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Darwin would favor modular cleanroom design

Category: Whitepaper
Date: July 24, 2020

Rapidly changing needs in cleanroom technology business

Today’s cleanroom concepts are evolving towards a modular design approach in order to meet rapidly changing needs in cleanroom technology business. Cleanroom concepts that adapt easily to these changing needs will keep evolving. If your business requires a classified space, we at ABN Cleanroom Technology hold on to modularity. Modular building blocks with a fixed and strong structure will lead to approved high-quality products. In this whitepaper, we will discuss how the concept of legolization can be implemented in cleanroom technology, how it enables modularity and thus keeps the cleanroom evolution going.

Experimenting and building with Lego blocks extends beyond children’s play time. These blocks present an opportunity to learn the basics of engineering. Haven’t you been toying around with Lego? Perhaps you still do? Block by block building steady constructions, but only after thinking thoroughly about every single building block that you are going to add to your design.

If there is one type of toys that excels in modularity, it must be Lego. These blocks are small building blocks that are characterized for their standardization. A Lego block can therefore be seen as a metaphor for the smallest standardized component that is used as a building block. The point here is that your building blocks have the same DNA. The structure is fixed and strong, the form is customizable. That is the core of Lego and of our whitepaper.

Legolization in cleanroom technology

A term introduced by professor Hennes de Ridder and well-known from a structural engineering point of view is ‘Legolization’: the concept of combining fixed building blocks to create solutions that might differ in form, but never in DNA, leading to high-qualified products that are approved by everyone who is involved in a certain case.

This is exactly the way how we at ABN Cleanroom Technology look towards cleanroom design. We approach cleanroom design as something modular with pre-engineered building blocks that have the same structure. That is what modern cleanroom design is all about. Cleanrooms can’t these days be looked at as something static or changeless. They need to evolve over time and the modification cost can be reduced significantly due their modular design. Modularity allows the cleanroom to be more flexible and configurable.

Our experience with cleanroom design made us notice a modular paradox: every cleanroom must be identical, but it must be tailored to the customer as well. We believe that modular cleanroom design can very well deal with this paradox through standardized building blocks. Therefore, we have defined 12 building blocks that contain all the intelligence needed for optimal cleanroom design. When designing and building a cleanroom, we act Lego-wise: starting from scratch and just go ahead building with our pre-defined and approved building blocks creating high quality cleanroom solutions at short notice.

Imagine creating a cleanroom that determines the standard, that contains everything you need. Now, put every relationship between the elements of that cleanroom in a parametric scalable model to make it fit in every project. And make it demountable from a sustainable point of view. An important characteristic of modularity is its reuse functionality, more specifically meaning that as many components as possible can be reused in a new ‘life’ with a minimum of energy. Modular cleanroom design allows a lot more sustainability than non-modular cleanroom design because the materials can be reused at the demolition phase.

We’re shifting from a process-oriented to a product-oriented design. This means that complex processes are no longer necessary if the product is designed in such a way that modularity becomes possible.

Embedded intelligence reducing project risk

As mentioned earlier in the article, pre-engineered building blocks contain all the intelligence needed for optimal cleanroom design. Firstly, intelligence is a result of continuous research, so inaccuracies have been filtered out of the building blocks. Secondly, we are talking about intelligent building blocks because they can be implemented in such an enormous variety of applications.

The result of this embedded intelligence is that the risk of a project reduces to nearly 0. Traditional cleanroom projects come with a much higher project risk because a lot of the thinking must be performed on-site. As a result of a pre-engineered way of working, the least possible thinking takes place on-site, delivering high-qualified projects.

Moreover, from a system engineering point of view, modular cleanroom design directly relates to an increased quality of design. Professor E. Puik did research on the relation between the quality of the design and the knowledge of its designer based on Axiomatic Design Methodology. He concluded that knowledge is essential to a designer and that the relation between the design and the knowledge of its designer is proportional. Nowadays, designers are evolving towards a decoupled design. By implementing modular and pre-engineered cleanroom design, decoupled design systems can be introduced. A decoupled design system is characterized by the fact that missing relations between the domains or errors in one of the domains do not lead to a decrease in reliability of the product life cycle [link whitepaper 5 forces].

Engineering to Order (ETO) versus Configure to Order (CTO)

I think we all agree that we are currently living in a world where the ‘now’ experience is extremely important, and has become the new standard. Even in the field of cleanroom technology. Up until recently, we operated in an Engineer to Order (ETO) model, leading to higher delivery times. In order to cut delivery times back significantly, we decided to make a pre-engineered product family available in a Configure to Order (CTO) model.

Engineer to Order is time-consuming and a lot of pressure is put on the engineering department. This approach definitely has its disadvantages: the calculation proceedings last a while and it takes weeks, if not months, for the engineering department to finish up, with recurring development costs on top.

Configure to Order on the contrary is much better suited for today’s rapidly changing needs in cleanroom technology. CTO reduces much of the workload from the engineering department and contributes to the supply chain management within a manufacturing company. After all, the purchasing department and production department can get started as soon as they receive the order. Moreover, by decreasing the workload on the engineering department, new space is created for innovation. The power of innovation is essential to stay ahead of the competition.

CTO brings several benefits in comparison with ETO. CTO makes the process less sensitive to errors in the first place. The process is optimized and errors are quickly detected and solved before they escalate and delay the project. Additionally, the delivery time of the product is minimized. Because the engineering phase shortens, time savings as well as cost savings are tremendous. Engineers invest their time in a new design once, resulting in high-qualified modular products for cleanroom technology, precisely tailored to the requirements of the customer.

Darwin and the evolution of cleanroom design

As a cleanroom supplier, we are moving forward from one-off customization to a pre-engineered product family. Our customer’s business evolves rapidly as well. Needs change over time: today, a small dimensioned cleanroom is required, next week it must be enlarged due to increasing business. Or changing the classification from ISO7 to ISO6? With the old-fashioned way of building cleanrooms, these alterations are not so obvious.

We notice that customers who have always been specifying the product itself are now becoming customers who determine the context of the product. The focus is set on the function that the cleanroom must fulfil. So, instead of defining the product specifications, the cleanroom end-user now defines the outcome (“Just guarantee that my classified space has an ISO7 classification and that all of my machinery fits in well”).

Far too many cleanrooms are built from a top-down approach, starting out from a given idea. They are unique and unfortunately, sub-optimal. We prefer bottom-up thinking: from the inside out and not the other way around. We start at the bottom, work upwards and we use what we have done already as support for what we are currently doing to continue evolving. A well-known method for continuously improving products is the Plan-Do-Check-Act method. A fundamental principle of this method is iteration: once a design is confirmed, executing the cycle again will extend the knowledge further. Repeating the PDCA circle results in highly qualified products because knowledge can be reused.

Just like cars, computers and planes, cleanrooms must be designed so they can easily evolve over time, whether they are new or being renovated. Can we state that the famous theory of Darwin can be applied to cleanrooms? I think we can. Cleanroom concepts that adapt easily and fast to changing circumstances will keep evolving, the others will most certainly disappear. Legolization enables modularity, which is the only way to keep cleanroom evolution going.

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