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Firm Fabricates Tools For Safer Science

By Laura Moore, posted Jun 1, 2018
Employees (clockwise from the top) at Flow Sciences Inc. in Leland program a CNC lathe, conduct a quality inspection on a piece of equipment, perform laboratory testing and weld a stainless steel table. (photos by Chris Brehmer)
Leland-based Flow Sciences Inc. is a growing company that is reaching a global market. The containment solution firm designs and manufactures workstations and enclosures for the pharmaceutical and nanotechnology industries.
Industrial engineers at FSI design containment solutions to “reduce contamination and maximize protection for professionals who work with toxic substances and uncertain risks,” according to FSI’s marketing materials. These designs ensure that the performance of products and workforce safety is paramount.
“It is all about safety, of both personnel and product,” Jonathan Mann, FSI technical marketing manager, said.
The business got its start in 1987 when President and CEO Ray Ryan worked with the National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety to design a containment system that would provide stability, control air flow and minimize exposure in laboratories.
“I started a business on my dining room table,” Ryan said. “I didn’t build for the pharmaceutical business, but it didn’t take long for the pharmaceutical companies to say, ‘Your hoods work, and the stuff we have doesn’t.”
Now FSI is a dynamic international company with 62 employees that provides containment systems to companies across the globe. The firm serves businesses in more than 30 countries. Some of Flow Sciences Inc.’s major clients include industry giants Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.
All products are engineered and manufactured in Leland within the company’s two facilities.
The headquarters on Mercantile Drive is a 35,000-square-foot living machine that houses its management, sales force, designers and engineers. Across U.S. 74, within another 10,000-square-foot facility, carbon steel and stainless steel are manufactured, welded and powder-coated.
The Flow Sciences team is a self-reliant organization that includes design, industrial and manufacturing engineers, as well as members of a sales force who all have engineering backgrounds. The company also designs and prints its own marketing materials.
“We run a very sophisticated operation here,” Ryan said.
The company works with more than 50 major pharmaceutical companies and more than 100 contract manufacturers spread out over a wide variety of technologies. Companies can use the Flow Sciences’ TaskMatch search tool to match the specific enclosures with the needs of the process or task being performed.
“We have 400 different custom designs, in addition to our standard products,” Ryan said. “We are a problem-solving company. We are a manufacturing company, but we manufacture products for people who have problems.”
A test lab within the larger facility enables FSI designers to test the workstations, and allows clients to see for themselves how the containment tanks work.
For more than 30 years, FSI has provided design and expertise to the pharmaceutical and nanotechnology industries. With the continued growth of the pharmaceutical industry, there continues to be a high demand for containment and safety measures, so FSI officials believe their company will continue to grow as well.
“Good things are coming. We want to expand what we do and are involved in a lot of different areas. All containment, but new products,” Ryan said. “It is always the same thing: how can you protect me from what I’m exposed to and how can you protect what I’m working with from being exposed to me?”
The company has won several accolades this year, including the N.C. Exporter of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Flow Sciences was also recognized as an Outstanding Exporter Honoree by the National Association of Small Business International Trade Educators at the organization’s annual conference.
“Through its expert counselors, the SBA-affiliated Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) has been an integral part of Flow Sciences’ success,” stated the SBA’s announcement of the state’s small business award recipients. “In addition, the company has benefitted from the SBA STEP program, enabling it to expand into foreign markets. Export sales have steadily increased to more than 20 percent of annual revenues and are expected to grow.”
Flow Sciences’ Vice President of International Sales Steve Janz said recently that the company’s use of state and federal programs to increase its international sales was a key to its winning the award.
The STEP program, for example, provides support to companies that want to attend trade shows and similar business events in target foreign markets, Janz said. Flow Sciences has used it to extend international sales, and now has customers in 32 countries.
FSI has been in Leland since 1995, and Ryan says it is the right fit for him personally, as well as his firm.
“I made Wilmington and Leland fit what I needed,” said Ryan, who grew up on the north shore of Long Island and wanted to be on the coast.
The strong support of the Small Business Center Network through the North Carolina Community College system, Brunswick Community College, Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington has bolstered the success of the company, according to Ryan. NC State Industry Expansion Solutions has provided support, as well.
“It is imperative for us to have people who can do the job,” Ryan said. “We have a lot of good connections here.”
Ryan stresses the importance of understanding the relationship between the equipment, the operator and the process, and the significant role FSI plays in solving problems for his clients. He said he hopes that FSI will continue to grow as it continues solving those problems.
“We are providing solutions for people,” Ryan said. “We are a small company and we’re trying to grow, so we are going to keep throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks.”
– Jenny Callison contributed to this report
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