By Robert P. Donovan
In my very first column published in CleanRooms four years ago this month, I wrote: “The instrumentation, software and knowledge required for verification of cleanroom classifications are well known to specialists who provide verification services to the industry. I recommend cleanroom classification by the professionals, either in-house or with outside contractors, who know the instrumentation and how to use it and who know the procedures and how to implement them.”
For a number of years, one had to rely on subjective judgment or the experiences of associates, like finding a good house painter or a good plumber. Most of the time, this mode of selection works out reasonably well, but other times it doesn't.
What's worse is that the fallout from one or two unfortunate experiences can spread lasting doubt and suspicion about all individuals or organizations offering similar certifying services—much like the scandals associated with the mismanagement of the United Way funds adversely affected subsequent support of that and similar funds.
Today, the selection of an independent cleanroom certifier does not have to be a blind act of faith.
Through checklists, the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB; Gaithersburg, Md.) publication, Procedural Standards for Certified Testing of Cleanrooms, explicitly defines the procedures and test instrumentation to be used in conducting a cleanroom certification. The NEBB also administers training and study courses that enable individuals to become a NEBB Qualified Cleanroom Performance Testing Supervisor.
A Supervisor must pass the NEBB National Examination and demonstrate practical cleanroom certification experience in a written evaluation and a hands-on test of filter integrity. Organizations having at least one staff member possessing the NEBB Qualified Supervisor certification are recognized as NEBB Certified Cleanroom Performance Testing Firms.
More and more these days, cleanroom owners consider this NEBB certification to be a prerequisite before accepting any organization as a qualified candidate for certifying a cleanroom.
For its first 15 years, the nonprofit NEBB dealt primarily with the Test Adjusting and Balancing (TAB) discipline of the industry. The NEBB Cleanroom Performance Testing (CPT) committee was established in 1984 with the goal of creating a mechanism whereby the methods for certifying a cleanroom could be formalized and the capabilities of individuals and organizations to implement these methods could be verified by an impartial jury.
Committee membership consists of those in the discipline with a vested interest in assuring that certification is awarded only to those demonstrating the knowledge and understanding deemed necessary for conducting a cleanroom certification, as defined by the consensus best judgment of the committee members.
Thus, the CPT committee's initial task was the preparation of the Procedural Standards For Certified Testing of Cleanrooms manual. It later produced a home study course for individuals planning to take the exams required to become qualified as a NEBB CPT Supervisor. The present NEBB cleanroom examinations qualify supervisors of cleanroom certifying teams.
Appropriate examinations and certification procedures are currently being prepared for qualifying supporting technical personnel that make up such teams. The CPT committee plans to sponsor its first “Technician's Training Seminar” early this year at the newly constructed NEBB Training and Education Center (TEC) located in Tempe, Ariz.
Certified Supervisors must renew qualifications every two years and attend a minimum number of approved seminars each year, with attendance records being maintained by the NEBB. Technicians certified in the future will also have similar renewal and annual training requirements.
The bottom line remains that the widespread acceptance of these NEBB services represents another milestone attesting to the maturity of the cleanroom industry.
Robert P. Donovan is a process engineer assigned to the Sandia National Laboratories and a monthly columnist for CleanRooms magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].