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Business partners Mike Brimson and Steve McAleavy.
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Ezi-Dock Systems in Kirby in Ashfield, Nottingham, UK, specialises in the provision of liquid- and dust-free powder transfer and handling solutions. I visited Ezi-Dock’s managing director Steve McAleavy to learn about the company’s origins and the reasons behind its Ezi-Flow CSV high containment transfer system having taken the pharma industry by storm.
The journey begins
Steve and long-term business partner Mike Brimson launched Ezi-Dock Systems in 2003, after having spent many years working in the field of specialist injection moulding to produce components and flexible packaging products for medical and pharmaceutical markets. Being entirely their own business, Ezi-Dock allowed Steve and Mike to develop and market their first patented product concept — a two-part docking ring that attached to FIBCs (flexible intermediate bulk containers) and large sacks, providing totally dust-free transfer of product.
As Steve retrospectively admitted: “The aim was to have one of these docking systems on every big bag sold in the world, but it never quite worked out like that. That said, it’s a good, stable product that continues to do pretty well, with around 10,000 sales per month.”
In fact, the product proved useful in an application not initially anticipated by Steve or Mike. “It worked very effectively on 14 and 16" chutes discharging from a big bag, but we discovered it worked just as well on chargebags,” explained Steve.
The decision was made to invest in injection mould tooling for additional 2, 4 and 6” versions of the docking ring and sell these as chargebag assemblies. At the time, Ezi-Dock did not have a facility to make the bags so bought them in and paired them with the docking rings in very small numbers. A class 10,000 ISO 7 cleanroom was quickly built so Ezi-Dock Systems could increase production volume and really begin to target Steve and Mike’s desired market of pharmaceuticals.
Introducing the Ezi-Flow CSV high containment transfer system
Around this time, an opportune meeting at a UK pharmaceutical plant revealed the production manager’s need for an alternative contained transfer method to the one currently implemented in his production path, which he said had been failing miserably. He had been unable to find a suitable alternative. Eager to provide a solution, Steve and Mike took just three months to develop the Ezi-Flow CSV system. In Steve’s words: “It took off like a rocket,” and three years on, they have introduced the Mark 3 version.
The Ezi-Flow CSV is based on a two-part passive and active, similar in concept to most split butterfly valves but claimed to be offering significant advantages in cost and performance. Both parts are interlocked to ensure operator and product safety, although the system is remarkably easy to use and so cost-effective that take up of the design was immediate.
Launched last year, the third and latest version has seen significant functional improvements to the operation, such as removal of buttons on the front to be replaced with a toggle on the back. This feature has not only achieved a liquid-tight seal but users wearing bulky PPE have found it a lot easier to operate.
Making it even simpler to use, the Mark 3 design numbers the one to three operational stages. “We weren’t sure whether some people might find that condescending, but everyone has said it’s great,” said Steve. “And it really is as easy as 1, 2, 3 — step 1/Load and secure the chargebag to the Ezi-Flow system, step 2/Open the Ezi-Flow system and step 3/Engage the two side toggles to achieve a contained seal.”
The Ezi-Flow CSV is of course aimed at those new adopters of single-use technologies. As Steve pointed out: “In most cases it doesn’t make sense to re-use because it costs more to clean the equipment, handle the waste, revalidate, etc., than it does to use once and dispose.”
At the start of the project, Steve and Mike aimed to achieve a 1–10 µg OEL (operator exposure limit), but they actually managed to achieve less than 1 µg, which is as good as, if not better, than many split butterfly valves, according to Steve. “That’s how we started to make real inroads into the pharma market,” he said. “We’re supplying 10 of the top 12 pharma companies and the customer list grows daily.
“We’ve got a number of sales agents in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, America and the Far East, but we are picking up business by word of mouth as well, for example, one organisation we’ve spread through like wildfire just because one engineer spoke to another engineer and so on.”
So what next?
Steve admits that he and Mike always have a wish list of further improvements for their products — some their own and others customer driven. Top of the list is to produce an aseptic version of the Ezi-Flow CSV, because it is not possible to steam sterilise the Mark 3. “Some customers gamma irradiate it, but we are looking — in the not too distant future — to produce it in a material suitable for steam sterilisation,” Steve affirmed.