by: Michael Gilmore, Writer, Great Bend Tribune
While most of the county is engaged in producing life-sustaining grain, one place north of Great Bend is engaged in manufacturing equipment that can help save a life.
PRIMUS’ manufacturing facility, located at 175 N. U.S. 281 employs five dozen designers, engineers, and floor personnel to produce a product integral to major components of the healthcare industry in the United States and around the globe.
Since its inception, Primus Sterilizer Company LLC, a brand of Spire Integrated Solutions, has manufactured versatile and robust steam sterilizers from non-proprietary parts utilized in custom applications.
Spire Integrated Solutions’ four brands offer U.S.-made, purpose-built sterilizers, washers, and stainless-steel equipment for use in hospitals, clinics, laboratories, morgues, and other healthcare and life science organizations, delivering reliable equipment solutions.
The company’s trademarked chamber mirror finish is at the heart of every custom-built unit, essential to its function.
“The surface of the metal inside the sterilizer’s chamber, when you look at it through a microscope, looks like a mountain range,” explained Chad Huhn, Primus plant manager.
“When you polish the inside of the chamber, the peaks even out to the valleys of the material, and the water won’t stick to it. Where there’s water, there’s life, and you don’t want life inside something that is killing it,” he said.
Find out why it matters that PRIMUS polishes their stainless steel to a mirror-like finish (there’s a scientific reason!)
The custom aspect of construction places the company at the forefront of the steam sterilization industry in several markets: clinical, life science, vivarium, bio-containment, and biopharma applications.
“We have a different type of niche here where we’re going after a lot of the work that the larger companies don’t touch because it’s unique,” Huhn said. “We are giving the customer what it is they are asking for instead of trying to force them into a standard ‘one-size-fits-all’ application. We go after those in the pharmaceutical industry looking at a really long lead time from a competitor or that have a unique process.”
An industry leader
On Nov. 1, 2018, Chalmers Group, a privately owned Canadian corporation, acquired the Primus Sterilizer company operation.
Adding the Primus brand to Scientek and CSI/Jewett brands, already held by Chalmers, created a one-stop healthcare and life sciences solution, Spire Integrated Solutions. These brands manufacture steam sterilizers, washing equipment, autopsy/dissection equipment, and stainless steel case goods.
Together, Spire Integrated Solutions is one of North America’s largest healthcare and life science steam sterilizer manufacturers.
Chalmers Group named Jim Fry as president and CEO of Spire Integrated Solutions. Fry brings his multinational experience in infection control in the healthcare and life science environments.
Fry recruited Huhn to head the Great Bend ASME-certified pressure-vessel factory in the summer of 2022. Huhn explained that each custom-built unit functions as a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) autoclave.
Getting to the top
Huhn explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains four biosafety levels for healthcare and related industries: BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3, and BSL-4, with BSL-4 being the maximum containment level. The CDC also has specific rules and designations for animal research (ABSL) and agricultural research (BSL-Ag).
With a BSL-3 rating, the company’s equipment operates in environments with risk-based enhancements, such as airtight disinfection; self-closing, double-door, and controlled access; and filter and effluent decontamination systems.
“A lab with a BSL-3 would be dealing with infectious agents like SARS or COVID,” Huhn explained. “A BSL-4 facility would be working with something like Ebola.”
BSL-4 labs are highly isolated, often located in a remote and restricted zone of a building or a separate building. BSL-4 labs also feature a dedicated exhaust air supply, vacuum lines, and decontamination systems.
“Before I came to work for Spire Integrated Solutions, I managed validation groups for sterilization of injectable drugs,” said Huhn, whose experience with metal fabrication extends back to working in his father’s factory in New Jersey.
A New Jersey Institute of Technology graduate, Huhn majored in manufacturing engineering.
The COVID pandemic did have positive aspects, especially for medical research and development, Huhn said.
“Before COVID, there weren’t many companies sharing their research,” he said. “Now there are so many scientists working on something collective that share the information.”
Huhn continues, “The NIH (National Institutes of Health) is putting in a lot of funding for that, revamping and putting in the kinds of labs that scientists need right now,” he said.
“It’s bringing production work back to this country.”Chad Huhn, Spire Integrated Solutions
Spire Integrated Solutions’ products are made in the U.S.A.