Despite the name, a cleanroom is much more than simply a room that is kept clean. Cleanrooms are highly controlled, isolated environments where air particulate levels are strictly controlled with the help of HEPA filtration. They are used in a wide variety of industries, including the pharmaceutical, semiconductor, and medical device industries. To ensure these cleanroom environments remain in compliance, furnishing decisions must be made carefully.
Materials of construction
Cleanroom furnishings must be constructed from materials that are easy to sterilize. Plastic Concepts (North Billerica, MA) fabricates most of its lab furniture out of polypropylene and other plastics that, according to the company’s president, Michael Thompson, are easy to clean and keep germ free. Stainless steel is also commonly used in cleanroom furnishings, says Andy Sinnamon, a technical adviser for lab products at Mott Manufacturing (Brantford, Ontario). Like polypropylene, stainless steel is a nonporous material, which is an ideal characteristic for use in cleanrooms. However, certain grades of stainless steel can corrode when cleaned with aggressive sterilants. Plastics, on the other hand, stand up better to daily sanitation. “The FDA, which regulates biotech, pharma, and food inspections, prefers when their clients use polypropylene because it helps to ensure they have a sterile environment,” says Thompson.
Sinnamon adds that the furniture in cleanrooms must be made of materials that do not harbor or shed dust particles, and careful attention must be paid to coatings. “Regular laboratory furniture does not have these design requirements,” he says.
Think about the process of having kitchen cabinets installed in your home. Those tasked with the installation would have to measure the kitchen space and consider how many pots and pans, plates, and glasses you have in order to make everything fit. Plastic Concepts goes through the same process when designing custom cleanrooms for biotech labs. “They all have different requirements for holding garments, equipment, products, and materials, and we find a way to accommodate them,” says Thompson. While architects and engineers work on the overall construction of the building, Plastic Concepts’ focus is on the details of designing the lab and supplying the furniture. “The advantage to our client is we can build anything they need within any space constraint they might have,” says Thompson, noting that cleanrooms, in particular, often need to fit a lot of items in a limited space.
Cleanrooms require not only specialized furniture, but also lab essentials like storage totes and bins that can withstand the cleanroom environment. Thompson has seen labs struggle to find items as simple as sterilizable document holders. “Nobody knows where to go shopping for this stuff,” he says. Plastic Concepts fills that need by manufacturing these types of miscellaneous items out of durable, sterilizable materials, as well as specially constructed furniture, so that they can be used in cleanrooms.
Worth the price
Doing your cleanroom up right may not be cheap. For instance, polypropylene runs at a higher cost than stainless steel, and clients must be prepared to pay if they want a custom-designed lab. When customers first learn the price of Plastic Concepts’ cleanroom-friendly containers, for instance, Thompson notes that there is often a bit of sticker shock because they are more costly than off-theshelf molded containers. “But they’re getting an item that is specific for their purpose,” he says. In the end, forking over a bit more cash can result in a cleanroom that is better equipped to perform the process requirements.