Why Bother? An Honest Look at Clean Construction Protocol

Why Bother? An Honest Look at Clean Construction Protocol

Don Wadkins

A lot has been written about clean construction protocol, and most new wafer fab construction projects are subscribing to it. It generally involves exercising the discipline to build clean because you can`t reach the low level of contamination you need by using normal construction techniques and then cleaning up afterwards. Unfortunately, for most of these projects, the protocol is a waste of time.

Becoming a Paradigm Buster

Several years ago, in preparing for a tutorial on this subject, I did an extensive survey of project managers who had just completed construction of new wafer fabs, asking them to share with me what worked best and what were the biggest problems? Most of the respondents volunteered good information and ideas I have been using effectively since then. However, two of the responses were different. Two of them were really “crazy.” They said that using a build-clean protocol was nonsense. These guys claimed that they had achieved the same level of cleanliness, had satisfied their customers with state-of-the-art facilities, that yields had met expectations, and that they had done this without any protocol hoopla at all.

Naturally, I dismissed these two as malcontents, mere aberrations in the distribution. However, I have since changed my mind. I now think that those two guys were telling the truth, the truth that many of us were not willing to admit. These guys weren`t crazy; they were “paradigm busters!”

This article really falls into the category of “what I would like to have told the chief executive, but was never asked.” Lest anyone read another message into it, my observations aren`t just from the last project I`ve worked on; I`ve been migrating toward this position for quite some time. And, the more I talk to others who have worked on new wafer fab projects, the more I`m convinced–why bother?

The others I am referring to are those who know what`s not published in the papers, who know where the skeletons are in the closets–skeletons in bunny suits and HEPA-filtered closets. In summary, for most cleanroom construction projects, the build-clean protocol is a waste of time and money that results in very little more than enormous piles of torn booties and inside-out gloves.

Enforcement Isn`t Protocol

Most projects that employ clean construction protocol start with a set of rules and concentrate on methods of enforcing them. Mention “protocol” and most people say, “that`s where you have to work wearing bunny suits.” Or, “that`s where you have to wipe down your tools before you use them,” or “that`s where you have to put booties on ladders.” “That`s where you can`t do this and that.” And, “that`s where you have one handicap after another that prevents you from doing your job efficiently.” Furthermore, on most projects, we reinforce this perception by widely posting these restrictive and punitive rules, by threatening to report the guy with the big boots who doesn`t change his booties, or to back charge the contractor who doesn`t clean up his mess. Does any of this sound familiar? These are examples of the enforcement phase of protocol. While protocol enforcement is what most projects concentrate on, it is the least important phase of building clean. If enforcement of rules is what you think protocol is, no wonder it isn`t working for you!


If enforcement isn`t the most important phase of protocol, what is? Planning. Planning is a phase that is completely left out of most build-clean projects when it should be the most crucial part of the protocol. It includes planning the rules to be used on the project. You know, those rules posted all over the place–the ones you took from the last project where they didn`t work very well.

More important still is planning the sequence of the work. Start with the design. Make sure the design is conducive to building clean. How do you put that big ductwork together without entraining contamination? How do you get into the plenum to change the filters? When the condensate water leaks, and it always will leak, to what undesired location does it leak?

And plan for the material staging. Where are you going to put those clean components when the trucks pull up to the dock, if you even have a dock? What are your provisions to keep them clean? How do you physically protect them? But most of all, plan the sequence of work in the right order, so that you don`t have to figure out how to convince the concrete coring guy that he has to wear a bunny suit; so that you have the makeup air system working before the exhaust system turns your cleanroom into a vacuum cleaner; and so that hundreds of high purity piping guys don`t have an opportunity to track mud into the building. Somebody please tell me why we send these tradesmen tracking across the dusty parking lot in their blue booties to the porta-pottie? And then, please let me know why we always wait until the job is complete to pave the parking lot when we could have done it first and paid for it completely with the cost savings from booties and tacky mats? Plan, plan, plan. That`s the key to protocol.

“Training Makes Believers”

There`s yet another phase that`s more important than enforcement–training. You shouldn`t expect someone to do what he or she hasn`t been taught to do. Certainly, training must incorporate good communication methods, but many projects get caught in the multimedia trap and become infatuated with technology, forgetting that the objective of training is to make “believers.” Building clean is like safety, it`s an attitude. You won`t have much effect on existing attitudes by subjecting people to mandatory movies. Watch out for video tapes and computer training methods. These are training aids, not substitutes for a well-informed, motivated, and skilled trainer who knows the audience. Especially in the construction trades, where workers may not have the skill or the interest in computer widgets, these methods are frequently not effective. Furthermore, the trainer must be a professional who has good communication skills, not the nearest available unassigned technician.

Good communication methods are not all that are missing from many training efforts. Credibility is often lacking. Some training programs get caught in the rote-rule trap; they don`t recognize that why is always more important than what or how. Try this rule about rules: If you can`t easily explain why the rule is needed, you had better examine the need for it. Consistency is also crucial. People will acknowledge that some rules are made by those wiser than we, only as long as the rules don`t include a requirement that is obviously dumb.

Again, the objective of training is to make believers. With a properly planned protocol and with people committed to it, the enforcement phase is put in the right perspective. Enforcement becomes the easy part. Planning, training, enforcement should be accomplished in this order.

Many projects have ordered these elements in reverse. We need to learn from our mistakes, be willing to start sooner, get the sequence right, and spend less. Let`s get some real benefit from a clean construction protocol for a change.n

Don Wadkins is a semiconductor systems staff member at Jacobs- Sirrine Engineers (Portland, OR). He has more than 20 years` experience as a process engineer and wafer fab manager at Texas Instruments, Mostek, and Tektronix, and six years` service with engineering and construction firms working on cleanroom projects. Wadkins is a past National Director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences.


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