The cleanroom as “process facilitator”

By Thomas E. Hansz, AIA

Today, we're seeing an increase in cleanroom renovations, and as we proceed into the future, this trend will undoubtedly continue. As we move forward, two issues will dominate the design and construction of research and production cleanrooms: flexibility and control.

Flexibility and control are not new to cleanroom design by any stretch of the imagination, as they are the initial expectations expressed by most cleanroom managers. Yet, as we look at the current state of cleanroom design, flexibility and control is more precisely defined and more often specified as “critical” in meeting the increasing demands of research and production environments. As a result, cleanroom managers are placing a greater emphasis on process changes than on spatial renovations and new facilities.

The emphasis in production is shifting from the environmental quality to material quality. Purity levels of basic materials and the associated process gases and chemicals are more critical today than they were 20 years ago. Competition and time-to-market forces will pressure manufacturers to adapt existing contamination-controlled environments quickly and with minimum costs.

Does this mean that cleanroom construction will decline? Not necessarily. Most likely, cleanroom design and construction will increase over the upcoming decades, as micro-level technologies spread throughout the economy and as contamination control increases in the areas of material and product development.

Another solid example of flexibility is the current use of hybrid layouts. In the past, cleanrooms were classified as bay and chase, ballroom or suite layouts. Today, it is not uncommon to see aspects of two layouts merged into a cleanroom floor plan. Improvements in fan-filter units are resulting in wider applications, and in turn, we're seeing an increased adaptation of minienvironments.

However, future cleanrooms will be different from what has been traditionally developed. They can be expected to provide a prescribed base level of performance allowing the equipment and utilities to be easily changed and modified. Flexibility will be required within the clean environment, rather than as a part of the cleanroom configuration.

Changing out production equipment and process utilities remains one of the greatest facility expenses a manufacturer faces. What will be required is a clean environment that accommodates these changes without changing itself. This calls for forward-looking planning and close coordination with process needs.

Increasing criteria for flexible production systems, and the ability to monitor and more precisely control them, are driven by the emergence of nanotechnologies, photonics, light-energy conversion and micro-biotechnologies. Within the sphere of nanotechnology, innovations are being accomplished with nanotubes, nanowires, magnetic nanoparticles, nanocomposites, and nanopowders.

Other advancements are being made with biosensors, hybrid materials ceramics and micromachines. At the micro and nano levels, researchers are developing new agents for better magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as well as new materials to make more powerful, yet quieter jet engines and smaller, faster microprocessors.

The recent announcement of Sematech North in Albany, NY (See full story on, is an example of how companies have been working together to share developmental insight. Strategic alliances are also common among pharmaceutical companies and we can expect more sharing of cleanroom facilities in the future.

Concurrent with these technical inroads, customer and regulatory requirements are affecting the research and production environment as well. Cleanroom paper and pens were once the accepted method for capturing environmental data. Today, in pharmaceutical and biotechnology cleanrooms, current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) require electronic records and signatures for monitoring environmental conditions.

Innovations and new standards are taking place all over the small-tech map. Recently, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced that their Standards Association has formed a working group to develop standards for organic and molecular electronics.

Future contamination-controlled environments will need to be facilitators of production activities. They will be planned with change in mind, while not having to change themselves. Simply stated, cleanrooms will get out of the way of the process.

Thomas E. Hansz, AIA is president of Facility Planning & Resources Inc. (FPR), a cleanroom, planning, design and management firm located in Pittsburgh. FPR was founded in 1995 and has built cleanroom facilities throughout the United States and abroad. He is a member of the Cleanrooms Editorial Advisory Board.


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