Developments in Cleanrooms

Developments in Cleanrooms

Where would we be without cleanroom technology?

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Modern manufacturing methods, across various industries, require highly purified process controls that are free from contaminants. A critical mainstay then, for successful production, is the cleanroom. Heavily used in the semiconductor, pharmaceutical and other extremely precise processes – design and construction methods of cleanrooms must consider everything in their construction down to the level of atmospheric conditions, particle filtration and proper sealing to ensure contamination free production. Without cleanroom-based process control, we would not have many highly advanced products and technology. Aside from medical advancements such as health laboratories and operating rooms, this includes defense, aerospace, and industrial manufacturing. Modern cleanrooms have now been around long enough to consider advancements and how they play into the decision-making for achieving optimal, contamination-free process control, as well as continuing improvements in automation control. Manufacturers must evaluate the integrity of their cleanrooms over process cycles, to ensure proper MRO procedures.

Industrial developments leading to modern cleanroom technology

In the research publication, “The development of cleanrooms” by Tim Sandle, we learn that early concepts began in battlefield surgery. Then industrial applications within defense and aerospace brought about the demand to eliminate dirt and dust particles while manufacturing precision machine parts used in weapons and gyroscopes for aircraft, respectively. These were produced in the first type of cleanroom called “white rooms.” Sandle also tells us how early air filters, called “absolute filters” (what we know today as “HEPA filters”) were brought about through requirements of the Atomic Energy Commission to contain radioactive particles within their development labs. Then the first “Ultra Cleanroom” was **patented in 1964 by Willis Whifield, et al at Sandia National Laboratory, part of the United States Department of Energy. Part of this cleanroom technology included what is now known as “laminar air flow” via HEPA filters. Whitfield’s and his teams’ innovations removed air particles within enclosures one thousand times more effective than past achievements. Later, cleanroom innovations at Westinghouse brought contaminant reduction into a fuller spectrum, not only considering protection of people, but of the products manufactured as well.

The Development of Cleanroom Standards

Along with innovations, the great importance of developing and adopting consistent standards for everything related to cleanroom processes came about, to reduce contamination. These are now governed by ISO 14644 / TC 209 – Cleanrooms and associated controlled environments. Patents have been issued over the years to greatly improve:

  • Food processing methods within cleanrooms, to greatly reduce the risk of bacteria and disease
  • Types of clothing worn while in cleanrooms, including disposable garments, footwear that removes bacteria, viruses and fungus. Neck wear has recently been developed to protect workers from cleanroom hazards.
  • Tissue Banks

History and advancements in tissue banks are presented In a recent news article by the Berkshire Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of cleanrooms. The article also discusses issues with keeping living tissue contaminant free, from harvesting to storage- and application. On-site cleanrooms at institutes of medicine typically house small tissue collections for surgical labs. Commercially, larger facilities collect a variety of tissues for third-party clients. They collect not only whole-body donations, but typically harvest skin, bones and organs, from several sources.

The  article goes on to stress that aseptic and sterile conditions maintained. And is ideally solved with a dedicated “class 10,000” laminar air flow cleanroom. This allows for the division of sterile and non-sterile modules, including separate points of access to each area. Along with isolation technology, commercial “cryo-facilities” must have redundant failover backups for constant temperature, non-stop power delivery and alarm systems. Modern electrical control panels help to make this happen.

Monitoring and Measuring within cleanroom production

Steadfast Automation Control - NIST CLeanroom

With the advancement of automation components, such as the Programmable Logic Controller, cleanroom processes and monitoring have contributed to manufacturing with extreme precision. Without it, the volume and advancement of products within semiconductor manufacturing, biotech and many others would not be possible. Other contributions such as purity and durability in flow control with flexfible polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE hose reinforced with stainless steel have accommodated various requirements such as caustic chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing.

So much of what we benefit from and enjoy today; technology, lower risk of disease, sanitized food & cosmetics, as well as high performance machination would not be obtainable without cleanrooms. The original laminar air flow design, that Whitfield and his team developed, is still very relevant and in production today. This, along with the protocols, standardization, monitoring and measuring of everything related continues to bring great accomplishments for our society, ever advancing towards more automated processes.

Links & Sources:
Woodland, Christopher 2018. Willis Whitfield | The Human Behind Modern Cleanrooms. Steadfast Blog.
Sandle, Tim. 2016. The development of cleanrooms: an historical review.  The Journal – Institute of Science & Technology.
Quinn, Gene and Steve Brachman. May 2014. The Evolution of The Cleanroom: A Patent History.  IPWatchdog.
Berkshire Corporation. January 2018. Tissue Banks & Cleanrooms: The Ultimate Price of Contamination Issues. Cleanroom News.
Dixon, Anne Marie. October 2012. A 25-Year Retrospective on Cleanroom Management. BioPharmInternational.com

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