HEPA filters and are not released into the environment.
“The biggest thing was making sure the containment and pharmaceutical requirements meshed and weren’t fighting each other,” says Daniel. “It required some out-of-the-box thinking and deep analysis and understanding of the impact each requirement had.”
Focus on Detail Reduces Risk
The facility’s complex mechanical system has numerous pieces of specialized equipment, connections, and requirements that had to be tracked and analyzed in precise detail.
This required hours of review and triple checking to make sure every detail was factored into the design.
“It definitely reduced any risk of potential errors later on during construction,” explains Daniel. “Otherwise, there was a risk of something being missed or forgotten about.”
After seeing the value the database brought to this project, Daniel is already using it on others.
A Contribution to Canada’s Pandemic Readiness
Construction on VIDO-InterVac’s vaccine manufacturing facility is expected to wrap up in the spring of 2022. Next, the certification process begins. Once approved, the facility will have the capacity to produce up to 40 million vaccine doses a year.
As the project winds down, Daniel feels a sense of satisfaction about being able to play a role in strengthening Canada’s response to the next pandemic.
“For me, it’s been great in that it gives me the feeling that in some small way you’re contributing for future readiness for similar situations. There are lots of ways to contribute, but this has been my way.”