Soft wall cleanrooms are enclosures that are atmospheric and climate-controlled, and are used in industries that involve carrying out sensitive testing, fabrication, and research processes, such as biotechnology research, medical testing, and semiconductor fabrication. Soft wall cleanrooms differ from hard wall cleanroom systems in several ways. The walls of soft wall cleanrooms can be made from fabric pulled taut by a frame, or translucent plastic strips that hang from a ceiling or other overhead fixture. In addition, they are not stationary once installed. They are much more portable than hard wall cleanrooms, which are usually permanently in one place once installed. Some varieties of soft wall cleanrooms come in a modular design for easier and quicker disassembly and reassembly.
Quick links to Softwall Cleanrooms Information
Design of Softwall Cleanrooms
Soft wall cleanrooms are lined with curtain dividers, which are typically made from vinyl, as cleanrooms can only be constructed using materials that are non-fibrous, non-corrosive, and avoid generating static electricity. Curtain dividers are especially useful if more than one process must be carried out within the same environment. Soft wall cleanrooms can also feature a tubular steel frame that supports the curtain walls, mounted filter units that draw outside air and deliver the clean air into the cleanroom. Soft wall cleanrooms can be used for processes that do not require drastic amounts of decontamination. Soft wall cleanrooms have several advantages, which include simple installation, easy configuration, entryway options, and portability in some varieties. Because of these advantages, soft wall cleanrooms are a more economical option than their hard wall counterparts, especially if a strictly controlled and decontaminated environment is not necessary for the processes at hand. Soft wall cleanrooms are capable of achieving a high level of decontamination in its own right when working in conjunction with other equipment such as double doors, air filters, and protective clothing (sometimes referred to as bunny suits).
Applications of Cleanrooms
Cleanrooms were initially used in the aerospace industry to aid the manufacturing process of sensitive hardware, but an increase in demand has led cleanroom manufacturers to fabricate these chambers for a multitude of industries such as microelectronics, research and development, defense, biotechnology, manufacturing, food processing, and pharmaceuticals. In accommodating this variety of industries, numerous types of cleanrooms were developed as well. One variety is known as soft wall cleanrooms.
Government Standards and Specifications for Cleanrooms
Governmental bodies such as the U.S. Federal Government and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have implemented rating systems that classify cleanrooms. The rating systems differ from each other, but both are carefully observed by cleanroom manufacturers. One of these rating systems, the US FED STD 209E, is based around the volume of 0.5 micrometer-sized particles per cubic foot in the cleanroom’s atmosphere. The higher the number of particles, the higher the rating. If a cleanroom must maintain an extremely low level of contaminants in its atmosphere, a set of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters must be installed, which work in conjunction with sterilizing chemicals, personnel decontamination systems, and other measures. It is more difficult for a soft walled cleanroom to achieve this high of a decontamination level than a hard walled enclosure. Meeting Class 1 standards is much easier to achieve with a permanent, hard walled cleanroom that features double doors and decontaminating air jets. However, for some sensitive applications, a Class 1 level of decontamination is not necessary. There are many applications, including high-tech operations, for which Class 100, 1,000, and even 10,000 cleanrooms will suffice. For example, a class 100 cleanroom can be used for processes that could cause chemical reactions, as it is made of materials that will not release fibrous contaminants into the air. Another example is Class 10,000 cleanrooms, which are not as strictly controlled and are appropriate for less-sensitive applications, such as processes that will not wear away flexible acrylics or plastics.
ISO Standards for Cleanrooms">ISO Standards for Cleanrooms
The ISO standards rate cleanrooms on a scale of 3 to 8, with 3 being the most effective. To compare the ISO rating system with its federal counterpart, an ISO Class 5 cleanroom is the same as a cleanroom that is rated Class 100 US FED, due to both cleanrooms permitting up to 100,000 contaminating particles per cubic meter. There are some industries that use the EMP EU system, which is the standard system of the European Union, and the BS 5295 system, which is used in Britain and uses cubic meters to measure airborne contaminants.