Redesign and the Bottom Line
As Jerry Percifield tours the fourth-floor home of Lentigen, a one-and-a-half year-old Maryland-based start-up, he takes detailed notes and room-by-room sketches on a hefty pad of graph paper. "How many orders do you get a week?" the architect at the Atlanta-based lab design firm Lord Aeck & Sargent asks John Woolford, Lentigen's director of business planning. "What is the primary funding source? Do you have a generator on site?" Percifield is trying to understand the mission and day-to-day workings of the 18-person company, which designs and produces lentiviral vectors for researchers (see p. 66) while using the vectors to develop their own therapeutics.
Percifield sketches out a flow chart of the company's production process as Woolford answers his questions. In their current set-up within an incubator facility, Lentigen's rooms are interspersed with those of other building tenants and "you're always turning a corner to see people," Woolford says. In some areas company operations are separated by more than 30 linear meters, estimates Percifield, reducing overall productivity when employees run samples between the areas. When he draws out the flow chart, it's clear that all roads lead back to the quality control room. So he recommends that a redesign make this station the hub around which other rooms are placed, to make production more efficient and lower the chance of contamination. But because Lentigen is in an incubator space that can't be changed significantly, major reconstruction to improve flow will have to wait. Percifield moves on to focus on identifying more implementable ideas for the company.
PHOTO: ISHANI GANGULI
These include purchasing a clean room-grade heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, priced on the order of tens of thousands of dollars, to replace their standard office system. But while this would lower risks of contamination, Lentigen founder and CEO Boro Dropulic decides such a move isn't necessary until the company invests in making clinical grade vectors on site. In fact, most of Percifield's suggestions are met with appreciation but a bottom line response: there's no money for major infrastructure change, says Dropulic. "We haven't [even] spent a nickel on furniture," he says, relying instead on what the incubator facility provides.
So what's worth the cost at this point? Productivity. According to Dropulic, Lentigen's main goal is to cram as much equipment and personnel into the existing space as possible. Their production bottleneck is in the centrifuge stage, so they plan to pack a room they just rented from the incubator facility with eight of these machines. As for personnel, Woolford says they hope to add at least 25 employees by next year. Lentigen is currently spread over 143 square meters, and the company should be able to gain space to add eight more employees by just scooping up several more offices on their floor (for an additional 23 square meters) and adding a night shift to alternate hood time, Woolford estimates. Some of Percifield's ideas, like installing inexpensive breadboards (writing tablets) to increase work surfaces for these employees, and replacing a half-filled fridge with a smaller one that fits under a bench, contribute to this space-saving imperative. Lentigen is looking to move into a larger building within the next several years, when they are more likely to invest in Percifield's broader scale suggestions. In the meantime, says Percifield's colleague Howard Wertheimer, "I've always found that scientists make creative use of the space they have."
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