Innovation and Growth in Biomedical Contamination Control

The Baker Company

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The Baker Company makes products designed to ensure the safety of hospital, pharmacy and laboratory personnel as well as to protect and enhance the integrity of their work. Family-owned Baker has a history of innovation and a focus on meeting customer demands, even if that means modifying products on the shop floor.
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“We are primarily a manufacturer and supplier of contamination control equipment for use within the life sciences industry. In addition to that, we manufacture and supply a line of controlled environment workstations out of our subsidiary in Wales, Ruskinn Technology,” says Dan Eagleson, senior vice-president of The Baker Company.

Based in Sanford, Maine, Baker boasts three laboratories, an office and administration building, a production plant and a facility for research and development [R&D] work. In 2011, the firm purchased Wales-based Ruskinn Technology Ltd., which manufactures controlled atmosphere workstations, for use within niche applications of microbiology and cell biology research.

Baker specializes in the design and manufacture of biological safety cabinets (BSC), among other contamination control products. These are enclosed, ventilated workspaces found within most labs that allow staff to work safely with materials contaminated with (or potentially contaminated with) pathogens requiring a defined level of biosafety. Several types of BSCs exist, differentiated by the degree of biocontainment required.

“We are a fully integrated manufacturing facility. We are a steel fabricator that uses CNC machines to precisely form and craft metal,” Eagleson says, stressing the comprehensive nature of The Baker Company’s operations. “We take our product through various operations on the shop floor, artfully cutting, bending, and welding stainless steel, then bringing it through a powder coating paint operation and into a hands-on assembly and quality assurance process.”

Baker’s customers include laboratories run by government agencies, academic institutions, industrial and private research organizations. “I would say our products are supplied primarily to the medical education and biomedical research sectors, but you would also find them in use within larger biopharmaceutical companies, for both R&D and drug production,” says Eagleson.

Baker also sells products for use in hospitals and a clinical setting, supplying equipment to both hospital pharmacies and sterile drug compounding operations.

“The largest percentage of our sales tends to come from our Class II biosafety cabinet technology … our flagship product is referred to as SterilGARD. You would find [this product] in the majority of tissue culture labs and biomedical research institutions throughout the world,” he says.

Eagleson is proud of the company’s reputation and history of innovation.

“We’ve got biosafety cabinets in use – in the field right now at customer sites – that have been working properly for well over twenty to twenty-five years. That says a lot about the brand, the promise we make to our customers, and the reliability of the solutions we supply,” he states.

Presently, between both locations, the Baker Company has just over 160 employees up from about 145 last year. Roughly 140 work in Sanford while another twenty plus are employed at the Wales-based operation. “We’ve been growing, both through the acquisition [Ruskinn] and in response to a good macro or market environment for our products,” he continues.

And company revenues have been following a similar growth. “We are probably at fifteen percent growth year-over-year, with the potential to grow another 20 percent next year.”

The Baker Company was founded in Maine in 1949 by Art Baker. The founder was “primarily focused on providing clean air solutions for use within industrial applications, such as hand tools and clean air workstations for handling things like ball bearings and motors where it was important to provide a sterile processing environment. My grandfather, Jack Eagleson, started to integrate HEPA filtration technology to evolve solutions used exclusively in an industrial setting to new applications required within the life sciences,” says Eagleson.

Jack Eagleson eventually purchased the company from Art Baker, and Eagleson’s father joined the firm in the late 1960s. The Baker Company remains family owned. Eagleson’s brother, David, serves as company president.

The company has introduced several breakthrough products. These include the world’s first clean air workstation in 1951 and the industry’s first vertical flow biological safety cabinet in 1965.

The clean air work station was originally built to provide “a sterile processing work environment for industrial needs” but was eventually adapted for “a new market and a new industry emerging within the life sciences… to address research associated with cancer and infectious disease control,” says Eagleson. In fact, The Baker Company worked closely with the National Cancer Institute to develop a specification for a new cabinet intended to contain, control and protect workers from volatile chemicals.

The labs at its Sanford facility have helped pioneer work and understanding of the way in which cabinets can be optimized for both performance and protection of the end user and the work they perform. “We were the first ones within our industry to devise and develop methods for validating the performance of biosafety cabinetry through microbiological testing,” he says. This is a practice that has since been adopted by international standards and is now applied to all biosafety cabinetry.

Product innovation is ongoing. In July, Ruskinn unveiled the new InvivO2 range of physiological cell culture workstations. “There is a growing trend within cell biology and required by some stem-cell investigations to deliver more physiologically relevant conditions to the study of cells. This particular solution provides an all-in-one environment for the study, manipulation and incubation of cells within an in-vivo like environment. It’s an in-vitro tool, precisely engineered to deliver in-vivo like conditions.”

The Ruskinn branch exemplifies innovation in another way; it is now using 3D printing technology for making prototypes for key product development projects.

Eagleson describes Baker’s corporate culture as collaborative and inquisitive. “Over the years, we’ve stayed in business and been able to evolve based on close consultation with our end-users, our customers. A lot of the new product development work that we’ve done has been [the result of meeting] the needs of our customers, designing product to meet their unique customer requirements. So there’s a strategic value placed on the integration of customer needs and wants into the design and development of product,” he says.

This put-the-customer-first philosophy extends into the manufacturing process. “There are other suppliers of biosafety cabinets and controlled environment workstations. However, we feel our niche is being able to modify and customize those workstations and those biosafety cabinets for specific customer needs and applications. We’ve established operations on the shop floor to allow us to configure and modify standard products in accordance with the desires of a customer. Our competitors can’t do that, nor do they want to!” says Eagleson.

The Baker Company has “also been undertaking a lean manufacturing initiative over the past few years that really is focusing on empowering our employees out on the shop floor and reducing non-value added activities from our day to day operation. It’s about integrating their ideas and their suggestions for ongoing and continuous process improvement into our methods of manufacturing,” he adds.

While employing a wide range of staff in diverse positions, The Baker Company looks for certain traits in potential employees. “In general, from the ground-up we want them to be self-starters, to not be afraid to take the initiative, to make a suggestion they feel can improve the way we do things and ultimately to feel empowered – to be part of a team – and to help us grow the business,” says Eagleson.

Given the nature of its products, it is not surprising The Baker Company promotes a culture of quality and enforces strict quality standards. This focus on both quality and innovation has impressed industry peers. In December 2014, Baker received the Product Innovation Supplier of the Year award from medical/life sciences firm Becton, Dickinson and Company of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

The Baker Company is heavily involved in charitable work as a way to give back to its community, says Eagleson. “Within our company, we have an annual fundraising drive in support of the United Way’s annual campaign. And my father, brother and I have each served the United Way directly in some capacity, through our involvement in community outreach committees.”

The Baker Company provides outreach services of another kind through the Eagleson Institute. A nonprofit foundation based in Sanford, the Institute was formed “in the memory of my grandfather Jack Eagleson, in the late 1980s, to promote laboratory safety.”

The institute provides instruction on the principles and practices for applied biosafety, utilizing employees and staff from other organizations to deliver instruction to the industry and global biosafety community. The Eagleson Institute has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Defense for various training initiatives.

To promote itself, The Baker Company has a vigorous online presence and maintains “a very strong brand within the life science and biosafety community. We are members of the American Biological Safety Association as well as other industry organizations who share a similar mission that we do. We attend industry trade events throughout the year… leverage a network of independent manufacturer’s representatives – primarily within the United States. In fact, we maintain a relationship with some sixty-plus consultative sales professionals who visit customers on a daily basis, acting as our expert consultants or sales agents, if you will.”

The company hopes to further its growth through new product development and/or strategic acquisition, expanding on or leveraging its existing assets to introduce new products.

“We maintain a significant budget for internal R&D, where we look to improve existing products and develop new ones. We are in the final stages of developing a new carbon dioxide incubator, the Cultivo, which we will be launching in 2017. This is a tool for delivering common growth conditions researchers require for growing cells, which can be sold alongside a biosafety cabinet. It also serves as a product bridge of sorts between the solutions produced and sold through our two brands (Baker and Ruskinn),” says Eagleson.

Eagleson remains delighted by the contributions – such as the Cultivo and InvivO2 – that his company is making to the biomedical field.

“Through acquisition and internal R&D, we are poised to deliver our customers with the tools they need to further evolve science and clinical care,” he states. “We feel there’s a growing trend in the industry – toward studying cells in their native or most optimal environment. But our customers need flexibility and quality in the high-performance tools that will allow them to do so, from the bench to the bedside. Equipment selection is not only dictated by the budget, but by what the scientist and the unique research application requires … achievement in science requires emerging and innovative technology that adapts to the work, not the other way around,” he explains.

“So we hope the Cultivo and InvivO2 are just two examples of how we will help our customers better understand the most complex of cells and cellular interactions. And both of these products represent a very exciting and strategic evolution of the brand promise we make and will continue to make to our customers, to assist them in their ability to advance science and clinical care.”

December 12, 2017, 3:14 AM EST