The first question you need to ask yourself when you begin a cleanroom project is what type of construction you should use. The two standard answers are modular and conventional. There are several factors to consider when choosing a design plan.
*Costs: Who’s paying for the improvement?
Now, we must define what is meant by a modular and a conventional room. Modular rooms are wallpanel type systems with prefabricated materials, cut and ready for installation. Conventional rooms consist of drywall construction with metal studs, much like a typical office building.
Modular cleanrooms allow for a quick installation. The panels are of a standard size and fit into a standardized base track and cap track. The connecting posts can be used for electrical wiring or process piping and fit nicely into the aesthetic look and feel of the room. Quick installation also translates to faster time to production and the faster you start to make and sell product.
Typically, the base track and the walls of a modular room are up in a day and the ceiling grid is up and ready within a couple of days after. Of course, it depends on the size of your room, but these are typical time frames. Meanwhile, drywall takes about five days by the time you put up studs, set the drywall, get it inspected, tape and mud and finish the wall.
Modular panels are also easily modified in the field. Field personnel can adjust panels to fit as fluctuations in the original facility layout occur or as other unexpected situations arise. Pass-through units can also be added with minimum effort. The panels are cut and framed and the unit is installed into the frame. A pass-through can be even be added after the cleanroom has been installed.
Modular panels can also be attached to the existing connecting posts and ceiling grid to section off certain areas of the cleanroom. This allows you to conform to new procedures or processes as your company grows and accommodates new standards and practices. Modular panels can also be added to a conventional room in the same manner, to partition critical areas.
Modular panels additionally tend to offer a cleaner installation environment as well. Panels are pre-cut at the factory and except for minor field cuts, no other cutting should be necessary. This includes the aluminum extrusions for the base track, cap track and connecting posts as well.
The modular walls are also much more aesthetically pleasing and having your cleanroom “look like a cleanroom” is considered a benefit. The modular construction is also more functional in that moving panels and reconfiguring the room are easily accomplished. Modular can also be depreciated as equipment and can be recycled at the end of it’s life. In addition, modular panels last a long time. There are still modular rooms that look good even after 15-20 years.
However, this is not to say that conventional rooms do not have their own benefits. These rooms can incorporate return air chases, return air risers in the middle of the room and can meet ISO Class 5 rooms. The conventional room can be seen as tenant improvement. The landlord may negotiate the costs of the room into the lease. Since the structure is in place, the room may have a benefit to the future tenant. The room can be converted to standard office space once the cleanroom work has ceased. The room can be cleaned up and repainted and new work can begin.
Most pharmaceutical aseptic cleanrooms are built in the conventional way. These rooms need to be “wash-down” compatible so that liquids used to clean the room after production will not cause damage to the cleanroom structure. However, with the introductions of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences style walls, these are beginning to replace the conventional construction rooms. These rooms have corners that are curved, or coved, to allow for smooth clean-down from the wall surface to the floor or ceiling.
With a faster time to market for your product line, easier modifications and a look and feel of a cleanroom environment, modular cleanrooms are becoming much more popular. It is, however, best to consult with your cleanroom vendor to determine the best course for your cleanroom. They will take you through several scenarios and lay out your options. The ultimate choice is yours, the cleanroom vendor has the job of educating you so the best choice is made.
The author would like to acknowledge Steve Alley, Clean Rooms West, Tustin, CA, for his contributions to this article.