Small, specialized cleanrooms offer greatest opportunities for cleanroom services
By Kelly sewell
In the past, many large companies maintained in-house experts on contamination control and cleanrooms. With the wave of corporate downsizing in the 1980s, many of these experts found themselves downsized out of jobs, and subsequently hung out their shingles as consultants to the contamination control industry.
But with more and more small companies adding cleanrooms in industries that never before required them, consulting opportunities are aplenty, covering every part of a cleanroom from design to operations to selecting equipment to setting up garment programs to training. It`s all- encompassing.
“There are many small companies who are now needing cleanrooms and need assistance,” says Bill Soules, owner of Soules Consulting in Rochester, NY. This assistance may be provided by consultants or by relying on the supplier of the cleanroom equipment.
According to Soules, the largest numbers of cleanrooms are in non-semiconductor areas, however, the public doesn`t hear as much about them since they don`t have the billion dollar ballrooms that semiconductor manufacturers have in place.
In fact, Soules has found most of his consulting work in the following areas: medical devices, food, car, pharmaceutical, biotech, etc. He`s also seeing an increase in non-traditional uses for cleanroom. He sites an example of a person he met at CleanRooms East `97 in Boston who is using a Class 10,000 cleanroom to apply lacquer to a horned instrument. Another company is using a cleanroom to package dry cake mixes.
In the future, “the need for consultants and training is going to increase because of the rapid growth of the industry and the increasing number of companies and individuals who need training in an expertise which is totally new to them,” Soules explains.
Dave Shares, owner of Cleanroom Education in Rochester, NY, agrees. “Over the years, the awareness for the need to train has gone up in all kinds of industries.
“Initially, in the mid 1980s, little thought was given to the need to train people in cleanrooms. Then the training that did exist wasn`t effective. Companies weren`t thinking of training. Of those that did training, not many made it worthwhile,” Shares says.
But managers now participate in training formerly attended by cleanroom production personnel only. “At first, managers were not taking part in the training, just production workers, and it had a devastating effect on cleanrooms because managers didn`t understand cleanrooms, and they made decisions that compromised the room,” Shares says. He cites an example of a facility where every day, three people would come through an emergency exit of a cleanroom in street clothes, come out the other side and disappear. It turns out they were told by a manager, who didn`t understand the effects a person in street clothes could have on cleanroom production, that they should take the short cut as it took them too long to walk around the outside of the cleanroom.
In addition to awareness, training techniques and aids have also improved over the years. There are more resources available now, including video training and on-site cleanrooms training programs in subject areas such as how to garment one`s self or how to conduct one`s self in a cleanroom.
In addition, “there are several training programs presented by CleanRooms, the Institute of Environmental Sciences, universities, and consultants,” Soules adds. “The need for training is great as most companies place the cleanroom concerns on a project engineer and not a person dedicated to the cleanroom field.”
Shares says that although training opportunities continue to expand, the increased use of minienvironments will cut into those opportunities a bit, since “there`s not the need that there would be in a ballroom cleanroom for a trainer.” In spite of this, however, he says he still feels that the move to minienvironments is a good one.
One of the most important aspect of cleanrooms — cleaning and maintenance — has gone through myriad changes as the equipment and materials have evolved to meet cleanrooms requirements.
“Ten years ago in wafer fabs, we didn`t see any bulkhead-mounted equipment,” explains Ian Wallis, president of Microcomplete Cleaning Services Inc. in Newburyport, MA. Instead, equipment was set against the wall in the cleanroom, and it was difficult to clean behind because of all the electrical wires. “Most new cleanrooms have bulkhead-mounted equipment, meaning, three-quarters of it is in a service chase, and only the faces of the equipment are in the cleanroom. It`s much easier than it was 10 years ago.”
Cleaning chemicals are much cleaner now, too, meaning, they don`t leave residues behind. In addition, there is a better understanding among cleanroom workers regarding the compatibility between cleaning chemicals and the surface to be cleaned. “In the past, some solvents would dissolve floors, walls, etc.,” Wallace says. “Now they`re coated with epoxy paint.” In addition, cleanroom owners used to demand the use of shiny floor finishes, before they realized the finishes created huge particle generating problems. “So people are more amenable to having a less shiny floor now,” Wallace adds.
Cleanroom wipers have taken the place of sponges over the last 10 years, as wipers have become stronger as a result of weaving methods that have evolved. Sponges are no longer used in cleanrooms, as they harbor bacteria and break down too easily.
Wallace also observes that cleaning supplies are now dedicated to the cleanroom. In the past, supplies were moved in and out when cleanrooms were cleaned.
In the future, Wallace sees a trend toward less cleaning, since robotics will be used in cleanrooms, eliminating the need for particle-generating human operators.
He says he also expects that “we`ll see a big shift in awareness regarding people and materials/parts/equipment entering cleanrooms. “Service chases will have to be as clean as the cleanroom,” Wallace explains, “since portions of the equipment are exposed to the cleanroom. Bulkheads and chases will have to be as clean as the cleanrooms themselves.
“We`re seeing emphasis on us being gatekeepers, diligently watching what comes in to make sure it`s absolutely clean.”