Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Evolution of Cleanroom Design

Cleanrooms certainly have come a long way since their formal introduction in 1962. Imagine what it was like prior to this time when a cleanroom consisted of a "sealed-off area" that was vacuumed, and vacuumed often. It's a far cry from the high standards of contamination control we've become accustomed to today. The antiquated and questionable success of vacuuming a sealed off area all changed when, in 1959, physicist Willis Whitfield had the idea to "sweep" a dedicated area with highly filtered air. The results were dramatic and after some fine tuning, the marketplace was formally introduced to cleanrooms in 1962 … and thus, an industry was born.

Fast-forward 52 years, and cleanrooms have enabled the electronics, computers, and information technology industries to reach the level of sophistication with their products that we have come to expect. Further breakthroughs in biotechnology, nanotechnology, health sciences, and healthcare are also directly attributed to the sophisticated capabilities of cleanrooms as we know them today. To reflect upon the big picture, these advancements have dramatically impacted and benefited society.

As filtration technology has evolved over the years, so have cleanroom designs. Most common are the hard and soft walled options. Both are extremely effective designs when dealing with expansive or small requirements. However, these designs aren't the ideal solution for everyone. Somewhere in between the hard walled and soft walled users you'll find a group who require a more flexible, tailor made solution. Leading the charge in finding this solution are those customers who are focused on not being impeded by conventional limitations. What this forward thinking group is quickly discovering is that retractable cleanrooms are the ideal solution in addressing a whole host of challenging requirements. When you add in the fact that they also affect the bottom line, they are a very attractive solution.

30'H x 40'W x 25'L Retractable Cleanroom, Class 10,000.  Courtesy of Duroair Technologies.
30'H x 40'W x 25'L Retractable Cleanroom, Class 10,000. Courtesy of Duroair Technologies.
Who are these customers somewhere in the "middle" that are choosing retractable cleanrooms? Some of them are just ready to rethink the way they have always done things in the past, and are eager to modernize their processes. For others, they may only require a cleanroom environment a handful of times a year. When evaluating the cost of traditional options, the financial investment doesn't make sense. Or perhaps they are dealing with oversized components, and find that a traditional design presents too many restrictions in terms of their material handling. Much like putting a round peg into a square hole, traditional options are an ill fit. Or maybe they have limited floor space and dedicating it to a fixed structure is not an option yet they cannot do without cleanroom capabilities. These are just a few of the challenges that are being successfully resolved with retractable cleanrooms.   ENTRIES OPEN:
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Capable of addressing very specific requirements and offering additional value, retractable cleanroom environments are becoming an increasingly popular choice for many applications, especially within industries such as aerospace, defense, and many types of manufacturing. With the combination of custom sizing and mobility, prospective customers quickly recognize the value proposition this option offers.

In terms of meeting ISO standards set out for cleanrooms, the retractable design (and, more importantly, the filtration options to partner with them) are achievable. A consultation to review specific air quality requirements will determine if this is indeed the ideal solution for you. In terms of air filtration, significant advancements that have been achieved with indoor air re-circulating technology now allows for the option of a completely mobile cleanroom that achieves full contaminant and climate control. A significant benefit of the air re-circulating option, especially for industrial users, is the elimination of pollutants into the environment, something we all benefit from. Furthermore, air recirculation technology will eliminate all of the start up costs associated with traditional vented systems, and will dramatically reduce annual operational costs. A completely mobile system will be extremely attractive to those users who will benefit from the ability to relocate their cleanroom within their facilities.

The exciting thing about retractable cleanrooms is the potential they have. After all, there is a large demographic out there who can benefit from them. Operationally, they have the potential of impacting many facets of a business; when you start to put a dollar value on the benefits, improvements, and efficiencies they offer, they make a lot of sense. In terms of potential uses, it certainly gets the creative juices flowing. From emergency quarantine centers to a whole host of manufacturing processes, retractable cleanrooms are a good fit when contamination control is a priority.  

16'H x 16'W x 123'L Retractable Cleanroom with 25,000CFM negative pressure filtration system. Courtesy of Duroair Technologies.
16'H x 16'W x 123'L Retractable Cleanroom with 25,000CFM negative pressure filtration system. Courtesy of Duroair Technologies.
For those of you who are considering this retractable option, research is your friend. Searching the Internet will provide you with a starting point for vendors. However, you'll certainly want to hone in on a partner that will invest the time and attention to fully understand your requirements and the challenges which have directed you to the retractable option. Just as important in this process is joining with a partner that is well educated in the area of contamination control. When working on projects of this scale, it is always recommended that you work with a full service partner and allow them to manage the complete process from design through to installation.

A shift of sorts is underway, and the perception of what a cleanroom looks like is changing. We live in a world of "smart TVs" and "smart phones,” so why not "smart cleanrooms"? The proposition is certainly an enticing one and it's hard to argue with the benefits retractable designs offer. Consequently, more and more companies are choosing them and their proposed uses are very creative indeed! Not to be overlooked when considering this growing market is the vision and forward thinking demonstrated by these companies. In much the same spirit that was demonstrated by Willis Whitfield, they are at the forefront of moving this industry into the future.

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