An Eye for Detail: Endress + Hauser brings advanced measurement to Cotter Brothers process skid systems

An Eye for Detail: Endress + Hauser brings advanced measurement to Cotter Brothers process skid systems

By Martin Raab, Endress+Hauser

Cotter Brothers Corporation, headquartered in Danvers, Massachusetts, near Boston, develops custom-fabricated process skid systems for biotech manufacturing. The company was originally founded in 1979 by Randy Cotter Sr. and sold to global conglomerate ITT in 2001. Unhappy with the new course, the founder’s three sons – Randy Jr., Tim and David – left the successor company and set up shop again on their own in 2003, bringing a large part of their former staff with them. Today, Cotter Brothers employs 60 people.

Cotter Brothers’ list of customers reads like a Who’s Who of the biotech industry. From A for Abbott to Z for Zymogenetics, the Cotter Brothers partner with all the big names. The family-owned company, located outside of Boston, was one of the very first manufacturers of biopharmaceutical systems and remains a global leader. “Our customers trust us to handle even the most difficult tasks,” says President Randy Cotter Jr.

The company’s reputation has been built over the years on a foundation of in-depth understanding of bioprocesses and uncompromising quality of the systems made in Danvers, Massachusetts. Cotter Brothers designs, manufactures and installs process skid modules (Figure 1) for all stages of biopharmaceutical production.

Figure 1: Cotter Brothers builds process skids for biotechnology applications.

On average, two fabrications leave the manufacturing facilities located on the outskirts of Danvers each month. The process skids come in various dimensions, from refrigerator format to the size of an upright container. “We build 50-liter single-use systems as well as 12,000-liter stainless steel bioreactors,” explains Randy Cotter Jr.

Many of the skids are equipped with measurement technology from Endress+Hauser. “We share the Cotter Brothers’ strategy of clearly aligning with the needs of the industry,” says Ravi Shankar, Industry Manager Life Sciences at Endress+Hauser, USA. “We need partners who understand the requirements of the industry,” confirms Randy Cotter Jr. Last but not least, the two companies are connected through their activities within the Bioprocessing Equipment (BPE) Standards Committee of the reputable American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

The ASME-BPE guidelines developed by the committee are considered the international standard for building biopharmaceutical manufacturing systems. Many sections of the guidelines carry the handwriting of company founder Randy Cotter Sr. He gained his experience in stainless steel in both the semiconductor and nuclear industries, before he recognized an opportunity to become involved in the nascent biotech industry nearly four decades ago. Delivering his first module in 1981, in essence he was involved from the very start.

Thoroughly analyzing, understanding and acquiring a command of a subject, Randy Cotter Sr. is an engineer through and through. In the early 80s, there was no blueprint for building production modules for bioprocesses. Even where the requirements were obvious, engineers lacked the experience to implement them. “It was a painstaking learning curve,” recalls the company founder.

Randy Cotter Sr. tackled many of these challenges systematically. What is the optimal flow rate for liquids? What is the ideal slope for the pipes? What should a weld profile really look like? Randy Cotter Sr. worked tirelessly, in effect performing basic research to achieve technology advances. It was only a few years ago that he obtained funding and worked with industry leaders to understand dead legs in biopharmaceutical piping systems, which can lead to hygiene problems.

If the customer has no specific instrumentation requirements, Cotter Brothers recommends products from Endress+Hauser. The company integrates flow, pressure, level and temperature measurement devices into its skids (Figure 2), as well as liquid analysis technology. “We hear time and again that Endress+Hauser has a technological edge,” explains Mark Braatz, who currently manages the relationship with Cotter Brothers for F. W. Webb. “Endress+ Hauser’s attention to detail,” as reflected in the introduction of 1.4435-grade stainless steel instruments for life sciences applications for instance, “repeatedly serves as a persuasive selling point.”

Figure 2: Cotter Brothers uses Endress+Hauser instrumentation on their process skids, such as the Promass P flowmeter.

When Endress+Hauser representatives talk about Heartbeat Technology, for self-monitoring of sensors, and Raman analyzers for process control applications, Randy Cotter Sr. takes interest. “Technology transfer is important in our industry,” he says. “We have to be in a position to tell our customers and employees about new innovations, and we have to convey our knowledge to the next generation of engineers,” adds the company founder with confidence.

“We always had the ability to feel the pulse of the industry. We pay attention to our customers and give them what they need. When I started in 1979 it was like a new frontier. It was like when Ford started with the Model A. You wanted to buy a car? It had two doors, four wheels and it was black. And that’s how the industry started with fermenters, bioreactors and chromatography systems. They were always packaged units. As the industry matured, clients also matured and decided they didn’t want that Model A anymore. They wanted a red Model A with three doors and a retractable top. The same thing happened with bioreactors and process equipment. Customers became smarter, and we had to become smarter, too!”

Cotter Brothers generates one-third of its revenues with global customers, an area of the business that Randy Cotter Jr. wants to develop further. He knows he can rely on an experienced workforce to carry out his plans—not to mention loyal customers. “The biotech industry is not very forgiving,” says Randy Cotter Jr. “The fact that our customers return to us time and again, that means something in this business!”

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