Downturn meant downshifting to “value engineering alternatives”

Photonics R&D start-up moves forward with scaled-back design

By Mark A. DeSorbo

Key Facts

Size of facility:
Approximately 5,500 square feet, including a 600-square-foot ISO Class 8 cleanroom; 1,200-square-foot metallo organic chemical deposition (MOCVD) area; and a 220-square-foot chemical bunker.

Purpose of facility: Ahura Corp. will be able to develop optical transport subsystems.

Contractors: Hodess Building Co. (North Attleboro, Mass.)
SMRT Architects (Portland, Maine)

The design was complete, and 25 percent of the work on a start-up company's research and development facility was finished when desperate times called for desperate measures.

The feasibility of the $3 million job for Ahura Corp., a Wilmington, Mass.-based start-up developer of photonics and optoelectronic platforms, came under scrutiny amid a slumping economy, triggering company principals to request “value engineering alternatives.”

That meant scrapping plans for 3,500 square feet of ISO Class 5 and ISO Class 7 space, and revising the design for 600 square feet of ISO Class 8 space, with the remaining 2,900 square feet of space reserved as lab space that has the capacity to become clean space.

“Typically, when you're doing a private job, the owners will make some revisions, but this was a massive design revision, not a typical one,” says Matt Dempsey, project manager for Hodess Building Co. (North Attleboro, Mass.)

Hodess, along with Peidong Wang, Ahura's vice president of process technology, Chris Pinzone, Ahura's director of metallo organic chemical deposition (MOCVD), and SMRT Architects (Portland, Maine), made the proverbial right turn from the left lane, and modified the mechanical scheme to reduce capital expenses, while providing Ahura the facility it needed to develop optical transport subsystems for the telecommunications industry.

And they did it all in 13 weeks, completing the project on Christmas Eve.

“The key to the success of the project was due to constant communication,” Wang says. “We held weekly meetings to discuss the progress of the project. However, it is the daily contact with all teams that made this project a smooth execution and truly a success. Any problems and project directions were discussed on a daily basis, and very often, quick solutions were found to correct existing issues with full collaboration of all important team members.”

The final cost of the project was $1.4 million—slightly under the $1.5 million estimate—and the cost-cutting measures make the facility unique.

The cost for cleanroom wall systems, Dempsey says, was cut by at least half by using gypsum board with epoxy paint for perimeters, while chase walls, equipped with egg crates lattice for return air, were constructed of paneling from Neslo Manufacturing Co. (Wolcott, Conn.) mounted on exposed studs.

In addition, he says, the design-builders were able to outfit the facility's MOCVD area with a $30,000 environmental control system from Trane Co. (Lacrosse, Wis.) for $8,200, while a used wastewater treatment system, purchased on and modified by Atlas Water Systems (Newton, Mass.), was installed for a third of the estimated $55,000 cost.

“We knew of an owner who had an extra DX unit, so we were to pick that up inexpensively, and Atlas, who also did the de-ionized and wastewater systems, was able to make the necessary modifications and retrofit the wastewater system,” Dempsey says.

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A struggling economy did not stop Ahura Corp. from affording the facility it needed to develop photonics and optoelectronics platforms. Instead of 3,500 square feet of ISO Class 5 and ISO Class 7 space, the start-up will move ahead with a 600-square-foot ISO Class 8 cleanroom. The company also saved money with used equipment, like the wastewater treatment system, purchased on and modified by Atlas Water Systems (Newton, Mass.)
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The cleanroom make-up air enters through HEPA filter-equipped fan-filter units by Cleanpak International (Clackamas, Ore.) that are fed with 100 percent outside air through environmental control systems manufactured by York International Corp. (York, Pa.). The facility is also outfitted with waste evaporators manufactured by Burt Process Equipment (Hamden, Conn.), gas monitors by Zellweger Luwa Group (Uster, Switzerland) and a compressed air system by Powerex (Harrison, Ohio).

The facility also includes acid exhaust system ducts through the plenum to the roof; a 220-square-foot chemical bunker constructed of four-hour firewalls and ceilings; and a 600-square-foot mechanical room.

Dempsey says the cleanroom is designed to operate at ISO Class 8, but was certified at ISO Class 6 cleanliness upon completion.

At the time of this report, Ahura was in the process of moving in and hooking tools up.

“Ahura is a start-up company that needed to minimize their capital expenditures, so the project had to be very cost-effective,” Dempsey adds. “Value engineering was instrumental in meeting owner requirements, and it will also allow the facility to meet intermediate requirements and expand cleanroom space in the future.”


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