Suppliers vie for identity in cleanrooms
Evanston, IL — Spurred by dramatic growth within the cleanroom industry and impacted by a reduction in the number of suppliers through industry mergers and consolidations, cleanroom products target an increasingly competitive marketplace. Over the past five years, a trend is underway to draw attention, whenever possible, to product differentiation. Yet, at the cleanroom door, bagged garments and supplies are often rendered phantom products when sealed bags — and product information printed on them — are wiped clean with isopropyl alcohol (IPA).
The dilemma for vendors then, is to deliver brand name awareness into cleanrooms, yet uphold and adhere to rigorous clean and sterile standards. To combat obscurity, some vendors incur the expense of lamination, whereby print exists on one structure and another structure is laminated on top, trapping the print so it cannot be removed during an IPA wiping process.
Approximately a year ago, at the request of its customers, Precision Clean Products, a division of Fisher Container Corp. (Evanston, IL), which makes low-particulate Class 100 cleanroom packaging, began to develop an IPA-resistant ink to enable non-laminated product packaging to pass intact through the cleanroom door. Precision`s main objective — to ensure integrity of the ink so that, regardless of the strength of the alcohol solution and the number of times packaging was wiped, the print would remain unaltered. After six months, Precision attained success and is able to print one color or multi-colored graphics, delivering packaging that looks as good after an IPA wipe as it did when it left the press. “Not only are logos printed, but usage instructions and critical product specifications are finally making their way into the people who need them,” says Michael Fisher, president of Precision.
Kappler Protective Apparel and Fabric`s (Guntersville, AL) marketing manager Craig Woodward says Kappler, which specializes in disposable garments, worked closely with Precision during development of the IPA-resistant ink. “In the past we neither laminated products due to the prohibitive cost of lamination, nor used alcohol resistant ink.” But Kappler`s customers definitely want to expand their marketing capabilities — and further brand awareness, Woodward says.
Kappler customers also needed to meet increasingly stringent industry requirements regarding traceability of product. The FDA, for example, states that traceability of products including lot number and other critical information must be delivered to “point of use.” As long as the corrugated boxes that garments are packed in before they are moved into the cleanroom are not thrown away, there is traceability of sorts. The FDA is said to be looking closely at the matter particularly as it pertains to pharmaceutical applications. The importance comes into play when a problem exists with a garment that is sterile. If a recall of the garment is necessary, traceability is critical.
IEST`s technical vice president Bob Spector questions the validity of printing to further brand awareness. “I`ve always been a firm believer that decision making not only has to do with the quality of the product, but the relationship that exists between suppliers and users. It may be important to print specific instructions and identification on a cleanroom bag, but it`s less important for advertising purposes. Nothing replaces that supplier/user relationship,” says Spector.
Carolyn Mathas is a freelance writer in Jacksonville, OR. She can be reached at [email protected].