You may have seen his name before when it comes to fume extraction – Chau Vo has nearly 20 years of experience in designing air purification and fume extraction systems. Having worked in both North America and Europe, he now blends his design, engineering, product marketing, and creative thinking strategies to lead PAT Technology Systems’ technical team. Read on to learn about the man behind an initiative to provide pure air solutions.
Where are you originally from?
Saigon fell to the communists in April 1975, which prompted my parents to leave our home country of Vietnam with my brother and I in tow. I am grateful for the opportunities my parents and our new home have offered me.
How did you get started in the fume extraction industry?
After leaving Vietnam, my father retrained as a heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) engineer. Ironically, I had no interest in following in his footsteps, but serendipity set me on a career path in fume extraction; a mutual friend introduced me to PAT Technology Systems who specialized in HVAC. He knew that PAT was experiencing an engineering bottleneck at the time and also knew that I had a particular talent for solving interesting design challenges. PAT had been commissioned to design a custom air purification system with integrated humidification and cooling on a seemingly impossible schedule for the German printing giant Heidelberg. PAT entrusted me to deliver and the rest is history. With a background in engineering, industrial design, and biology, I found a niche where I could fulfill my intellectual pursuits while contributing to the wellness of people around the world, so I stayed.
What did you do before PAT Technology and how has your role in the company changed over the years?
After my studies, I took on design contracts as a freelance designer, ranging from high-end artistic mechanical window displays to laboratory equipment for DNA sequencing. When I joined PAT, I was part of the technical team responsible for production and design engineering. Over the years, I was exposed to more and more activities and responsibilities such as research and development, production management, sales, marketing, and administration which allowed me to travel the world. I also had the pleasure to work in the United Kingdom for another major fume extraction company for several years as their director of engineering. So, I would say that my career has been an evolution and a valuable learning experience that has prepared me well for my current role as VP of operations and engineering at PAT.
In what ways have you seen the air purification/fume extraction industries change over the years?
Each industry that we have engaged with over the years has started off by insisting that their products or processes don’t really need filtered fume extractors. Over more time, ad hoc solutions find their way into the market. When the ad hoc or DIY solutions fail, the industry finally graduates to embracing properly engineered solutions that protect their people and processes. In that sense, the cycle of progression seems to stay the same. Fortunately, the printing and laser engraving industries are in the mature stages of fume extraction awareness and adoption. Today, these industries are benefiting from not only good fume extraction engineering that allow filters to last longer, but also from excellent machine designs that have better aesthetics, ergonomics, and convenient features like modularity and modern electronic controls.
What is your favorite part about working in air purification/fume extraction?
I find it interesting to see and understand the inner workings of the equipment we attach our fume extractors to. There are so many clever technologies out there that keep me awestruck. Improving workplace air quality with our systems is our priority, but it is satisfying to be able to work with our customers to additionally enhance the functionality and reliability of their products through creative integration of air purification and fume extraction.
When you think back on your career history, what stands out to you? What have been some of your biggest/favorite accomplishments?
I don’t think there is one thing that stands out. I am grateful to be part of a great team of people who believe in what we do. I’m equally grateful for having the opportunity to work with so many open-minded customers, which has resulted in many interesting innovations throughout PAT’s history.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve dealt with, and how have you overcome those challenges?
Innovation is a lot of work and it can put stress on an organization and the people within it. Putting together and maintaining a creative team that can stay focused under pressure has been a significant challenge. Creating a team environment in which the members are given mental space to create and work in peace, as individuals, has made our team more productive and resilient.
What goals have you set for your future? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
We are still growing as a company and at a pace that is exceeding our original business objectives. However, our top-level goal is to never grow complacent. We will always have a customer-centric approach and will always stay dynamic by providing innovations to continue to minimize the cost of fume extraction for evolving and emerging technologies.
If you could give one piece of advice about fume extraction to an awards shop, what is it?
The fume extractor is an equally important part of your professional production set-up. Apply the same amount of research and consideration towards choosing the right fume extractor as you would your laser equipment and engraving materials. The quality of your final products, productivity, presentation of your shop, and employee retention will benefit greatly. Get the right tools and you will have to work less for more success. Contact a reputable fume extraction company that specializes in laser fume extractors and tell them about your business goals. Let their expertise and experience guide your decision.
What failures have you seen in this industry and what recommendations do you have to avoid those?
Ensuring workplace safety has been well-executed in this industry, illustrated by the options that are currently being offered by laser manufacturers to maintain good air quality within the laser user's workspace; venting to the outdoors and filtered fume extractors get the job done. Now, laser users have to take it to the next level and consider outdoor air quality when deciding between the two options. I'm not talking about considering climate change or even global air pollution, which are more difficult to nail down in terms of their actual impact over time. I am talking about considering the more immediate effects on the local micro-environment directly outside the building. Higher concentrations of respirable dust, which penetrate deep into the lungs, can be detected near the building exhaust when venting to the outdoors. Unfortunately, chronic exposure to respirable dust may trigger allergic reactions, cause breathing related problems, and contribute to heart disease. The good news is that we are seeing a significant transition from venting to the outdoors to filtered fume extractors (which do not pump out respirable dust to the outdoor environment). So, I wouldn't call it a failure. But I would say that we still have a long way to go.