Interview with Fabio Biffi, General Manager and Sales Manager of BICASA
BICASA is a company that manufactures technical furniture and fume cupboards for laboratories. It was founded 70 years ago by the Biffi and the Casiraghi families who are still guiding it today. The founders were Luigi Biffi and Giuseppe Casiraghi, and today, the third generation is heading the company. BICASA faces the Export challenges with various strategies and business approaches, through a balanced mix of subsidiaries, distributors, agents and commercial partners. Fabio Biffi after a degree in Economics and Business was a finance and tax consultant and worked in large consulting firms. Then, in September 2006, after almost a year living in Cambridge, he decided to return to the family business. At the beginning, he handled the Italian market in Ahsi SpA, a listed company held by BICASA and ThermoFisher,
which is the exclusive distributor in Italy – he still sits on Ahsi’s Board – and then, since 2012, he has led BICASA’s overseas development and its internationalization. We asked Mr. Fabio Biffi about the priorities of the company and the principles of building a successful business in the segment of products for laboratories.
What are the core competencies of the company?
Designing and creating laboratories in accordance with the work processes of end users. We can easily meet most of the requirements of any laboratory from any market segment.
What are target segments for your solutions?
Projects where high technological solutions are mandatory, together with flexibility and quality. These kind of project are in all segments where labs are required: healthcare, university, industry, pharmacy, research, etc. Thanks to the modularity of all our lab systems, we cover all the segments simply working on products configuration.
Which segments are the priorities for BICASA, and how do you assess the company’s position in the main segments of the market?
Generally I do not evaluate the position of BICASA in relation to the different segments of the markets, but in relation to different countries because being successful is a matter of strategy and local partnerships. However, if I should focus of the top 3 segments for BICASA, I could say university, pharmacy/ research and industry, where money factor is less important than quality, and both architects and engineering companies often play a key role in the project phase.
What types of products are most in demand for these markets?
Definitely the products which represent unicity for BICASA, both in terms of performances and design / application, therefore RX FUME HOOD, IKARO (Suspended beam) & KOMPATTO (mobile workstation), DOCK WALL (technical partition wall) and COLUMINIA (vertical columns) & MEDIA CEILING.
You’ve already said that your most important product line is the fume cupboard one. What parameters need to be considered when selecting a fume cupboard?
In any chemical laboratory, the riskiest operating area is, without a doubt, the area in which chemical reactions are produced in the fume cupboard. It is therefore essential that the operator’s safety is guaranteed: he/she must not under any circumstances whatsoever come into contact with any fumes created inside the work chamber. The operator must not breathe, in any way and any quantity, any substance released inside the fume cupboard, toxic substances or, worse, carcinogenic ones.
So how is this protection guaranteed? What safety guarantees does the operator have?
Beyond the guarantees from the design and the brand, which remain at the user’s absolute discretion, the one element that should never be overlooked when evaluating which fume cupboard to select is the cupboard’s “real” containment capacity (robustness). The European regulations EN 14175 (Parts 2,3,6) and the American ANSI ASHRAE 110-2016 provide performance standards and suggest, or impose in the second case, usage parameters. But it’s not always the case, unfortunately, that the person buying a fume cupboard is, in spite of themselves, in the best position to benefit from and properly evaluate the performance data on containment capacity, and yet this is through no fault of the user, but through a lack of clarity with which we manufacturers transfer and make such data understandable and usable.
There are two types of test that the user has to have access to, and every certified fume cupboard is subjected to these tests by various independent certification bodies. The first test is based on static detection, performed in a test chamber, of the containment capacity of fumes, both at predetermined points outside (outer plane) of the sash as well as internally (inner plane). The measurements are made with different frontal air velocities, usually less than or equal to 0.5 m/s as suggested by the EN regulations and as imposed by the ASHRAE. If, on the one hand, reducing the frontal air velocity increases the user’s energy savings (air changes), on the other hand, it increases the difficulty for the manufacturer to guarantee the containment of the fumes. Therefore the different velocities under 0.5 m/s are absolutely discretional. This risk increases exponentially in the case where we consider the second performance measurement by certification bodies, i.e. measuring the real containment capacity of the fume cupboard in the presence of interference (robustness), and it is here where every user should focus. Measurements in a test chamber do not reflect, by any stretch of the imagination, the real operating conditions in a laboratory. In the test chamber, there are no disturbances or interference that are typical in the real world. The laboratory is a dynamic environment where there are often uncontrollable flows or draughts of air. We simply need to think about windows, doors, air conditioners, people moving around … all these elements create more significant flows of air outside the fume cupboard than you might think. That is why real dynamic tests of a fume cupboard’s containment capacity are so important. The most important value is, simply put, robustness, or the fume cupboard’s capacity to contain fumes in the presence of disturbance or interference phenomena of the frontal air flow, as happens in the daily operations of every laboratory.
Often, the marketing departments of fume cupboard manufacturers fail to clearly distinguish between containment (inner and outer plane) and robustness, fuelling the misunderstanding … but it’s not for me to deal with this.
How does BICASA respond?
By listening to our consciences and our sense of responsibility, by working professionally every day to achieve results like the new RX fume cupboard which, to date, guarantees the greatest robustness on the world market. The RX fume cupboards (SMART and FULL) are the results of over 2 years of research and development, pursuing an almost obsessive study of fluid dynamics and air flows. Just by way of example, look at the following certified value: robustness £ 0.298 ppm (parts per million) with frontal velocity of 0.15 m/s, without any auxiliary device, unlike many of our competitors.
For two years, aerodynamic engineers and technicians in the BICASA Research and Development department worked closely together. We also made use of expert consultants from an outside company for the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) analyses that, executed on applied mathematical models, provided precise evaluations of the use conditions in order to pursue the best technical solutions.
Understanding the flows of air at the entrance to the work chamber and the particular design of the chamber itself are the basis of the superior performance achieved. These fume cupboards are designed to offer operators the greatest levels of performance and safety. They have been tested and certified with frontal velocities of 0.15 m/s, 0.30 m/s and 0.50 m/s, and can be used for a user’s different conditions and usage needs.
What features distinguish your equipment from competitors?
I have told shortly about our fume hoods RX. Now I would like to tell about mobile workstation KOMPATTO. Mobile workstations KOMPATTO realize our principle of flexibility, they allow you to easily and quickly adapt the laboratory to new tasks. KOMPATTO workstations has telescopic leveling castors, with brake system. The height adjustment of top allows you to adapt to any requirements. The dynamic and flexible system for ongoing needs. Starting from SMART, the basic configuration, running to FULL, the most complete solution, KOMPATTO fits with every laboratory. Shelves, monitor supports, CPU holder and cabinets increase the available space. Light bars and service outlets improve end user comfort.
KOMPATTO workstations have one more important feature – they are suitable for installation of massive devices. Certification according to EN 13150 and BGR234 guarantees a sustained load of up to 700 kg.
What are the main directions of technological development?
We develop our technologies for three main directions. First of all this is safety. As I already said, our fume hoods fits (and for sure certified) EN14175 and ANSI ASHRAE with the highest performances on the worldwide market in terms of real containment. The robustness of our new RX fume hood is?
0.298 ppm setting the face velocity at only 0.15 m/s, without any supportive airflow. The second direction is cost effectiveness.
All the technological developments should look for the sustainability of the labs and energy saving, in order to reducing general costs. Fume hoods are a key factor.
And the third direction is using of recycling materials. What we can offer is the choice of aluminum (close to 70% of our components) and other recycle materials as particleboard in designing our products.
What determines the success of your equipment?
Flexibility and design, without any doubt. As I use to highlight, a new lab is an important “investment” for all customers, it cannot be a “cost”. Once properly set up, our products become new assets of the customer company, recorded in the financial statement, therefore we must grant a good and profitable investment. Only way for being successful is to make the life of the lab as longest as possible, providing the best flexibily for fitting all the unpredictable requirements of the end users coming in the next 20 / 25 years, typical of “on-going” environments as labs. As per every product on the market, the secret is to be able to regenerate the “maturity” phase of our products, postponing as much as possible the “decline” phase: flexibility of furniture and fume hoods, together with a preliminary smart project, is the only way out.
As far as I know, manufactures in Europe is highly diversified. Who are your partners in the supply of components?
Our main partners are Fundermax – producer of special HPL panels and tops, ASECOS – producer of safety storage cabinets, TROX – aspiration control systems, Plastifer – producer of
PP tops and other products from PP, and the company FAR – producer of taps and safety showers.
What developments would you highlight?
After the newborn BICASA Deutschland, we are planning to establish our forth subsidiary in USA, keeping working the research of exclusive dealers in all the countries, already counting on more than 30 dealers worldwide.
Further, we are working on second patent of our RX Fume hood (first one just proceed with the International inquiry after getting the Italian patent), which would take not less than 12 / 18 months.
We have really many projects on going, but I would mention the following 3, in relation to notoriety, complexity and value: New East River Campus of Rockefeller University (NYC – USA), In Vivo Labs of Hoffman La Roche (Basel – Switzerland) and Skolkovo Technopark (Moscow – Russian Federation).
What are the company’s business development plans?
I would simply answer that my target is to take BICASA into the top 5 companies worldwide in the next 4–5 years, without losing the family philosophy which has been leading the company for more than 70 years along 3 generations. How achieving this ambitious target? Sorry but I cannot disclose everything!
What are the plans of the business development in the Russian market?
We are working hard for making BICASA to become the most notorious and estimated international brand not only in Russia but also in all the CIS countries.
Who represents your company in Russia?
BICASA Russia is lead by the most professional and reliable gentleman, before than manager, who I could have the chance to meet: Mr Dmitry Golikov.
We are generating a new tradition. Last year we held the first scientific and practical conference LAB Space Design2017. This is a conference of a new format that gathered almost 100 heads of laboratory centers, representatives of leading manufacturers of laboratory furniture and laboratory equipment, architects and designers of laboratory furniture. For the participants, an exciting program for personal communication and exchange of experience was organized. Now we are preparing to hold the second such conference – Design of the Laboratory Space 2018, which will be held on october 4, 2018 on the basis of University ITMO, where in the near future will be organized Naukograd, the St. Petersburg analogue of the Skolkovo center. Details of the conference can be found at http://labspace.su/ LabSpaceDesign2018.pdf.
Thank you very much for an interesting conversation, I hope to see you again in october at your grand conference. ■