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WSPs Helen Buckingham applies engineering to science

WSP's Helen Buckingham applies engineering to science

 May 26, 2022

Meet WSP Associate Director, Helen Buckingham. Helen is using the power of collaboration to deliver life-changing infrastructure across the UK.

After successfully managing the design for the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory, one of the world’s largest Coronavirus testing facilities, Helen is seeking out new ways to streamline processes and add value to clients. Here, she shares her main motivators for change and why communication in ultra-fast construction is key.

"I love bringing people together and delivering an outcome that is bigger than the sum of the parts. Whatever project I manage, I always start by getting to know the team and finding out where their strengths lie. Happy and fulfilled teams lead to better results and greater resilience when at the sharp end of projects," explains Helen. 

A drive to change the world

Helen has been interested in applying engineering to science since university. "I studied chemical engineering and biotechnology, and my first engineering job was in the pharmaceutical industry. I have worked in other sectors, such as Chemicals, Nuclear, and Water, but I always come back to pharmaceuticals," she says. 

"Pharmaceuticals has always been an exciting sector, but with recent breakthroughs, accelerations in research, and digitisation, it’s an even more compelling industry now. There is a patient at the end of every pipeline, so I find the types of people who are drawn to pharmaceuticals are compassionate and collaborative. Thinking about the patients keeps me motivated and driven to change the world one project at a time."

A data-driven development 

Helen explains: "As a Senior Project Manager with a passion for pharma and lifescience, every project worked on helps scientists, development teams, and manufacturing sites to produce the drugs patients need. Each project is complex, multi-layered, and relies on data. There is a lag in adopting digitisation because of tight regulations in the industry. But hard problems have been solved before we will solve this one too. We just need to connect the right solutions and challenge a culture that mistrusts digital. Pharma 4.0, a Special Interest Group, is focusing on key technologies that will modernise pharmaceutical manufacturing and facilitate digital transformation. Digitisation is transforming the industry, and I am excited to be Vice-Chair of ISPE Central Region (International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering) which is bringing together the diverse companies that will be the solution going forward."

There are many forms of data produced during the lifecycle of drug development, manufacture, and supply chain. WSP collates this data into a Building Information Model (BIM), a process for creating and managing information on construction project.

"We link the BIM to our 3D model of the project and hand it back to the client for future planning and maintenance. Developing the model once at the start of the project, but using it many times in the future, makes the data work harder for us," shares Helen. 

How the pandemic pushed projects

Before the pandemic, projects would take three to five years from inception to completion. "But in extraordinary times, we all took extraordinary measures to engineer one of the world’s largest diagnostics facilities, the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory. It was a project that took just nine months from initial involvement to the first live tests being processed," says Helen. 

"To achieve this in record time, we reused a disused industrial building in Royal Leamington Spa. The project relied on quick decision-making, open communication, and effective collaboration. As a team of problem solvers, we were energised by the challenge, but there was also a lot of pressure to perform. I made sure that the team’s wellbeing was not jeopardised by creating a safe space to speak up if the pace was not suitable and we always found alternative resources."

The 225,000 square foot facility was initially built for processing PCR tests as a crucial part of the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But it can also continue to used for diagnostics in the future and greatly benefit the patient at the end of the pipeline. Earlier diagnosis of diseases leads to better treatment outcomes. 

"Working on these projects has made me realise the breadth of what WSP can achieve – from site locations and environmental assessments to designs and full-scale pharmaceutical plants. We have seen the power of collaboration in response to the pandemic. I want to continue bringing in varied skill sets, adding more value to our clients, and making a difference in people’s lives," concludes Helen. 

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