Product manufacturing, research and development, and other applications in fields ranging from aerospace and semiconductors to pharmaceuticals require a sterile environment for safe operations. As such, cleanrooms are very important in these industries, helping maintain product integrity and limiting the presence of airborne contaminants.
Standard HVAC equipment is insufficient for managing cleanroom air conditions because it can’t reach the tight temperature and humidity requirements and doesn’t contain the HEPA filters needed to maintain such an environment. That’s why Air Innovations creates customizable environmental process control systems for critical cleanroom applications.
What Are Cleanrooms?
For industries in which even small particles can have a detrimental effect on products or operations, cleanrooms are an optimal solution. These highly regulated, contaminant-free spaces are designed and constructed to ensure safe product research, manufacturing, assembly, testing, and packaging. To be considered a cleanroom, a space needs to meet the minimum cleanroom classification standards set forth in FED Std 209E or ISO14644-1. Cleanrooms can be designed to meet various classes ranging from ISO 1, which provides the most sterile environment, to ISO 9, with less strict air quality and cleanliness requirements.
Each industry has its own specifications and regulatory requirements for cleanroom HVAC systems. At Air Innovations, we operate a dedicated HVAC division to create systems specifically for cleanrooms and related critical applications. We develop and manufacture both standardized and customizable solutions for complete integration into cleanroom modular environmental systems, giving you the size, functionality, and system features you need for your specific application. Also, our certified systems can be designed to comply with ANSI, CE, CSA, ETL, MIL-STD, SEMI, and UL performance and safety standards.
Our cleanroom HVAC systems can effectively accomplish the following:
Eliminate open drive or belt-driven parts that could otherwise produce particles and contaminate the air stream
Create smaller footprints to save valuable floor space
Manage cleanroom humidity and temperature with precision
Dehumidify your cleanroom
Use sealants that are non-out-gassing
Combat HEPA filter losses through high-static blower integration
Maintaining a Cleanroom Environment
To effectively maintain your cleanroom environment, there are certain steps you should follow:
Develop proper cleaning routines. Clean your HVAC system from top to bottom to decrease the likelihood of contamination. Depending on its ISO class, the appropriate cleaning frequency for your system might be daily, weekly, or monthly.
Schedule regular air system maintenance. Conducting an air sampling and checking temperature, humidity, and pressure readings regularly will help ensure proper system performance.
Use the right cleaning materials. Incorrect cleaning materials can introduce corrosion-causing contaminants. Instead, use non-ionic, non-foaming, neutral solvents and chemicals coupled with woven rags or wipes of polyester construction. Mopping systems equipped with dirty-water separation are also helpful.
Train your employees. Teach employees about the proper cleaning protocol, as well as the standard dress code of protective clothing to wear during cleaning.
Heat load (the total amount of heat exuded by employees and equipment)
Required temperature, humidity, and dew point specifications
Desired air pressure and air supply source
Partner With Air Innovations for Environmental Process Control Solutions in Cleanrooms
When a sterile environment is crucial, cleanrooms prevent contamination that would otherwise compromise the safety and effectiveness of sensitive products. Regulating your cleanroom’s temperature, humidity, pressurization, filtration, airflow and rate requires high-performance HVAC systems that meet your needs and regulatory requirements.
Deciding between a clean room vs. a controlled environment requires a thorough understanding of your application and facility requirements. Some operations even use both, reserving a cleanroom for certain quality controls and more sensitive tasks. Read on to learn what controlled and cleanroom environments are, and what types of applications each is best suited for.
What is a Controlled Environment?
Controlled environments are spaces that control several local factors by adjusting resource inputs and outputs. Generally, the functions regulated by a controlled environment include the following:
Light spectrum and intensity
Carbon dioxide and oxygen levels
Controlled environments don’t need to meet particle filtration thresholds like cleanrooms do. Instead, their certification requirements are based on factors such as temperature and humidity controls. These must be periodically measured and logged, so the environmental controls can be adjusted accordingly.
If your requirements primarily revolve around temperature and/or humidity control, without the need for strict cleanliness or filtration, a controlled environment will meet your needs.
Common Applications for Controlled Environments
Controlled environments are used in numerous industries:
For the latter, the most important controls include humidity, airflow, temperature, and lighting. Controlling humidity and air exchanges can dramatically reduce the transmission of pathogens.
What is a Cleanroom?
Cleanrooms are a specialized type of controlled environment. They require more stringent controls on temperature and pressure, and their local air supply must be kept separate from the outside environment. Cleanrooms filter contaminants at the microscopic level, maintaining air purity with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration system.
Cleanrooms are required to meet ISO 14644-1 or FED Std 209E standards, which takes into account both the cleanliness and the number of air changes per hour. This is necessary to maintain precise filtration and particulate controls.
To certify that one of these classifications is being met, a room needs to be particle tested and have continual measurements of air pressure and filtration.
Some industries and applications will have additional cleanroom requirements, such as ASTM E2352 for Aerospace cleanrooms. Semiconductor companies require cleanrooms rated at Class 5 or lower, along with their own “SEMI” industry standards. Pharmaceutical and medical industries have other specific cleanroom standards.
Common Applications for Cleanrooms
What a cleanroom is used for depends on how sanitary a lab or other setting must be for a given application. Highly valuable equipment depends on accurate cleanroom controls, which are set by a classification system outlined in ISO-5/class 100 and ISO-6/class 1000.
There are also industry-specific cleanroom standards. The most common cleanroom types are as follows:
Semiconductor manufacturing cleanrooms
Pharmaceutical manufacturing cleanrooms
Research and development cleanrooms
Laser and optics cleanrooms
Cleanroom or Controlled Environment: Which Option is Right?
When deciding between a cleanroom and a controlled environment, the primary considerations are (A) the application and (B) the industry involved.
Generally, when a project requires environmental controls for stable temperatures and humidity, a controlled environment is what you need. If the application requires contaminant levels to be less than a specific threshold, a cleanroom is necessary.
This commonly applies to industries using highly sensitive electronics or purified chemical substances. The most common industries and applications for cleanrooms include the following:
Semiconductors & Microelectronics
Military & Aerospace
Hospital isolation rooms
Medical device manufacturing
For most other laboratory environments, controlled environments are usually acceptable. For instance, a process control laboratory working with chrome plating depends on stable environmental controls, but not at the level of a cleanroom.
Other applications for controlled environments include the following:
Agricultural research and food production
Facilities sometimes use both a controlled environment and cleanroom. For example, a laboratory might perform quality control testing in a certified ISO class 8 cleanroom but store the materials in a controlled environment if they don’t need to be kept at strict levels of cleanliness.
Contact Air Innovations for Cleanroom Environmental Control Solutions
Deciding between a controlled environment vs. a cleanroom is not difficult once you’ve clarified your application. For cleanrooms, several industries have specific cleanroom standards, in addition to fundamental national and international standards. Contact Air Innovations to learn more about cleanroom air purification. Our air filtration engineers have continually advanced cleanroom HVAC systems, including our customizable HEPAir and AdvancAir systems. The Air Innovation product line is built for a wide range of industrial, laboratory, and specialized uses, and our knowledgeable service technicians are standing by to assist you.
Standard HVAC systems control humidity, temperature, and air pressure. They can also provide filtration and control the speed and direction of airflow into and out of a space. Cleanroom HVAC systems, however, have higher air exchange rates and are equipped with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters to maintain a sterile environment. This allows them to meet stringent air filtration standards for industries like medical, pharmaceutical, and research & development laboratories. Selecting the right cleanroom HVAC system to meet your needs will depend on multiple factors that influence the size and design of your system.
What People Overlook When Looking for a Cleanroom HVAC Unit
There are several qualities buyers tend to overlook when selecting a cleanroom HVAC unit for their specific space and application. Typically, a buyer knows the size of the room and the cleanliness level they require, but this is only a fraction of the information manufacturers need to make or select your cleanroom’s HVAC unit. For example, you may know you need an HVAC cleanroom system for a 20’ x 20’ ISO Class 8 cleanroom, but you may not be aware of the room’s heat load or temperature range. It’s ideal to identify the following information before you proceed with the HVAC system design process.
Knowing the Total Heat Load in the Room
Understanding the total heat load of the room is crucial because it identifies the amount of heat that the cleanroom HVAC system will need to remove. Every device in that room that is drawing power must be considered as part of the total heat load. The HVAC unit you choose should be capable of removing that amount of heat via the air conditioner. To build a system of sufficient size to handle your heat load, determine the number of kilowatts each piece of equipment in your cleanroom produces. However, you should also include these factors in your calculations:
Square footage of your cleanroom
Number of people working in the space
Number of lights and their type (fluorescent or LED)
Number of windows in the room, as well as how much light they let in
Where’s Air Coming From – Inside vs. Outside Air
Understanding where your HVAC system draws its air from is critical for effective cleanroom cooling. Air can come from outside the facility or from an indoor location around the cleanroom. You need to determine the origin of the air to ensure it’s in an acceptable condition before the system pressurizes it. It’s also vital to know the air change rate and if your cleanroom system recirculates the air or is a single-pass system. The air change rate is how often external filtered air replaces the air currently in the cleanroom. A recirculating cleanroom system filters and recycles the air, while a single-pass system exhausts the air outside the cleanroom.
Existence of Exhaust in the Cleanroom
While important, many buyers never think about exhaust. All the air that the system exhausts from the room needs to be made up with what is essentially “more expensive” air. This is to say that, unlike recirculated air from within the cleanroom, incoming ambient air requires treating, consuming more energy and utilizing additional equipment to process. Recirculated air is stable as it’s already conditioned, with small amounts of heat and moisture added. Knowing the amount of air a cleanroom exhausts — as well as how much it leaks — is crucial to selecting the right-sized system to meet your temperature and humidity requirements.
What’s the Temperature, Relative Humidity, and Dew Point Range
Knowing your cleanroom’s ranges for temperature, relative humidity, and dew point throughout the year is essential when designing your HVAC system. Each value can change drastically throughout the different seasons. However, identifying your humidity at any given time, for example, is not enough. You must also know the temperature in the room at that particular humidity level, or vice versa. Pinpointing the maximum humidity at the highest temperature and the maximum humidity at the lowest temperature each season will help you to determine the appropriate type and size of HVAC system for your cleanroom.
Cleanroom HVAC Solutions From Air Innovations
When trying to identify the optimal cleanroom HVAC design for your operation, first gain a comprehensive understanding of your cleanroom’s conditions to select the right unit and size for your space. Air Innovations is an industry leader in designing, manufacturing, and testing custom environmental control systems when standard HVAC equipment won’t do the job. Since 1986, we’ve helped clients in diverse industries manage temperature, humidity, pressurization, and filtration in their process control systems.