The world as we knew it changed dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe. Beyond the health crisis, the virus introduced a new set of challenges to the global economy, particularly in supply chain management. The world of cleanrooms and cleaning consumables was no exception.
With the sudden surge in demand for sanitisers and disinfectants, supply chains experienced unprecedented disruptions. One essential product caught in the crossfire was Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA). Used extensively for cleaning and disinfection, IPA became a critical resource in the fight against the virus.
Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) is a versatile and highly effective cleaning and disinfecting solvent. It is a critical player in maintaining cleanrooms and ensuring the safety of various industries. In this article, we delve into the multifaceted role of IPA in cleanrooms, explore its unique properties, and examine the supply chain challenges that arose during the pandemic and that continue to linger today.
IPA as a cleaner
IPA effectively removes oils, adhesives, fingerprints, soldering flux, and other contaminants, making it indispensable in electronics manufacturing, where precision and cleanliness are paramount. It stands out as a preferred choice for electronics cleaning due to its rapid evaporation compared to water and without leaving an oily residue, making it ideal for sensitive component manufacturing. It is essential to note that when cleaning circuit boards and internal electronics, IPA with a purity grade of 90% or higher is recommended.
The versatile role of IPA in cleanrooms
Beyond electronics, IPA plays a crucial role in pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, biotechnology laboratories, and medical device manufacturing cleanrooms. Cleanrooms and anterooms must be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. This includes floors, hoods, and countertops.
Their stringent requirements necessitate the use of highly effective cleaning agents. IPA fits the bill perfectly since its unique properties make it an ideal choice for maintaining hygiene and ensuring the integrity of sensitive environments. It leaves no residue behind, ensuring a pristine surface.
IPA is safe to use on most surfaces found in cleanrooms including painted surfaces, plastics, and elastomers. It cleans well without leaving smears, even on glass or electronics screens and keyboards. Its non-corrosive nature also makes it a dependable choice for cleaning without substrate damage.
IPA as a disinfectant
Isopropyl Alcohol, commonly known as IPA or 2-Propanol, serves as both a cleaning agent and disinfectant. Its ability to reduce bacteria, fungi and viruses is well-documented, particularly when used at a concentration of 70% or more.
IPA is also considered an environmentally benign solvent. It is ozone-safe and boasts excellent "green solvent" scores. Compared to other disinfecting chemicals, IPA has low toxicity, minimising health risks for users.
99% Isopropyl Alcohol: The gold standard
IPA is used alone or as a component of a general-purpose cleaner or solvent. When it comes to cleaning in most cleanroom environments, the higher the IPA concentration, the better. Higher concentrations offer more solvent power and less water content to evaporate, making them ideal for electronics cleaning. For optimal results, 99% isopropyl alcohol is the gold standard.
IPA pre-saturated wipes
Presaturated IPA Wipes are exceptionally well-suited for cleanroom use. They capture particles and dirt, disrupt biofilms, and eliminate residue. Importantly, the wipes collect and securely trap the dirt and particles, allowing cleanroom techs to extract contaminants from the cleanroom environment.
Selecting the right cleaning wipe material plays a pivotal role in the effectiveness of your cleaning efforts. The quality of both the wipes and their containers can significantly impact the cleaning and disinfection experience. Thin, dried-out, compostable, and biodegradable wipes are prone to tearing and disintegration, often requiring multiple wipes for a single cleaning task. This not only leads to wastefulness but also increases the time and effort spent on each cleaning job due to the lint left behind.
For a superior cleaning experience that minimises waste, consider a premium fabric wipe that is thick, soft, strong and tear resistant. This will prevent leaving FOD (foreign object debris) behind.
Presaturated wipes and containers
It is crucial to remember that surface cleaning pre-saturated wipes are effective only when they remain moist. Choose a pre-saturated wipe that comes in tightly sealed containers, ensuring that the wipes stay moist and ready for use. Look for wipes with a spring-loaded or self-closing lid mechanism that automatically seals after each wipe is dispensed. This extends the shelf life of the wipes once the factory seal is broken, guaranteeing that your wipes remain effective until the very last one. Providing a virtual unlimited shelf life.
Also, opt for an eco-friendlier “refillable” pre-saturated wipe. Some wipe manufacturers offer foil refill packs, allowing you to replenish and reuse the original wipes containers. This helps reduce the number of plastic containers destined for landfills, supporting your commitment to environmental sustainability.
IPA and the pandemic: continued supply chain disruptions
Since IPA is a key ingredient in hand sanitisers and disinfectants, the world witnessed an unparalleled surge in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden spike led to severe shortages, causing prices to soar and countries to scramble for supplies.
The United States, initially a supplier of IPA, faced shortages as domestic demand skyrocketed. Europe experienced a similar surge in demand for IPA due to the scarcity of ethanol, another crucial ingredient in disinfectants. As the global demand for disinfectants continued to rise, producers in China and other Asian countries ramped up production to meet this surging demand. The world became heavily reliant on Asian exports and as a result, IPA prices nearly doubled in a matter of weeks.
IPA supply and demand today
Today, as the global economy gradually recovers the demand for sanitisers, disinfectants and cleaning consumables remains high. Now that the initial panic is over, many industries are reevaluating their IPA inventory management strategies and are slowly starting to purposefully reduce their IPA inventory that they stockpiled during the height of the pandemic. This is helping to loosen the tight supply chain, making IPA more readily available and less expensive.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the essential role that Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) plays in cleanroom hygiene and disinfection across various industries. IPA's versatility as a cleaner and disinfectant makes it a cornerstone in maintaining clean and safe environments. Its effectiveness, low toxicity, and environmentally friendly attributes position it as a preferred choice to help keep parts, surfaces, and equipment safe and sterile.
The pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions highlighted the vulnerability of IPA supply chains, leading to shortages and price hikes. However, as the world adapts to the ongoing challenges of the post-pandemic era, industries are gradually stabilising their IPA inventory management strategies, resulting in improved availability and affordability of this crucial product.
In navigating the IPA supply chain, it is imperative to consider the quality of IPA-based cleaning consumables including pre-saturated wipes. Quality fabrics, tightly sealed containers and refill availability ensure effective cleaning and disinfection, while helping to reduce waste and support sustainability goals.
As we move forward, the lessons learned during the pandemic underscore the importance of resilience and adaptability in supply chain management. IPA remains a linchpin in the ongoing efforts to maintain hygiene, and its continued availability is essential for the safety and well-being of our global community.