Customer Demand for Cleaner Supplier Products/Processes Drives Facility Upgrades

Customer Demand for Cleaner Supplier Products/Processes Drives Facility Upgrades

By Susan English and John Haystead

For some time now, a growing number of industries have required clean or ultraclean manufacturing facilities to produce their products. Today, however, another level of manufacturers– the suppliers to these industries–are finding that they too must pay stricter attention to contamination control of their products and processes. The semiconductor, pharmaceutical, biotech, disk drive and other industries have begun to consistently demand contamination-free manufacturing (CFM) processes from their suppliers, and in response, these companies are scrambling to upgrade existing facilities or build new ones to meet the new de-facto standard. Improvements often include construction of state-of-the-art cleanroom facilities, as well as the design and implementation of cleaner overall manufacturing processes.

One example is Fluoroware (Chaska, MN) a supplier of fluid and device handling products and services to the microelectronics industry. Fluoroware has announced they will build a new clean-manufacturing facility at the company`s present 155,000 ft.2-site. Projected to cost between $10-$12 million, the new plant will incorporate Class 10 and Class 100 cleanrooms within an overall Class 100,000 clean area. Expected to start operation some time during the first quarter of 1996, the renovation project is part of a worldwide manufacturing expansion plan by the company. According to Fluoroware`s President, Stan Geyer, Fluoroware has doubled its growth over the last three years and projects sales of well over $100 million in 1995.

Fluoroware specializes in close-tolerance, injection-molding of fluoropolymer and engineering-plastic products for a number of industries including magnetic and optical disc, factory automation, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and analytical instrumentation. Says Plant Manager Craig Wisink, “One of our contamination-critical product lines is wafer carriers (`boats` or `baskets` that hold silicon wafers during processing and transport).” Contamination on these molded components (resulting from degraded material, trace metals, and cross contamination) shows up as black specks or carbon particles. Because the carriers come into direct contact with the microelectronic product, any contamination could possibly get floated off in the wet process and land on the wafer. Says Wisink, “We are continually improving our processing on these products so that we don`t add a potential contamination problem to the microelectronics manufacturing process.”

According to Wisink, a Class 100 cleanroom molding facility will be constructed within the factory`s existing clean injection-molding process area. As part of the process, robots will remove plastic parts from seven 60-725-ton molding presses and place them under a clean hood. In addition, several hundred square feet of Class 10 and Class 100 cleanrooms are planned for the factory`s current Class 100,000 “post molding” operations area–where inspection, stress relieving, special customer modifications, and packaging take place.

Clean Equipment

Another case in point is FSI International (Chaska, MN). A manufacturer of automated surface conditioning equipment for processing silicon wafers, FSI has begun construction of a new, 100,000 ft.2 production area, including 40,000 ft.2 of Class 1,000 space.

According to Joel Elftmann, President, Chairman and CEO of FSI, the main driver behind the clean-facility construction was increased customer demand for higher quality control and cleaner wafer surfaces. FSI`s present facility was not originally designed for cleanroom manufacturing or high-technology production.

A key feature of the project`s planning, notes Vice President of Operations, Wayne Stewart, was that he and his staff sat down with cleanroom experts at SEMATECH for a full review and critique of their initial cleanroom design plan.

The design plan, put together by Symmes, Maini & McKee (Minneapolis, MN) specifies Class 10,000 as the minimum standard for any cleanroom area. The main ballroom-style factory floor/cleanroom ranges from Class 1,000 to 10,000 and is designed for easy upgrade. It includes raised flooring throughout the production area to provide maximum laminar air flow, and although raised three inches above the overall facility floor, it will be level with the corridor surrounding the cleanroom. A trench will be built underneath the floor to recirculate air sent by the ULPA filters, which will pass down in linear fashion through the floor and up the side walls at each end of the building. The air will be driven to the side of the room up through chases in the exterior wall of the cleanroom.

FSI chose ULPA filters instead of HEPAs because it was felt that for the relatively small increase in initial investment, the lower operating costs over the long-term would be more cost-effective and energy wise: a reduction in CFM floor-size, lower fan-size, etc. A special diffuser mounted below the ULPA will diffuse the air laminarly along the ceiling before being further diffused to the room below.

Clean Packaging

The demand for higher cleanliness standards and practices from suppliers is not limited to U.S. manufacturers. Walter Coles & Co. Ltd of London, England, a manufacturer of polythene packaging for the medical and pharmaceutical industries, has just validated a new 95 m2, class 1,000 cleanroom manufacturing facility. According to Sales & Marketing Manager, Harry More-Gordon, although its customers were spending a lot of money to keep its products contamination free through assembly and post production, it was then packaging them in standard polyethylene bags. Now that Walter Coles is making a clean product available, however, demand for it has been increasing.

The company completed its facility in February and is now in production. According to More-Gordon, ultimately the plant will be capable of supplying about 1/2 of the UK`s current demand (20 million bags/year), but the company plans to build a second site for expansion into the rest of Europe. Principle customers are medical-device, pharmaceutical, aerospace, electronics and food-industry manufacturers. Depending on the specifications of the application, the bag products will differ in the number of different procedures and quality-control steps they are taken through. For example, each bag may be tested individually or only one out of every 1,000. Finished bags may also be either quadruple or double wrapped.

An interesting side aspect of the Walter Coles story is that the company designed and installed the cleanroom facility themselves. According to More-Gordon, although they approached a number of professional cleanroom construction companies, they found them “not well equipped to handle their requirements, quoting ridiculously high figures (&#163300,000-&#163400,000).” In actuality, Walter Coles installed the facility in their existing building for roughly &#16375,000 ($121,000). More-Gordon feels one possible explanation for the disparity in costs was that “the cleanroom companies didn`t understand how to apply their expertise to this kind of manufacturing process.” Although many of the cleanroom firms were skeptical, actual validation results show that the Walter Coles` cleanroom can actually meet Class 100 standards if necessary. The room is monitored in accordance with British Standard 5295.

More-Gordon admits that their process is not one commonly seen in a cleanroom. “It`s not easy to install and operate a polythene extruder (50 ft. tall, 10-12 ft. long) and its associated machinery in a clean environment.” Since much of the equipment is “very dirty when operating,” Walter Coles actually redesigned the extruder and bag forming machine so that the dirt-generating portions of the machinery are outside the cleanroom. Perhaps not surprising, equipment manufacturers did not provide much help with this modification task.

Because of the nature of their manufacturing process, air is passed through the room in a horizontal laminar flow supplied via a wall of HEPA filters. Workers wear complete cleanroom garb including hoods, booties, gloves, and masks (if bearded). Walter Coles also audits the purity of its raw materials and requires its own suppliers to follow strict contamination control procedures. Polythene granule is pre-washed by the supplier and delivered into clean, air tight silos. The granule is then kept completely contained from the silo to the extruder. Compressed air used in the process is filtered to 0.1 micron.

Commenting from the perspective of both a supplier and a vendor, More-Gordon observes that “companies are starting to look beyond their own cleanrooms and processes and are now also studying their suppliers to see just how clean their processes are.” n


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