What is the Difference Between a Controlled Environment and a Cleanroom?

What is the Difference Between a Controlled Environment and a Cleanroom?

The words cleanroom and controlled environment are often used interchangeably when talking about environment control in critical spaces. But there is a difference, and that difference is crucial. When it comes to controlled environments vs. cleanrooms, here’s what you need to know:

 

What’s a controlled environment?

 

A controlled environment, or critical environment, is an area that must have certain parameters controlled, specifically, pressure, temperature, and segregation. Many laboratories are considered controlled environments, as they have controlled temperature and pressure and are separated from other operations, such as manufacturing or shipping. Unlike cleanrooms, controlled environments do not necessarily have to meet certain standards for particle contamination.

 

What’s a cleanroom?

 

A cleanroom is a type of controlled environment, but one with much more stringent requirements. Cleanrooms require temperature and pressure control, as well as separation from the outside environment and other operations, but these things must be controlled to specific standards. Cleanrooms are classified by the maximum acceptable numbers of particles (by size) in the air per cubic meter, and must be regularly tested to ensure compliance to that standard (see more about cleanroom classifications here). Compared with other controlled environments, cleanrooms may require more energy, air, and advanced technology to maintain the cleanroom conditions.

 

Which do I need, a cleanroom or a controlled environment?

 

This depends on two factors: your application and your industry. If you’re packaging medical devices, you’ll need an ISO class 7 complaint cleanroom, or higher. If you have a process control laboratory for a chrome plating company, you aren’t required to meet a specific ISO classification, but definitely need to control the environment. You may even have different needs within your facility; you may need a controlled storage environment for sensitive materials that may not need to meet cleanroom standards, but have and ISO class 8 cleanroom for quality control testing.

 

Angstrom has the experience and knowledge to design the right cleanroom for your application. Contact us today to find out more!

How to Control Humidity in Your Cleanroom

How to Control Humidity in Your Cleanroom

Controlling the humidity in your cleanroom is crucial, not only to meet government and company specifications, but to protect the integrity of your processes and product. If the humidity is too high, bacterial growth can flourish, metal products or equipment can corrode, photolithographic degradation can occur, and condensation and water absorption can occur. If the humidity is too low, static buildup and discharge can become an issue. Plus, poorly controlled humidity can make working conditions uncomfortable for your employees. What are some of the methods you can use to control humidity in your cleanroom?

Air conditioning/mechanical refrigeration

Humidity is relative, meaning that the lower the temperature is, the lower the relative humidity is. It makes sense then if you lower the temperature in the space, the humidity will decrease. When using air conditioning systems to dehumidify a space, the system lowers the temperature of a surface to a temperature below the dew point of the airstream in the cleanroom. The surface is exposed to the airstream in the cleanroom, and the water vapor in the airstream condenses, subsequently dehumidifying the space. To maintain the desired room temperature, the air must be re-heated and piped back into the cleanroom.

Desiccants

Desiccant systems draw air through a desiccant medium, which absorbs moisture. The dehumidified air is then routed to the cleanroom. Unlike consumer-grade desiccant systems, which collect condensate in a receptacle that must be emptied (if you’ve ever had a dehumidifier in your home, say in a finished basement, which can trap moisture, you’ll recall having to empty the condensed water), commercial systems exhaust humid air through the ductwork, out of the building. This allows for greater dehumidifying power and the ability to dehumidify to lower relative humidity levels at lower temperatures.

These systems are not mutually exclusive, in fact, both work best when used in conjunction, especially where temperature control is also important, as in a cleanroom. Using a desiccant system in addition to air conditioning can also help reduce the load on the HVAC system, saving energy, wear and tear on the HVAC system, and, of course, money.

Humidity control is absolutely critical in some cleanroom applications, such as semiconductor manufacturing and pharmaceutical manufacturing, but it is an important consideration no matter your application. Monitoring and controlling your cleanroom humidity, whether through air conditioning/mechanical refrigeration, a desiccant system, or both, is necessary to meet your cleanroom’s specifications and to ensure cleanroom integrity.   

No matter your application, Angstrom can design a cleanroom to meet your cleanroom needs. Contact us to discuss your cleanroom project.

Design Options to Reduce Your Cleanroom Budget

Design Options to Reduce Your Cleanroom Budget

When you’re commissioning a new cleanroom, it can feel like a necessary evil. You need a cleanroom to start operations, but it costs a lot of money that you might not have available in the budget at the time. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. At this point, you’re probably looking for anything that will get you the cleanroom you need in the time frame you have. Luckily, there are a variety of design options that can solve some of the most common budget concerns. Here are a few cost-cutting design options to keep in mind when you’re looking for a cleanroom now:

Go Modular

One of the absolute quickest and easiest ways to save money on a cleanroom design is to opt for a modular cleanroom over a traditional cleanroom. In most cases, this is a perfectly valid solution, as modular cleanrooms can perform to almost all of the highest cleanroom standards. Additionally, modular cleanrooms can be modified to accommodate business expansions. And most importantly, they’re cheaper and quicker to build than your traditional cleanroom. When you opt for a modular cleanroom, you can get the cleanroom you can afford now without barring yourself from expanding to the larger cleanroom you really want in the future. If budget is an issue, modular cleanrooms are the way to save.


Make it Smaller

Sure, you want a cleanroom that’s big enough to handle the processes you plan on implementing in the future, but can you get by with something smaller for the time being? In the case of modular cleanrooms, there’s a lot you can do to get by with a smaller cleanroom. For example, you can use an existing wall and build your modular cleanroom off of that, which will reduce building and material costs. Remember, you can always build off of that existing cleanroom, or move it to a larger space down the road.

Additionally, by choosing a cleanroom design with a lower ceiling, you’ll also save money when it comes to energy and material costs. The smaller your cleanroom is, the less money it will cost to run it, and the less energy you’ll need to keep it to your ISO standard. If you can get by with a cleanroom with a lower ceiling and a more conservative size, and you need a cleanroom right now, then it’s not a bad idea to start small and expand later on. It’s good to note, though, that if you plan on expanding, to make sure you tell your cleanroom expert. They’ll be able to walk you through the best way to construct a cleanroom that works for you now, but will be compatible with additional processes when you do expand in the future.


Consider LED lighting

Cleanroom lighting makes up a large portion of the money spent on maintaining a cleanroom. Cleanrooms often require super-bright lighting options. While these lights are great at keeping the room well lit for employees, they’re often responsible for adding a surprising amount of additional heat to a cleanroom. This forces your AC unit to work even harder, which results in a spike in overall energy costs.

Today, there are a variety of LED cleanroom lighting options on the market that solve this problem. You can choose from a standard panel style to a strip style LED light that adheres to directly to the ceiling grid, without interfering with your cleanrooms’ laminar flow. LED lights produce little to no additional heat, and have an exceptionally long life, ensuring that you don’t have to constantly replace light bulbs and keeping your cleanroom cool.


Use your existing AC unit

Another great way to save money is to design a cleanroom that will function on your building’s existing HVAC or heating and cooling unit. This is an efficient way to control the temperature of your cleanroom, so long as your building’s unit can handle the extra load that your new cleanroom will add. Consult with your building’s heating and cooling expert to ensure the unit can handle that much energy, and if it can, you’re in luck!

It is good to note that some cleanroom class standards do require a cleanroom have its own AC module, in case the central unit fails. In this case, or in the case that your central unit is already overworked, you’ll need to ensure your cleanroom is properly ventilated to the outside. Though it’s usually cheaper to ventilate a cleanroom into the larger building, this puts a lot of additional stress on both your cleanrooms AC unit and the HVAC unit in the building. Avoid this if possible, to keep both units working in top condition for their intended lifespan.


Pre-Filters

We get a lot of questions from clients wondering if pre-filters are an acceptable option to use in conjunction with heavy duty HEPA and ULPA filters. The answer is definitely yes! Pre-filters are put in front of the larger filters and can be up to 80% efficient at capturing larger dust particles before they reach the HEPA and ULPA filters. This keeps your larger, more important filters cleaner for longer. Pre-filters are relatively inexpensive and easily cleaned and reused. By using pre-filters in addition to your HEPA or ULPA filters, you extend those more expensive filters’ lifetime and save yourself quite a bit of money.


Pass-Thru Chambers

Pass-thru chambers are another sneaky way to save money on your cleanroom. They’re a lot smaller than an access door, and they allow employees to transfer supplies or materials without having to gown up. This saves both money and time: money because in using a pass-thru chamber instead of a full door, you eliminate the possibility of contamination from foot-traffic and maintain a stable pressure during the interaction; and time because your employees won’t have to properly gown up to enter the cleanroom via the access door. In installing a pass-thru chamber as part of your new cleanroom design, you’ll save money by lowering energy costs and increasing employee productivity.

 

We hope that this list helps you find a cleanroom that works both for your application and your budget. If you have more questions regarding a cleanroom design that works for you, make sure to give the experts at Angstrom a call! We’re always here to help answer any cleanroom questions you can throw at us, so get in touch with our office at 888-768-6900, or request a cleanroom quote online today!

Cleanroom Cleaning and Sterilization Tips

Cleanroom Cleaning and Sterilization Tips

Cleaning a cleanroom seems a bit counterproductive, doesn’t it? By name, a cleanroom is already supposed to be clean, so what would the point of actually sterilizing it be? Unfortunately, no cleanroom, regardless of its ISO standard, is 100% effective. By having people move about in the cleanroom, particles are bound to fall and contaminate your cleanroom from time to time. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you and your employees are regularly cleaning your cleanroom. If you’re new to cleanrooms, there are a few methods you can use, as well as a few precautions to keep in mind. We’ll start with standard cleanroom sterilization methods:

Sterilization

Dry Cleaning

For regular, routine cleaning, dry cleaning – or dry transfer – is the most common method of sterilization. This type of cleaning refers to the polishing or wiping of a surface with an absorbent or collective cloth. There are a variety of cleanroom-approved materials well-suited to this sort of sterilization, but the one you choose will depend on your cleanroom’s class. At the very least, you’ll want to ensure that whatever wipes you choose for routine dry transfer cleanings are lint-free. This will decrease the amount of lint and particles left behind from the dry transfer cleanroom sterilization. Dry transfer is commonly used on a daily basis to remove the minimal amount of particulate buildup that occurs in a short period of time.

Wet Cleaning

Wet cleaning, the process of cleaning with an approved solution or cleaning fluid, is necessary when a standard dry transfer cannot remove the particulate that’s accumulated over a period of time – generally once a week. There are a variety of cleaning solutions suited to removing cleanroom particulate, but the one you choose for your cleanroom will depend on the surfaces you’re cleaning as well as the class rating of your cleanroom. It’s important to note that you’ll want to choose a product that’s approved by the EPA and is suitable for use in a cleanroom. EPA-approved products are often safer for your employees, as they emit less toxic fumes.

Instating Your Cleaning Process

Before you begin assigning employees to sterilize your cleanroom, you’ll first need to take a few initial organizational steps:

Standard Operating Procedure

You’ll need a clear, outlined procedure for each type of cleanroom sterilization process you plan on implementing: daily, weekly, and monthly. This procedure will ensure that every employee knows exactly what they’re responsible for at each cleaning. Your SOPs should include proper dilution techniques for any cleaning solutions used and should give an outline of which order employees should clean surfaces and appliances.

Training Employees

After creating the necessary SOPs, it’s time to train the employees who will be responsible for sterilizing the cleanroom. It’s a good idea to have a few designated employees who will always handle the cleaning. This ensures that the process is completed consistently each time. Employees should know exactly what to do from the point of entering the cleanroom with sterilized cleaning products and equipment to discarding of any waste after the cleaning is complete. By training and regularly observing the employees responsible for sterilization, you’ll be better able to ensure that your cleanroom is always cleaned properly.

Additional Cleanroom Sterilization Tips

Clean From Top to Bottom

No matter what sterilization process you’re using, it’s important that employees always clean from top to bottom. In a thorough monthly cleaning, this means that employees should start with the ceiling, move to walls, and then tackle surfaces like tables and chairs, saving the floor for the absolute last. In cleaning the area from least contaminated sections to the dirtiest, you will ensure that minimal particulate is left behind.

Sticky Flooring

Many cleanrooms utilize sticky flooring to minimize the amount of particulate released into the cleanroom via shoes and dirt that collects on the floor. This is a great way to keep your cleanroom as sterile as possible, but it will require a different cleaning procedure. Ensure that your Standard Operating Procedure includes proper manufacturer instructions on the cleaning process for this sticky flooring.

Preparation of Cleaning Materials

It is paramount that employees follow proper preparation procedure for cleaning materials. In many cases, cleaning solutions must be diluted with water before they can be safely used on cleanroom surfaces. Improper dilution can result in 1) ineffective cleaning processes if there is too much dilution, and 2) the erosion and damage of cleanroom surfaces if solutions are not fully diluted. Most cleanroom sterilization products are caustic and require an adequate amount of dilution to ensure that they are removing only the particles that contaminate your cleanroom, and not corroding cleanroom surfaces. You’ll also want to double check that the cleaning materials you choose are suited to the surfaces within your cleanroom.

Beware of Fumes

Cleaning materials can cause a buildup of fumes, which contaminates your cleanroom and can be harmful to employees. To avoid fume buildup, ensure that fans and filter units are always left on during the cleanroom sterilization process.

Disinfect Cleaning Equipment

To protect from bringing in additional contaminants, it’s important to disinfect all cleaning equipment before it enters the cleanroom. This includes replacing old or disintegrating mop brushes and using new, uncontaminated cloths and wipes.

Follow Proper Gowning Procedure

In sterilizing the cleanroom, staff must follow standard gowning procedure. They should also treat cleaning as they would any other normal cleanroom operation. This means slow, controlled movements that limit the introduction or disturbance of contaminants.

With these basic sterilization tips, you can ensure that your cleanroom is always performing at its best by protecting your procedures, and reducing any possible contaminants in the area. Make sure you’re following a regular cleaning schedule, and keep your employees up to date if you ever make changes or adjust your cleaning SOPs. And if you have any other questions about sterilizing your cleanroom, give the experts at Angstrom a call. We’re always happy to help! Contact our office by phone at 888-768-6900, or request a quote online today.


Updating Your Cleanroom the Right Way

Updating Your Cleanroom the Right Way

Updating your cleanroom can be daunting. After all, there are so many factors that need to be considered when it comes to any change to the cleanroom environment. You have to consider the specification you need to meet, cost, durability, and maintenance requirements of additions or replacements. But investing in some smart upgrades can really improve the cleanliness, ease of maintenance, efficiency, and ergonomics of your cleanroom space.

LED Lights

LED lighting is a no-brainer when it comes to upgrading your cleanroom. When compared with fluorescent lighting it’s easy to see why: LED lights are very efficient, emit little heat, and require little maintenance, whereas fluorescent lights are fragile and need replacing often. LEDs have the longest lifespan of any commercially available light source, which makes them worth investing in.

LED lighting also beats fluorescent lighting in system efficiency (greater than 50 lumens/watt for LEDs, less than 30 lumens/watt for fluorescents). This is because fluorescent lighting is omnidirectional, emitting light for 360°. Fixture housings are required to redirect fluorescent light to the desired area. LEDs emit light for only 180°, which makes it easy to target light over the desired area–more light actually reaches it.

Panel Repair

If your cleanroom wall panels are damaged, it can be costly to replace them. If the damage isn’t too extensive, it’s possible that panels can be repaired instead of replaced. Repairing damaged panels will improve the aesthetic of your space, but most importantly, it will help maintain the integrity of the cleanroom. Damaged panels could give off particulate matter or allow contaminants to breach the cleanroom.

Vinyl Walls and Ceilings

Vinyl is a smart upgrade for two reasons: cleaning and surface resistance. Vinyl is easy to clean and allows complete removal of particles, in addition to its low particulate emission. Vinyl can also have dissipative or conductive levels of static resistance, making it ESD safe, if that’s something your cleanroom requires.

New Flooring

Due to a variety of factors (gravity, for example), floors are often the dirtiest part of a cleanroom. Just like walls and ceilings, vinyl is also a good flooring choice for the same reasons: chemical resistance, static dissipative or conductive resistance, low particulate emission, and easy cleaning. There are also a variety of other flooring types such as rubber, epoxy coating, urethane, etc., with different characteristics to meet specific purposes. Cleanrooms with heavy vehicle and wear traffic may benefit from ultra-durable rubber flooring, whereas cleanrooms with the need for chemical and stain resistance might require urethane.

There are many ways to spend money while updating your cleanroom, but smart upgrades can help you make the most of your renovations, and your cleanroom. If you’re looking to upgrade your modular cleanroom, be sure to call Angstrom Technology at 888-768-6900 or request a quote online today!

How Much Space Does Your Cleanroom Need?

How Much Space Does Your Cleanroom Need?

One of the most difficult considerations when designing a cleanroom is determining how big or small it needs to be. The goal is to create a cleanroom that is big enough to house operations, but only just. If your cleanroom is considerably larger than you actually need it to be, then you end up wasting a lot of money by keeping that extra space clean as well. If your cleanroom is too small, you won’t reach required production levels and you may not have enough space for all of your machinery. So, how do you decide what your dimensions should be? Here are a few things to take into account:

Clearance

Sure, maybe you have a warehouse with a ton of empty space, but that doesn’t mean you should use all of it for the cleanroom proper. You need to make space allowances for both big HEPA, ULPA, and pre-filters, and you have to consider the installation of the cleanroom itself. Regarding the ceiling, you’ll need at the absolute minimum 6 inches of clearance. Less than that, and you risk starving your filters for air, defeating the purpose of the cleanroom in the first place. We recommend you leave about three feet, if you have the room, to allow for hassle-free changing of your filters. They’re not small, and it will make the job much easier if your employee has a little room to move up there.

When it comes to the walls, we understand that most people like to build against existing walls to conserve space. While this is fine if you absolutely need the space, the installation, and any future maintenance, will be considerably easier if you leave a three-foot perimeter around your cleanroom. This gives you more room to work with, and it makes any future expansions, updates, and even the initial installation go a lot faster.

As a final point on clearance, if you do have a ton of space, it’s important to remember that your cleanroom doesn’t need to take up the entire room. In order to be cost-effective, your cleanroom should be the right size for your operations, and no larger. The more dead space, the more money you pay for no reason.

Machinery

Another key consideration is to estimate exactly how much space any machinery or appliances will take up. If you already have the machinery, we suggest placing it on the floor of your existing area to get an idea of how much space the machines alone will take up, and how far apart they’ll need to be to provide employees safe and convenient access. Any kind of machinery is going to be your biggest factor in determining cleanroom size.

Workers

Once you figure out how much space your machines need, you’ll next have to decide how many workers your operation will require, and how much space they will need to function efficiently within the cleanroom. This should include any workspace required within the cleanroom. If they need to use a table, desk, computer, or chairs, these should all be taken into account when you’re thinking about your cleanroom size. Your employees should have enough room to access the machinery, and comfortably walk from point A to point B, without running into, or interrupting, other workers.

Heat

The final consideration regarding cleanroom space has to do with temperature. While the majority of cleanrooms are modular, any type of cleanroom structure you create will trap heat. This means that if you have a lot of machinery running within the cleanroom or a lot of employees, you may have to factor in a greater amount of space to keep the cleanroom from overheating. Since you can’t – like other rooms – just open a window or door, there has to be enough space built into the design to allow your air conditioner to keep the room at a stable temperature. This is imperative to the function of the cleanroom itself, as well as the productivity of your employees.

It’s also important to note that if you opt for a modular cleanroom, you can always expand along with your production. Modular cleanrooms are highly adjustable, which means you can add on to your existing cleanroom whenever you need the extra space, and if production slows for any reason, it’s relatively simple to bring your cleanroom in a bit. For optimal flexibility, we always advise those in search of a cleanroom to go for a modular option. This way, even if the cleanroom ends up the wrong size, it can easily and affordably be re-fitted for your current business operations.

We hope this helps you determine what size cleanroom you need! If you have any more questions regarding cleanrooms, from installations to maintenance, Angstrom Technology is happy to help. We’ve been in the industry for decades, so we’re confident that we can address any issue you’re having quickly and effectively. Whether you’re interested in a cleanroom, or you just have a few questions, make sure to get in touch. You can call our office at 888-768-6900, or contact us online today!