Applying the Pareto Principle to sustainable engineering of cleanroom facilities

Published: 1-Feb-2024

Originally formulated in economics, the Pareto Principle has proven its versatility by finding applications in management, productivity enhancement, and sustainability. How can it help cleanroom operation? Joel Williams from Medhini Group explains

In the pursuit of a greener and more sustainable future, it has become imperative to apply well-established principles in innovative ways. Among these principles, the Pareto Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 rule, has emerged as a powerful tool for identifying and prioritising critical factors in various processes. Originally formulated in economics, the Pareto Principle has proven its versatility by finding applications in management, productivity enhancement, and sustainability.

In the realm of sustainable engineering, where precision and environmental responsibility are paramount, cleanroom facilities stand as cornerstones for industries such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and biotechnology. Cleanrooms are renowned for their precision and sterility, but they are also known for being energy-intensive environments. High air changes, meticulous environmental controls, pressure cascading, and stringent filtration requirements contribute to their energy hunger.

These environments demand rigorous control over particulate contamination, temperature, humidity, and airflow, making them a challenging arena for achieving sustainability goals.

As we stand at the crossroads of technological advancement and environmental consciousness, a critical question arises: How can the Pareto Principle be harnessed to enhance sustainability within these crucial cleanroom facilities?

Harnessing the 80/20 rule for cleanroom sustainability

Consider this striking fact: in many cleanroom facilities, over 80% of energy consumption, utility bills, and CO2 emissions can be traced back to a mere 20% or fewer unit operations. These energy giants, sometimes operating quietly in the background, significantly contribute to the facility's environmental footprint. Rather than dispersing efforts across numerous low-impact initiatives, true sustainability gains are achieved by directing our resources towards these energy powerhouses.

For example, while replacing all lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs is a commendable practice, its sustainability impact is often marginal compared to addressing thermostat settings in cleanrooms or processing rooms. A simple adjustment in the set-point temperature can result in substantial energy savings, providing a practical demonstration of the 80/20 principle.

A case in point from Taiwan

A study conducted in Taiwan illustrates the principle's potency when applied to cleanroom Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. The study focused on Cleanroom Make-Up Air Units (MAUs) and employed simulation software to evaluate six energy-saving approaches in a TFT-LCD fab. The results were illuminating. Modifying room temperature had a remarkably significant impact on energy savings, with a 1°C increase in fab temperature correlating to nearly a 1% reduction in energy consumption.

Similarly, increasing Relative Humidity (RH) values by 3% led to a 0.65% reduction in energy consumption. Reducing the exit air temperature of MAU by 1 °C saves about 0.1% of fab energy consumption.

Avoiding excessive increases in pressure drop over the filter by more frequently replacing the HEPA filter is economically possible and its effect on reducing energy consumption is notable, about 0.2% of fab energy consumption can be saved by reducing 100 Pa of pressure drop over the filter.

Local adaptation for global impact

Another compelling example of the 80/20 rule's relevance emerges when engineering standards are applied globally without considering local environmental conditions. A manufacturing plant in a temperate climate zone may comfortably maintain a set-point temperature of +/- 21°C, given minimal differences between outdoor and indoor conditions. However, replicating these standards in a tropical country can prove energy-inefficient and environmentally unsustainable. In such cases, a minor adjustment in the set-point temperature can yield substantial savings while aligning with local conditions.

Tailoring standards to industry needs

Cleanroom designers play a pivotal role in achieving sustainability goals. One of their key challenges is resisting the temptation to rely on generic "rule of thumb" engineering parameters that may not align with the unique needs of a particular industry. Cleanroom classification standards, such as ISO 8 Class, are often universally applied across various sectors. However, this one-size-fits-all approach disregards the specific requirements of different manufacturing processes.

For instance, an ISO 8 Class cleanroom in a medical device assembly plant has vastly different operational needs compared to one in an injection moulding facility. Recognising these distinctions and customising engineering parameters accordingly can significantly impact energy efficiency and sustainability within cleanroom facilities.

In conclusion, the 80/20 rule provides an invaluable framework for sustainable engineering in cleanroom facilities. By strategically targeting the most significant energy consumers, adapting standards to local conditions, and customising engineering parameters to align with industry needs, we can achieve substantial sustainability gains in these critical environments. Cleanroom designers and facility managers should embrace this principle as a guiding philosophy on the path toward a greener, more efficient future.

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