A make-or-break cleanroom

By Hank Hogan

A 50-year-old injection molding firm tightens up to ISO Class 7 to land burgeoning automotive business

LISLE, Ill.—Tricon Industries Inc. isn't a company with a long history of cleanroom manufacturing. As a matter of fact, the more than 50-year-old firm has never had such a relatively contamination-free manufacturing location—until now.

In a direct response to the growing clean trend in the automotive industry, Tricon has just unveiled a manufacturing cleanroom, complete with HEPA filters, sticky mats, positive air pressure and an ISO Class 7 certification. The company built and is using this free-standing, permanent 20×20-foot enclosure for some exacting component assembly.

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Cleanroom personnel at Tricon Industries Inc. (Lisle, Ill.) assemble door and trunk switches for Hondas. Tricon then uses automated ultrasonics for welding covers on final testing.
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“You have zero parts-per-million (ppm) as a requirement. Our solution to come to zero ppm is doing it as clean as you can,” says Jeff Terrell, Tricon's manager of product development.

The company specializes in insert and injection molding processes as well as stampings and electrical contacts. Over the past half century, Tricon has worked with many of world's largest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the automotive, telecommunications and appliance markets.

One of those customers recently requested that Tricon do the final assembly on some door lock switches. Tight control of the torque was needed to turn the switch with a key. Similarly, tight specifications existed for the make and break points, the points where the lock would either open or close. These parameters are vital to the feel of the assembly's operation, an important point in the satisfaction of the final end customer.

To manage those two tactile factors, the parts are greased with a carefully controlled amount of lubricant. The layout of Tricon's factory floor meant that the best place to do this was in an area where injection molding and stamping processes take place. That, according to Terrell, played a part in the company's decision to build a cleanroom.

“We didn't think we could consistently hold the quality of the switch in a regular manufacturing environment,” he explains. “We were afraid of getting contaminants into the part just from dust from the factory floor.”

Tricon's solution was an ISO Class 7 cleanroom built using a standard layout. The company put HEPA filters on top of a frame and enclosed it with aluminum walls and Plexiglas windows. Return airflow is through a small gap at the bottom of the enclosure. Full-size doors provide entry, with sticky mats and other techniques used to limit the contaminants tracked in. Terrell reports that Tricon is now shipping product to the customer, who is happy with the results.

Manufacturing needs drive the size of the current cleanroom, and while there is currently some extra space, Tricon would probably have to expand the area or build a new one to accommodate growth. According to Terrell, this would likely be done on-site at the appropriate Tricon facility. Finally, although Tricon just started manufacturing in a cleanroom, the time for such an increase may not be too far off.


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