When Environments Collide
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It may be true that wherever and whenever debate occurs, opportunity soon follows. At least it sounds reasonable. In the escalating debate surrounding the future of “cleanrooms” vs. isolation/barrier technology, minienvironments, glove boxes, and other smaller stuff, there doesn`t seem to be any doubt about it. No matter how the contamination control paradigm finally shakes out, the resolution process is clearly driving a lot of innovative thinking and new product development, as well as a healthy competition for emerging and evolving business opportunities.
On the other hand, there`s no way around the fact that it takes trial-and-error (i.e. time) to develop the right mix of products to fully and cost-effectively serve a large and diverse marketplace. And, since the contamination control marketplace is certainly no exception to the rule, it doesn`t make any sense at all for the industry to start acting like it`s racing an overtaking avalanche down a mountainside. Let`s stop and think about this for a minute. Does anything that significant really happen “overnight”? After all, PCs were a pretty good idea too, but they were around for quite some time before there was one on every desk.
Nevertheless, the pressure being applied on the traditional cleanroom marketplace by the new compact environments does indeed mark this industry`s arrival at a new level of technological maturity–applying proven concepts in new, cost-effective, and tightly integrated solutions. Unfortunately, some analysts have begun to imply that this means the cleanroom industry is on the verge of obsolescence. This couldn`t be further from the truth. True, over a considerable period of time, the shape and form of this industry will change considerably, but because the driving principle remains the same–contamination control–only the mix of products will be different.
Some contamination control companies have already started to work with process equipment and packaging vendors on sophisticated, integrated minienvironment or isolation solutions, others will follow as more opportunities present themselves. At the same time, other vendors will offer hybrid approaches–not the ultimate solution perhaps, but certainly more appealing in terms of cost/performance. Finally, proven cleanroom solutions will continue to be the approach of choice for a host of existing applications and for many more just now emerging. After all, it`s common sense that there can only be a limited number of customers requiring the leading edge solutions.
While these are indeed dynamic times in the cleanroom/contamination control industry, microenvironments, barrier/isolation tools, etc., are only an evolutionary step in a progression, not a cataclysmic event leading to the imminent extinction of cleanrooms.