Clean Air’s APEX fume cupboards at the Materials Innovation Factory

123 premium Clean Air APEX 2 fume cupboards and two Clean Air ventilated enclosures are hard at work at the University of Liverpool’s Materials Innovation Factory. This £81 million facility is dedicated to the research and development of advanced materials.

The Materials Innovation Factory (MIF) brings together materials chemistry expertise with the latest equipment in a bid to accelerate research and reduce the time it takes to develop new products. The Clean Air advanced technology fume cupboards are an integral part of the research activity of this state-of-the-art facility.

The MIF is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Unilever. It also houses the Liverpool contribution to the Henry Royce Institute, a national institute for materials science research and innovation.

Clean Air and the Henry Royce Institute 

Clean Air has supplied over 100 of its advanced technology fume cupboards to Henry Royce Institute facilities across England.

These include the Royce@Manchester at the University of Manchester; the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester; the International Centre for Engineering & Physical Science (ICEPS) in The Bragg Centre for Materials Research at the University of Leeds; the University of Liverpool’s Materials Innovation Factory; and the Royce Discovery Centre at the University of Sheffield.

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The brief for MIF

The MIF spans the fields of organic materials, inorganic materials, nanomedicines, sustainability, genomic sequencing and high throughput formulation. Clearly, this breadth of research and innovation calls for an advanced design of fume cupboard.

The team at the MIF turned to Clean Air to partner them in the development of a new fume cupboard design.

This new unit had to give a great user experience. It also had to meet the needs of students, science technicians, researchers and academics.

The fume cupboard had to be tough, taking everything the operators throw at it daily.

It needed to offer easy access for the many different types of apparatus that would be used inside the chamber.

Above all it had to have excellent containment, keeping the MIF’s personnel safe and protected from hazardous fumes.

The intelligence-gathering

Collaboratively we devised an inclusive process to capture feedback from potential operators. As a result, we placed a prototype fume cupboard in a high-traffic area. Next to it was a stack of sticky notes to collect comments from all users. Everyone was encouraged to assess the unit and attach their feedback – both positive and negative.

Clean Air’s designers used this rich source of intelligence to develop a fume cupboard which meets the demands of the many different types of user at the MIF.

The Clean Air solution

The APEX fume cupboard design has translated feedback into performance for the Materials Innovation Factory. During the process, features were continuously refined and improved. The version that was finally installed in the MIF is the APEX 2.

The fume cupboards on site range in size between 1.2 m to 3 m wide to cater for the many different applications. They include five walk-in units for large equipment and two ventilated enclosures.

The enclosures house furnaces to undertake high heat load projects.


At Clean Air we engineer every fume cupboard to keep operating personnel safe and protected. It’s our priority. We listened to the safety concerns raised during the consultation and then designed the APEX 2 to address them.

Every unit has a red epoxy safety line in the chamber. ‘Close the sash, respect the safety line’ is emblazoned on sashes. It reminds staff of the limits of the safe operating area.

Some applications demand the use of volatile or hazardous chemicals. As a result, each fume cupboard has ninety-minute fire-rated and ventilated chemical storage cupboards. They also feature a CO2 automatic fire suppression system.

To give operators assurance that the unit is functioning correctly, the compact integrated control panel features a colour display. This monitors the automatic airflow. Audible and visible alarms will alert staff if there is insufficient airflow.

User Experience at the Materials Innovation Factory

Both the MIF and Clean Air wanted the fume cupboards to offer the best possible working experience.

Our designers responded to the many comments received during the consultation process about lighting. Hence, they designed the APEX 2 range with glass sides as standard. Because this removes one panel from the traditionally double panel walls, not only is the chamber much lighter, it’s wider too. The feedback on this feature has been overwhelmingly positive – users love the bright, generous space.

The glass sashes have different configurations to easily accommodate different working styles and equipment. There are both standard vertical sliding sashes and sashes with horizontal sliding windows. The horizontal windows allow quick access and maintain containment. They also enable an operator to reach in with both hands while still protecting their face behind a window.

A glazed panel above the sashes gives a full height view of the internal chamber.

Unusually, the APEX 2 is also designed to be easy to relocate. Once the services are disconnected, it can be moved. By adding this feature to the fume cupboard, users at the MIF enjoy a flexible approach to lab layout.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency was another must for the MIF.

The fume cupboards are all fitted with a Variable Air Volume (VAV) control system. When the sash window is closed, the amount of air extracted from the lab is reduced by up to 70%. This offers a large saving on the heating costs of the facility and reduces its carbon footprint.

The Materials Innovation Factory has achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating.


Clean Air undertakes a rigorous testing regime to keep the MIF’s fume cupboards safe.

Our trained, DBS-checked service engineers test the units to meet the requirements of BS EN 14175 – Part 4. Due to these annual visits MIF can have confidence that each fume cupboard, fume extract system and fan is fit for purpose and complies with COSHH 2002 regulations.

More APEX Fume Cupboards at the MIF

The original order saw Clean Air manufacture and install 117 fume cupboards and 2 ventilated enclosures ready for the MIF’s opening in 2018.

Since then these lab work horses have proven their suitability. They’ve taken everything life in a busy research lab entails and the feedback from operators has been positive.

So positive, in fact, that another six have been manufactured, installed and commissioned.

Clean Air is now supplying a further 22 APEX fume cupboards for the prestigious Regius Chair project at the University of Liverpool.

For more information on our fume cupboard ranges, or for any queries, talk to the experts at Clean Air.

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