Cleanroom design: Is KPS a new approach or just a turn back to the basics?

by Richard V. Pavlotsky, Ph.D., P.E.

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If you're preparing for a cleanroom project, you must plan ahead, plan well and execute your plan. This basic approach has proven effective time and again, and the schedule is always agressive.

However, it seems that many in the cleanroom design/build arena have either forgotten or shunned the importance of the preliminary-planning phase on the way to finishing a project.

The art of design
A new building with a cleanroom may be compared to a modern racecar in that the integration of layout, shape, functionality, flexibility and economy takes a tremendous effort that requires contribution from all design teams. It mixes experience with the art of cleanroom design.

Too often the planning phase is skimmed over in hopes of expediting the process—therein lies a critical mistake.

The client's review and approval of a conceptual design, a conceptual cost estimate and cost estimate after schematic design may send the process into a time-consuming loop in an attempt to preserve the budget which is, in fact, conceptual from the start. Time is wasted and the quality of the project will be compromised. Process is not controlled by construction schedules and could continue beyond 20 weeks based on how many times preliminary planning is redone to rectify the budget.

Let's talk about planning
The bottom line is that the preliminary planning, which combines the client and design team, is crucial for the project to be completed on time and within budget. Our approach is to combine the end user's input with the architectural programming and preliminary mechanical, electrical, structural, environmental and other disciplines design in one key planning process.

This approach eliminates most of the loops and forks in the road. Everything is documented and can be estimated with a greater level of certainty while saving four weeks in the process. This requires a solid effort and everyone involved must be willing to spend long hours with the team. We estimate that the masterplanning should take 24 hours for a small project and 40 for a larger project and all decision-makers must be present, including the architectural team and end users.

Parameters for success
The primary dimensions that set the parameters of a project are time, money and quality.

Time: The average timeline to plan, design, build and bring a cleanroom on-line is four to nine months. Not only is this a short period of time, but generally it is an unforgiving schedule. Most often the product is marketed long before the cleanroom is ever built; meaning the client and contractors have one shot to get it right all within the given time frame. The moral of this story is that planning is essential to ensure a streamlined process so deadlines can be met. There is no time for mistakes or for doing it right the second time.

Money: As with project timelines, the budget is typically set prior to the initial client/contractor meeting. In an ideal world, budgets could be altered after the discussion of project needs and design direction. In the real world, however, contractors must work within the established budget, or absorb the excess. Thus, another challenge presents itself; completing a quality project with limited dollars. Planning is essential to eliminate waste and inefficiencies in the process and ultimately stay within budget.

The client's review and approval of a conceptual design, a conceptual cost estimate and cost estimate after schematic design may send the process into a time-consuming loop in an attempt to preserve the budget which is, in fact, conceptual from the start.
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After the key planning session (KPS), each discipline should be able to estimate the construction cost to within 10-15 percent of the final cost. We are using a developed cost-estimating database for exact equipment, parts and components. Without the conceptual session and documentation, the typical industry numbers at this stage are plus or minus 20-30 percent of the final cost. Clients can see the difference in the risk factors.

Quality: There is no room for error in this industry. Efficiency of production is measured by throughput. If the cleanroom is not designed properly, your client will be forced to throw away large quantities of product. We must complete this project on time, within budget and it must be of the highest quality. Once again, planning is essential to design a quality cleanroom that produces at or beyond client expectations.

How daunting is KPS?
This approach is not really new but rather is the result of a continuous learning process with a return to the basics complemented by innovative concepts, procedures and technology. We will operate on the basis that the most valuable time for quality design is in the planning of the project. That being said, let's get into the details of a successful and effective KPS.

The attendees: All key decision makers from both the client and design/build team must be present. This meeting should also include the project architect. Ideally, the client should select the architect at the same time that the design/build company is selected, not before.

The mindset: Prior to setting foot in this initial meeting, the design/build company should establish the following mindset: The client is our partner with whom we will work as a team throughout the entire process from planning to construction and beyond. This shall be a “mutual education” meeting in which the client will advise the design/build company of its expectations and that company will educate the client on the best way to reach its goals.

The agenda: Six critical agenda items are outlined below. If all of these items are covered and agreed upon prior to the meeting's end, you are well on your way to a smooth, streamlined and efficient project. All generated documents are distributed no later than two days after the session for client's review.

1. Gather all relevant information and facts: Leave no rock unturned. Be sure to obtain all site-specific data describing the existing conditions and facility, as well as the general characteristics of the project. It is far better to be somewhat overloaded with information and details at the inception of the project than to discover relevant information midstream. Backtracking, redesigning and rebuilding unnecessarily drains valuable time and assets. Get your hands on any and all project, site, environment and other related information now. Produce a “facts document” during the session.

2. Establish immediate and future goals: Find out what the project is to achieve and why. In addition to determining the immediate goals, emphasize the importance of assessing and anticipating future goals of the project. An expert and experienced cleanroom design contractor will foresee long-term goals that the client may not consider. And, the client will undoubtedly have some sort of established plans for future growth—perhaps the client intends to double production in two years. Armed with this information, design provisions can be made early in the process to accommodate future demands. In the end, this will save time, money and many headaches. Produce a “goals document” during the session.

3. Assess needs: To get to this goal you must collect the “nitty-gritty” information of project needs and specifications that describe user and facility requirements as represented in space lists, affinity diagrams and equipment lists. The more detail gathered up front, the less potential for miscommunication and wasted time, effort and paperwork down the line. This also will facilitate the accurate and most advantageous design of the cleanroom. Produce a “needs document” during the session.

Everyone is now on the same page. The project scope has been defined, relevant information has been exchanged and the meeting is concluded. It's time to go back to the office and design a cleanroom, right?

The conventional process says “yes,” but let's consider a different plan of action. We include three more items on our initial meeting agenda. We've found that this has helped avoid inefficiencies in the process and, in the end, delivered substantial positive results in the completed project.

4. Develop concepts: At this preliminary session, prior to engaging in the official design, it is beneficial to present and brainstorm some general ideas that will drive the design solutions. In doing so, the design team can obtain the key decision makers' initial feedback to these ideas up front. This enables the team to base the design on this immediate input, eliminating unnecessary rounds of review and revisions. Produce a “concepts document” during the session.

5. Identify issues: Yes, there are always items that need to be resolved before the design can be completed. These items often surface during the first step of gathering information. However, be proactive in seeking out these potential obstacles. It is better to know now rather than later because the most costly time for changing a design is during construction, and even worse, at the end of a project. Delve into such topics as environment, budget, existing architecture, building quirks and the like. Produce an “issues document” during the session.

6. Set project strategy and schedule: In this final stage of the planning meeting, merge the “ideal” (concepts and plans) with “reality” (issues). This is when the project team—client and design contractor—strategize the actual plan of attack, including a timeline and action items for all parties to complete a high-quality project that meets all project needs and goals on time and within budget.

From this thorough, often exhausting meeting, you are well prepared to design a cleanroom that will meet, if not exceed, expectations.

A word of caution
All of this planning, no matter how detailed, can be weakened, even destroyed, if there is not complete alignment of the design contractor and build contractor. Without precise synchronization of these two parties you'll be sure to witness negative impacts, including mounds of paperwork, increased administrative and overhead costs, miscommunication resulting in errors and wasted time and, worst of all, information gaps resulting in decreased quality and project flaws.

Unfortunately, these problems are inherent in any situation where multiple groups, companies or teams are involved. And in the vast majority of cleanroom projects, the standard is to use separate design and build contractors.

This approach eliminates most of the loops and forks in the road. Everything is documented and can be estimated with a greater level of certainty while saving four weeks in the process.
Click here to enlarge image

With this structure, room for error and miscommunication is greatly minimized. The fewer channels that the various documents (budgets, contracts, plans, designs, etc.) must pass through for review and approval, the greater the efficiency of the process, making the most of the established time frame and available dollars. By going direct to target we streamline the process in what we call conscientious engineering.

This strategy enables us to design and build the cleanroom at the lowest cost possible and on time—all while successfully meeting the client's immediate facility operating and project objectives, as well as anticipating and planning for future needs.

Richard V. Pavlotsky, Ph.D., P.E. is director of advanced technology for San Jose, CA-based ENCOMPASS Facility Services. He can be reached at [email protected].

Editor Note: This is the first in a series of “Basics” columns that will cover the environment inside and outside of the cleanroom, specific requirements for temperature and humidity control, particle count, reliability of mechanical equipment, environment protection, VOC containment, low-wall returns, raised floors, ballrooms and bay and chase configurations.


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