Question: What’s the most efficient and cost-effective way for a growing company to deal with airborne molecular contamination (AMC) through the life cycle of a manufacturing facility?
Answer: “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ~Proverb
Often facilities engineers in growing technology companies are challenged to address airborne molecular contamination (AMC) not only in their facility’s current space and under present operating conditions, but with an eye to the future. The smart money plans AMC controls focusing on flexibility, growth, and the evolving facility functions they may need to accommodate. Sounds good in theory, but how, in reality, can one best accomplish this goal?
While many AMC control initiatives are incident driven events—accidental spills and fugitive emissions from process equipment are but two examples that propel a reactive AMC response—ever decreasing product metrics, deteriorating exterior air quality, and increasing process sensitivities driven by new technologies can challenge the most talented facilities engineers, especially when considered against the everpresent budget balance.
Traditionally, a sound approach to AMC control is divided into three general segments:
- Evaluating both the controlled and ambient environments for pertinent types of AMC to determine a needs assessment.
- Developing an AMC control plan and implementing targeted control measures.
- Continuously monitoring the controlled environment to determine the strategy’s success or failure, while adjusting remedial approaches.
Given the rapid growth and changing requirements based on evolving products, process technologies, and external environmental factors impacting today’s clean manufacturers, the wise facilities engineer adds a fourth segment: planning an AMC control system that integrates the maximum amount of foresight and flexibility possible. A difficult challenge when one considers that “acceptable” levels of airborne molecular contamination will continue to decrease as future device generations are adopted. Another challenge is the ever evolving functional space requirements in growing companies. As interior spaces are retrofitted to meet increased production demands, square footage requiring AMC control is added, sometimes in less than desirable locations within the plant. Or, growing companies simply relocate or convert existing real estate as facility layouts change in response to the company’s evolution: research areas may become production spaces as technologies are proven and manufacturing takes the lead.
Following are some purely practical “rules of the road” for facilities engineers charged with the AMC control challenge:
1. “To the drawing boards”: Adopt this as your mantra. An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure.
2. Assemble your team: You can’t be all things to all people, nor can you be all knowledge to all processes. Key people to tap in developing an effective future AMC control strategy include:
a. The “cleanroom owner” who has the most intimate knowledge of the plant and the company. No one understands better how their facility really operates, the chemicals in play, the manufacturing processes, and the reactions occurring during manufacturing. Depending on your organizational structure, this person could be in charge of manufacturing operations or hold any other number of job titles.
b. The experienced engineering consultant will do more than simply produce design documents meeting your specifications. A strong engineering partner supplements the owner’s knowledge in critical ways. They can anticipate future opportunities and problems in scenario planning. They have extensive clean manufacturing experience across a variety of platforms and companies that you can draw upon, as well as a detailed understanding of the impacts of various construction materials with respect to outgas levels and chemical incompatibilities. They understand sizing and locating all HVAC components to best meet future needs. Their extensive database of past experience may, in certain instances, allow for materials approval without testing.
c. The technically savvy contractor can foresee potential problems and avoid them in advance. An experienced clean manufacturing contractor has “been there, done that, and seen it all.” Developing a long term relationship with an experienced contractor specializing in clean manufacturing can save hassles, headaches, and money. Even better if the contractor and the outside engineer have a strong history of collaboration in clean environments.
d. The executive suite insider can provide insight into the company’s strategic direction and likely expansion scenarios. Too frequently the facilities engineer is among the last to know. Develop strong relationships in the C-suite so you’ll be ahead of the curve.
e. The AMC Controller—if you don’t have one on staff, grow one. The AMC Controller doesn’t need to be a world class expert on AMC control; they do need to be able to function as a critical information link between the company, the outside consultants, equipment vendors, and other sources of credible AMC information. Make sure their authority equals their responsibilities.
f. The municipal planning staff. It’s always good to know if a facility, roadway construction, or other infrastructure project that could impact your ambient air quality is in the works. A new manufacturing plant is generally welcome economic development news. That plant located, with its stacks, near your manufacturing facility changes your game plan.
3. Engage your engineering consultant and contractor early. A few thousand dollars spent on planning assistance to develop alternatives and scope can save you much more in actual dollars and time later when the project becomes “real.”
4. Equip your toolbox and train your key in-house personnel well to fully utilize the latest tools. For example, utilizing BIM (Building Information Modeling) as more than a three-dimensional design tool will pay big benefits. It can facilitate future renovations or modifications, consolidate plans and facility information, ensure contractors and subcontractors have uniform information, deliver invaluable clash detection information during design to avoid costly change orders during construction, provide a reliable cost database over time, and reduce your reliance on your facility staff’s “institutional knowledge” when undertaking a new capital project or addressing a problem. Enough said.
5. Simulate future clean manufacturing spaces during planning using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling when appropriate. Airflow modeling analysis can simulate the operation of a facility while still in design. Using parameters such as modeled concentrations of contaminants, velocity, turbulence, pressure, and temperature, CFD can inform the design team and optimize facility layouts.
6. Design with flexibility in mind. Today’s research space may be tomorrow’s manufacturing center. This is true for both start-up companies and well established manufacturers.
Meeting the goal of contamination free manufacturing goes beyond source control and source monitoring combined with appropriate air system filtration systems. Future scenario planning can maximize the effectiveness of the budget and greatly reduce tomorrow’s issues, costs, and delays when expanding or retrofitting clean manufacturing spaces down the road. Anticipating potential future scenarios is more practical than prophetic.
Richard Bilodeau, PE, is director of engineering at SMRT, architects and engineers (www.smrtinc.com). His 30 year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. Richard has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities, numerous industrial projects, healthcare facilities, and corporate offices. He’s engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceutical clients. Richard can be reached at: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com.