In a military context, a tripwire is an unseen element, hidden from view. When disturbed, a tripwire commonly triggers a trap or explosion – wreaking damage, casualties, and chaos. In the world of controlled environments engineering, tripwires are unforeseen or unanticipated project issues with the potential to wreak havoc in the operations of a facility, and its budget.
How does today’s facilities professional spot and deactivate engineering tripwires, early in the design process, in order to avoid or mitigate the damage, cost, and delays that unanticipated issues can have on your capex project?
Following are some common issues capable of becoming project tripwires in the cleanroom or lab:
1.Future planning: My column last month — Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail — looked at how to avoid disasters out of the gate, including the spectre of changing processes, by carefully planning projects from the outset. For a refresher read, click here.
2.Flexibility: None of us can clearly see the future, but all of us are required to make what amounts to an educated gamble about where our business is going, how it’s growing, and what its production requirements might be in order to design flexibility into the floorplan and supporting HVAC systems. Make sure to give it due consideration.
3.Structural issues: One of the most common tripwires out there — failure to adequately investigate the structural integrity and load bearing capabilities of a building. Never purchase real estate, and never assume your existing building can handle an expansion, without first consulting a structural engineer. It is not a given that you can stack additional floors on your existing building, or that it can even handle the load of additional HVAC equipment on the roof. Make sure you understand a building’s structural limitations before green-lighting a project.
4.HPMs and their regulation: Hazardous production materials (HPMs) are standard components of manufacturing and research operations. HPMs are also highly regulated materials, not only at the Federal but often also at the municipal level. A common tripwire: regulations pertaining to the storage and transport of HPMs within a facility which can literally change floor-by-floor. Research the regs, and plan adequate and compliant storage for your current and anticipated future needs. This is an issue for the facilities team, not for the operations group who will be primarily concerned with what they need, when — often without adequate consideration of where the HPMs will be stored.
5.Entrainment issues: Indoor air quality (IAQ) is critical to the operations performed within cleanrooms and labs, as well as the health of employees. And while engineering process exhaust shouldn’t become anyone’s trip wire, surprising elements can lurk outside your controlled space which can inadvertently impact your environment. It’s important to do a scan of the surrounding external environment, and continually monitor it for changes during the life of your facility, to pick up any activities that could impact your air quality. In particular, be on the lookout for the process exhaust of other nearby operations, and street level contaminants generated from loading dock areas, or operating vehicles. The location of proposed air intake systems should take these external environmental factors into consideration. And when your options are limited, parking, idling, and loading dock operational procedures may need to be restricted. One other factor to consider, and which you absolutely can’t control: the weather. If your facility is located in colder climates, make sure you engineer your air intake systems to account for very fine snow that may fall during periods of extreme cold. This is not the type of “snow day” that equates to fun.
6.Humidity control: My colleague, Brad Hodges, PE, said it well in his article, The Sticky Challenge of Relative Humidity, in the January/February 2015 issue of Controlled Environments: “Failure to properly measure and control relative humidity in the cleanroom can result in lower yields, increased scrap and waste, contaminated product inadvertently reaching consumers, customer lines down, increased liabilities, and decreased revenues — among other situations best avoided. Carefully monitoring and controlling the relative humidity in a cleanroom is an absolute requirement — with no options.
Particulate count. Temperature. Airflow. Humidity. These five words are among the environmental factors that must be measured and controlled in the cleanroom environment. Sometimes the “stickiest” of these is humidity. Measuring and controlling it within prescribed parameters can be a challenge. Too little or too much RH can impact much more than the personal comfort of cleanroom employees. Too little humidity can be quite electrifying — creating issues of static build-up and discharge. Too much humidity brings its own woes: encouraging the growth of bacteria and microbes, corroding sensitive metals whether in products or equipment, and manifesting itself in moisture condensation and water absorption. Then there’s photolithographic degradation. Photoresist processes are among the most sensitive to humidity, and can be among the most costly to control for, due to their tightly required parameters. The bottom line: any of these conditions can result in cost overruns, scrapped products, and shortened equipment life. In short, the diminution of cleanroom performance, which is costly in itself.”
7.Adequate mechanical space: It’s always exciting when success drives expansion — and your budget gets approved for a new cleanroom or lab. But remember, behind every great cleanroom and every great lab stands a great supporting mechanical space. Don’t let the planning and layout of your mechanical space be an afterthought. Give it its due, with an eye towards not only fitting in all your required equipment, but with another eye on future needs and adequate space around the equipment to allow for ease of maintenance. One last reminder: make sure the access doors to your mechanical rooms can accommodate all proposed and anticipated future equipment.
8.Emerging standards and regulations: Promulgating new standards and regulations is a lengthy process, which can be a good thing when trying to get a view into proposals that have the potential to impact the planning of a project and your HVAC requirements. One example: USP 800 will require significantly more sophisticated air handling, separation of spaces and layout considerations impacting a variety of facilities. Always take the time to research what may be on the horizon, avoiding a potentially costly tripwire and associated redesign costs or construction change orders.
9.Energy considerations: Sustainability is more than a buzzword. In many municipalities, LEED certification is a requirement. Don’t get tripped up by failing to know what the regulations will require of your project, nor the expectations of your organization’s management around sustainability. Re-engineering HVAC is expensive.
10.Utility and road capacity: If you’re planning a major expansion or a new, greenfield facility, regulatory reviews will require the proposal be serviced by adequate utility and road capacities. While it sounds simple enough, this can become a major and expensive headache if you run up against these issues after wading too far into a project. You want to build a new cleanroom, not fund a major expansion of a municipal sewage treatment plant.
11.Waste disposal issues: At the end of the day, at the end of your production processes, there’s always waste. And waste — whether solid, liquid, or gaseous — needs to be disposed of in a legal, environmental, efficient and cost effective manner. While there are national environmental regulations to adhere to, at its most basic all waste disposal is local. Before undertaking a capex project, ensure that your proposed project has adequate and cost-effective waste disposal options. And when engineering your project, size waste disposal components with an eye towards future expansion. Upsized pipe is cheap when initially installed: ripping out and upsizing an entire system in the future is expansive.
Tripwires are dangerous things. In the world of facilities management, most can be avoided. Despite that, it can be surprising how often one can be called upon to untangle the problems outlined above — and a cure is always more expensive than preventive medicine.
Kate Everett, PE, LEED AP, is a principal and director of mechanical engineering services at SMRT Architects and Engineers. She has more than 25 years’ experience engineering complex, sustainable mechanical systems for science, technology, healthcare, education, and government clients. email@example.com; www.smrtinc.com
This article appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Controlled Environments.