Cleanroom apparel makers look to emerging market

Caryn Sykes

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—Traditionally, the desire to reduce cleanroom contamination from personnel has been a strong driver of the cleanroom apparel industry. However, in recent years, employment rates have been flattening out in most traditional cleanroom segments, threatening the viability of cleanroom apparel and glove manufacturers.

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As shown in the figure, employment in the electronics industry, after a negative growth rate of 1.2 percent annually from 1988 through 1998, is expected to grow at a modest 0.5 percent per year in the period 1998 through 2008. The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, despite healthy employment growth of 2.1 percent annually from 1988 to 1998, is expected to slow down to an average of one percent per year for the following ten years.

The modest growth in employment in these key cleanroom industries is largely due to a trend toward workplace automation. Many cleanroom operators have been turning to automation to reduce labor costs, subsequently decreasing the demand for cleanroom garments. In addition, the use of minienvironments is on the rise, allowing manufacturers to condense the area in which contamination needs to be controlled.

While the above-mentioned trends caution a slow-down in growth in the cleanroom apparel industry, recent Frost & Sullivan research indicates areas of the market that still exhibit growth potential.

Among the most promising sectors of the apparel industry are:

  • Controlling electrostatic discharge (ESD) for electronics manufacturers
  • Emerging markets for cleanrooms, such as food and beverage processing, and auto painting.

Electrostatic discharge control

In the semiconductor industry, the market for improvements on particle contamination control has been nearly exhausted. However, in recent years the attention has shifted to electrostatic discharge impact, which has the potential to harm products as much, if not more, than particle contamination. Cleanroom operators have in the past addressed the ESD problem by tethering a worker to a grounding cord. This, however, was a cumbersome and inefficient solution.

In response to the increasing concern for ESD contamination, apparel manufacturers have constructed garments with conductive tapes and threads, allowing the electrostatic discharge to pass through the apparel without the use of a grounding cord. As a result, workers now have more freedom to move around. In addition, the levels of contamination control are greater than previous methods. As ESD continues to be a concern in the electronics industry, this is expected to be a segment of the garment industry with continuing growth potential.

Emerging cleanroom markets

Manufacturers in industries such as food processing and automotive painting are beginning to discover the advantages of using cleanrooms in manufacturing processes. In food processing, issues including fear of bio-contamination such as E. coli, increasing shelf life of finished products, as well as FDA guidelines have driven manufacturers to move production into cleaner settings.

In the automotive industry, where products can have up to 30 or 40 coatings of paint, one speck of dust on an unfinished product can amount to a mountain. As paint technology develops, it is increasingly necessary to maintain a clean setting, increasing the demand for cleanroom garments.


Increasing workplace automation and use of minienvironments have the potential to reduce the demand for cleanroom apparel sold and laundered. However, opportunities for growth still exist, as illustrated by the examples mentioned above.

It is important for cleanroom apparel manufacturers to identify such growing markets and address their needs appropriately. Without adequate attention to changes in the marketplace, manufacturers can easily find themselves competing in a shrinking market without future prospects for growth.

Editor's note: In order to offer participants in the contamination control industry an accurate view of the U.S. cleanrooms market, Frost & Sullivan, a global market research and consulting company, in conjunction with CleanRooms magazine, has commenced a market research study of the industry. This article, based on research for the first segment of the report, Cleanrooms Apparel and Gloves, is a discussion of some of the trends in the cleanrooms apparel industry. This is the first in a series of monthly installments of findings from ongoing research. More details will be available in October when the entire project is released.

Caryn Sykes is a research analyst, environmental health and safety, at Frost & Sullivan.


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