Cleanrooms are basically controlled spaces where particulate counts, temperature, relative humidity and pressure are controlled and monitored. While movies and the sci-fi genre may make these spaces seem very high-tech, they are actually quite basic in design and function. In fact, you can transform almost any existing space into a cleanroom, although the cost of doing so be quite high.
For companies who plan on completing short-term projects or production runs with specific products who do not have a working cleanroom, using a modular cleanroom, also known as a “portable cleanroom” can be a viable alternative.
Modular Cleanroom Benefits
A modular cleanroom can provide many benefits. The primary benefit is cost with flexibility and portability of processes following as a secondary benefit. Below are just a few of the possible benefits of choosing a modular cleanroom over a “built-in” option.
Versatility: Most modular cleanrooms can be assembled on-demand, and be ready to use in a couple of days. These are generally complete solutions requiring no ancillary expenses.
Flexibility: With portable cleanrooms, the customer can benefit from nearly unlimited floor-plans and layout options; adhering to what makes the most sense for a particular process. Alternatively, re configuring a built-in cleanroom to change the layout or design would require stopping processes and heavy construction costs.
Cost-efficient: A modular cleanroom is manufactured offsite; and can be custom built. They often cost a fraction of what permanent cleanroom construction would cost.
Renting and leasing: Most portable cleanroom builders have options to lease or rent the portable cleanroom. This makes sense for companies that know they have a short-term project. They can rent or lease a cleanroom for a short term and then return it if they need something different for the next project.
Tax break: Since a modular cleanroom can be easily disassembled and is completely portable, and moved to a different location within the company, it is considered a piece of capital equipment; benefiting from the same tax regulations as other machinery and capital equipment.
Cleanliness: For cleanroom classification requirements of ISO 6 and above, a modular/portable cleanroom can be the better option; the materials used in modular cleanrooms do not face the same material degradation challenges faced with permanent cleanroom construction.
Types of Modular Cleanrooms
Hard wall Modular Cleanrooms: These portable cleanrooms are typically designed and built to customer specifications. They are delivered on-site and installed/assembled by a manufacturer representative. Hard wall modular cleanrooms are typically built using vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass or a combination of these materials. They can be configured with windows and doors placed according to the buyers specification. They typically come complete with monitoring solutions for particle counts, temperature, pressure, and relative humidity. It is important to note, however, the monitoring instruments included in modular hardwall cleanrooms may not always be top-of-the-line, so it is important to consider using a third party, stand-alone solution for more accurate monitoring. Also included are HEPA filtration units that can be configured to meet ISO 5 – ISO 9 standards, in most cases.
Soft-wall Modular Cleanrooms: These are the most portable of all modular cleanroom designs. Customers can typically select the thickness of the plastic sheeting/enclosure, the level of filtration (and in some cases they can be outfitted to tie in to existing HVAC systems). The plastic sheeting is usually mounted on steel or aluminum frames complete with casters. While soft-wall modular cleanrooms offer the highest in portability factor, they may not reach the same cleanliness levels that hard-wall modular cleanrooms can. It all depends on the manufacturer and the cost the buyer is willing to bear.
Perhaps the greatest challenge with any cleanroom, but particularity with a modular cleanroom, is maintaining mandated cleanliness and keeping the overall environment consistent. The best way to avoid contamination is to have an accurate particle counter on site, or to have your modular cleanroom bench tested regularly. Just as important as particulate counts and air exchange rates is maintaining air quality. This generally means pressure, temperature and humidity. To monitor and maintain air pressure, temperature and relative humidity, a stand-alone cleanroom differential pressure, temperature and relative humidity monitor is essential. Differential pressure is what keeps pollutants out of a standard cleanroom (or keeps caustic chemical fumes and particles in when using a negative pressure isolation room). These highly precise cleanroom monitors are relatively inexpensive, and can be easily attached to your portable modular cleanroom. A number of these are available, each of which have different features. Always check if the instrument you choose can alert local staff, as well as provide advanced alerts via SMS, email and/or automated phone calls.
Early detection in air quality issues will save a great deal of potentially lost time, money and contamination remediation.