An Ode to Flexible Cleanroom Furniture
Why modular or mobile is the best way to go for CMOs
Sue Springett | | Opinion
When running a CDMO, your customers will have high expectations. Of course, you’ll need to be competitive on price, but you’ll also need to demonstrate that you can guarantee regulatory compliance and the highest standards of manufacturing practice, including hygiene. But one size never fits all. The ability to rapidly reconfigure your cleanrooms to meet the ever-changing needs of your customers and the marketplace has to be a priority.
When planning a new cleanroom or purchasing replacement or additional furniture for your existing spaces, there are several things to consider to ensure you are making the best use of the area available and getting maximum return on the investment in your kit. If you are 100 percent sure that the requirements of your cleanroom will never change, you may wish to opt for fixed furniture. However, if you want to be able to adapt in the future, a modular approach to cleanroom furniture is the way to go.
The use of free-standing or modular furniture allows a space to be reconfigured to support developments within the business as well as the different aseptic requirements of each project. The configuration of the room can be added to or simply adapted to meet all the needs of a new project.
And when it comes to maintaining ISO 14644 standards, your furniture plays a much bigger part than you may think. How furniture is designed and where it is positioned in a cleanroom can have a massive influence on air circulation – either hindering or assisting the flow – and microbe behavior. Although your HVAC system might be doing its job, a workbench or storage unit with a solid back panel immediately creates a barrier to ventilation. However, by switching from solid to perforated or slatted materials at the back of the workbench, dirt particles can disperse safely to mitigate risk. Ensuring that there is sufficient space around equipment so that air does not stagnate is something that should always be considered.
And what about your people? The single biggest risk to hygiene in laboratories is humans and the 10 g of skin we each shed every day. But humans present another risk in terms of their impact on airflow; for example, a person working in the wrong place for an extended period can cause airflow blockages and affect the hygiene of a cleanroom. And what governs where they’re working? That’s right, furniture.
If you are not already consulting with your cleaning team when reconfiguring your cleanroom, you are missing a trick. They are the experts and will know where challenges and risk areas lie. Seemingly innocuous shelves and edges can form potentially dangerous harborage points for objectionable organisms which, in the right conditions, can quickly multiply. And these danger zones are even more of an issue if your furniture is not designed with effective cleaning in mind. Every piece of furniture in your cleanroom should allow for easy access by your cleaning team. When adapting to each new contract, consider mobile furniture (with lockable brakes). This will make it easier to adapt to each new contract, access all areas, and carry out deep cleans. If your furniture isn’t easy to move, ensure there is sufficient space between the floor and base of units, as well as around the sides, for thorough cleaning access.
If you opt for modular or mobile furniture, it must be sufficiently robust. Does it offer the stability and firm platform you require for any new equipment you’ll be bringing in? When working with hypersensitive scales you cannot afford extreme movement from your furniture.
As the end users, your cleanroom staff could have valuable input for any new equipment or furniture. What features make the kit easy or cumbersome to use? Do they prefer to work standing up or sitting down – or would they prefer to have the option to do both? In the same way that processes and sensible workflow have an impact on efficiency, if the height of a desk or workbench is causing your team members discomfort, it could have a significant impact on productivity and potentially lead to staff absence.
Manufacturers face a multitude of challenges in order to remain competitive and profitable. Admittedly, taking a flexible approach to the furniture in your cleanrooms – and thus supporting rapid reconfiguration and exceptional hygiene standards – is just one small way of staying ahead. But it could well be the one your competitor has not yet thought about!