Armchair insight on cleanroom furniture

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by Mark A. DeSorbo

Furnishing a cleanroom with a tables and chairs is not as cut and dried as it sounds.

In fact, the furniture and other accoutrements needed in a cleanroom, whether it is a table, chair, cabinet, cart or wastebasket, must be constructed of materials that will not introduce contamination into the environment and can withstand regular cleaning.

Many industries, namely the chip, microelectronics and pharmaceutical sectors, require furnishings to be made with electropolished or high-grade stainless steel. Many types of plastic, valued for natural cleanliness, durability, chemical resistance and conductivity, are also used to make cleanroom furniture.

And the choices abound when it comes to cleanroom furniture; a term that Dave McClelland believes is used too loosely.

“I've been in the business for 20 years,” says McClelland, president of CleanZones LLC (Manalapan, NJ), a manufacturer of cleanroom garment cabinets and various other types of equipment. “I wouldn't call it furniture. When I think furniture, I think more of tables and chairs.”

The type of armoire that CleanZones manufactures is used by end-users to hang bunny suits after a long day in the cleanroom. The filtered cabinets are also used to store packaged garments.

“Some [end-users] look for filtered cabinets to put away garments away for reuse, and others are looking for shelved units to store cleanroom garments that are still in packaged,” McClelland adds.

One CleanZones cabinet from its FGC line combines both features: a rack to hang and adjustable shelves to store garments. The unit features the same sloping top that all CleanZones cabinets have to prevent particle build-up as well as storage of unwanted materials.

FGC series cabinets also feature HEPA filter/blower systems that are a claimed 99.99 percent effective in filtering out particles to .3 microns to provide a constant air wash over hanging garments.

Business, McClelland says, could always be better, but for the most part it is good. His experience is on par with a market report from Frost & Sullivan, which indicates the cleanroom furniture and workstation market will hit $144 million by the end of this year, with the main market driver being the continued push of cleanroom construction and a the deployment of contamination control technology by other industries.

“We're in Minneapolis, and the medical device industry is big here, so our business is doing well because of it,” says Rich Walter, sales manager for Innotech Products Inc. (Minneapolis, MN). “We're seeing a lot of new cleanrooms and the expansion of existing cleanroom areas.”

Budgets for such key capital expenditures, however, do not necessarily expand, and that, in some cases, forces the manufacturers to offer various levels of cleanroom furniture.

“Some people say, 'I have an ISO Class 8 cleanroom,' and now we say, 'well you don't need that ISO Class 5 chair',” Walter adds.

Innotech has worked with its sister company, Clean Air Products (Brooklyn Park, MN), in developing a cleanroom chair that is geared toward ISO Class 7 and 8 cleanrooms that are favored by the medical device industry.

Deemed the “Class 10,000 chair,” delineation from the retired FED-STD 209E, the unit has an under-wrap that retains particles when air is released from the seat cushion.

“Some chairs are equipped with a filter along with the under-wrap, and many felt they were paying for something they didn't need,” Walter says. “With this chair, there is a cost difference, which could mean spending half what it cost for the Class 100 chair.”

As far as tables go, Walter and McClelland of CleanZones say stainless steel is the choice.

“We're getting more calls for those types of products these days,” Walter says, referring back to the construction and expansion of medical device cleanrooms.

“The stainless steel is more popular, unless there's a requirement for ESD,” McClelland adds. “Then, they tend to go for the laminated polypropylene units.”


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