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Primus plant builds custom sterilizers for global clients
Primus business feature
Primus Sterilizer Company plant manager Chad Huhn, left, stands by a custom-made autoclave being constructed at the Great Bend plant.
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 a lot back to this country, production-wise.
Chad Huhn, Primus plant manager

While most of the county is engaged in producing life-sustaining grain, there is one place north of Great Bend engaged in manufacturing equipment that can help save a life.

From its plant location at 175 N. U.S. 281, some five dozen designers, engineers and floor personnel produce a product integral to major components of the health-care industry in the United States and around the globe. 

Since its inception, Primus Sterilizer Company LLC, a subsidiary of Spire Integrated Solutions, has manufactured versatile and robust autoclaves from non-proprietary parts utilized in custom applications. Spire Integrated Solutions provides purpose-built sterilizers, washers and stainless-steel equipment for use in hospitals, clinics, laboratories, morgues and other health-care and life science organizations, delivering reliable equipment solutions.

At the heart of every custom-built unit is the company’s trademarked chamber mirror finish, essential to its function.

“The surface of metal, when you look at it through a microscope, looks like a mountain range,” explained Chad Huhn, Primus plant manager. “When you polish it, the peaks are pulled down into the valleys 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.

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 that are looking at a really long lead time from a competitor or that have a really unique process.”

An industry leader

On Nov. 1, 2018, Chalmers Group, a privately owned Canadian corporation, acquired the Primus operation, The addition of Primus to Scientek and CSI/Jewett, already held by Chalmers, created a single source solution, Spire Integrated Solutions, for steam sterilizers, washing equipment, autopsy/dissection equipment, and stainless steel case goods. Together, Spire serves as one of the largest manufacturers of its kind in North America. 

Chalmers Group named Jim Fry, with multinational experience in infection control, as president and CEO of the combined group.

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 levels of biosafety for health-care and related industries: BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3 and BSL-4, with BSL-4 being the maximum level of containment. The CDC also has additional 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 extremely isolated, often located in an isolated and restricted zone of a building or in a separate building entirely. BSL-4 labs also feature a dedicated supply of exhaust air, as well as vacuum lines and decontamination systems.

“Before I came to work for Spire, I was running 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 graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, 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 with each other.

“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 a lot back to this country, production-wise.”