Third-party testing lab certifies product cleanliness levels

Third-party testing lab certifies product cleanliness levels

Sheila Galatowitsch

LIVONIA, MI — LONG-TIME industry expert Dr. Philip R. Austin has launched a standardized testing and certification program for cleanroom products. The Ultraclean Products Approval Program will test and certify the cleanliness of any product used in the construction or operation of a cleanroom, and the methodologies used to manufacture the product. Its first customers include Terra Universal (Anaheim, CA) and Fanuc Robotics North America Inc. (Rochester Hills, MI).

While many users and suppliers say they perform in-house testing or use outside resources to measure product cleanroom compatibility, Austin asserts that few adhere to any kind of standardized testing methodology with the appropriate equipment and trained personnel. Ultraclean, which bills itself as the first standardized testing and certification program in the industry, aims to provide independent, third-party assurance that products perform as advertised.

The program furnishes documented evidence that a product has gone through testing and is certified for use in a specific cleanroom classification per Federal Standard 209E, Austin says. In addition, each certified product gets the “Ultraclean seal,” which lists Dr. Austin`s name and the product`s classification compatibility.

Of concern to Patrick Law, chairman of the National Environmental Balancing Bureau`s (NEBB) cleanroom certification committee, and owner of Hepatest (Orlando, FL), a cleanroom testing and certification company, is whether the standardized testing methodology will be openly available to the industry or proprietary to Ultraclean.

Austin says the methodology will be openly available for evaluation because all products tested will receive a thorough report of the test procedures and results. “Everything that we do has to be open, otherwise the certification is invalid.”

He adds that the products are tested for “compatibility” for use in a specific cleanroom classification. “When we say that an item is certified for a Class 100 environment it means that the item, when placed in that environment, is not going to do anything to it that will cause it to be less than Class 100. The whole purpose is to ensure that all the components, equipment and other items do not add particles that would cause the customer to not be able to perform under the classification of the room he is trying to achieve.”

“I`d like to know more about his test methods and how he is determining product compatibility. The federal standard only allows you to qualify spaces or environments to meet a certain class. A piece of equipment, a desk, chair or other cleanroom product cannot be `certified` as meeting a specific classification,” says Law. “There is a need for qualifying and testing cleanroom products and equipment, but you have to be careful about how you word it.”

Terra Universal wants to have all of the products it manufactures certified by year-end, says Janice Jordan, director of sales and marketing. In addition, the company`s distribution arm will ask its suppliers to consider having their products certified.

Terra Universal has performed its own in-house testing and used third-party resources to measure particulate emissions, but the Ultraclean program is a “step up” from any other testing or certification program available to the industry, Jordan says.

“Dr. Austin is looking at how products are manufactured and what the materials are. He`s taking a broader approach and looking at the whole picture — the methodology of how we design, manufacture and assemble the products,” she says.

The industry is increasingly asking for standardization, says Joe Portelli, electronic and electrical equipment industry manager at Fanuc Robotics. Several Fanuc robots have been tested for particulates at every joint of the robot and certified under the Ultraclean program. The robots are used by semiconductor, flat-panel display and passive component manufacturers for tasks such as machine loading and unloading, assembly and in-progress part transfer.

“We pride ourselves on providing quality products and one of the ways we can substantiate that is to have a third-party company assure our users that the products meet these specs,” Portelli says. It also lets users know that no additional testing or effort is needed to prove compatibility.

Portelli says he hopes the Ultraclean seal will become a recognized standard in the industry, much like the UL seal of approval.

Terra Universal`s stainless steel product line, which includes benches and workstations, is the first to receive certification. The company plans to put a removable, cleanroom-compatible Ultraclean seal on each product certified. “I think it will be like ISO 9000 certification of the cleanroom industry,” Jordan says.

Manufacturers who use the Ultraclean program ship products to Austin`s facility in Livonia, MI, which includes 3,500 square feet of Class 100 through Class 1 testing cleanrooms. Standardized tests are used to evaluate the design and construction of a product, and accelerated cleanroom lifecycle emission tests are performed under class conditions per the federal standard. Mating surfaces, welds, spaces and cracks are also identified and evaluated.

“We are looking at certain factors that an item must meet. For example, if a product is going into a Class 100 cleanroom, it must be tested for airborne emissions and surface emissions and other [criteria] on a standardized checklist to ensure the item is tested fully,” Austin says.

Austin`s program is a “good step in the right direction,” says Michael Fitzpatrick, vice president of advanced technology for McCarthy Brothers Co. (Phoenix, AZ) and chair of IEST`s Considerations in Cleanroom Design working group. “To my knowledge there is no present certification program for products in cleanrooms. It would be beneficial for the industry in general if there were such an established system.”

A standard series of tests would allow users to compare one product with another, then select a product according to their specific room needs, Fitzpatrick says. “However, I would be hesitant to start classifying products per the Federal Standard 209 room classifications,” he says, adding he would like to know more about Austin`s testing methodology.

Other tests include surface-to-surface compatibility, surface-to-cleaning chemistry compatibility, surface smoothness and irregularity, and other contamination control engineering tests. The program`s testing equipment includes airborne particle counters, fluid particle counters, chemical emissions testers and high-resolution microscopes.

Ultraclean is a division of Austin`s Acorn Industries Inc., which provides precision parts cleaning and packaging services. Austin, a former Air Force and NASA cleanroom engineer who helped develop Federal Standard 209 cleanroom classifications, is the author of several books on cleanrooms, including Design and Operation of Cleanrooms, Austin`s Cleanrooms of the World, and the Encyclopedia of Cleanrooms, Bio Cleanrooms and Aseptic Areas.


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