Pharmaceutical manufacturing requires mobile technology to keep up with increasingly lean manufacturing practices. Mobile solutions are cheaper in terms of materials and installation/replacement, allow for more flexible work practices, and can ease handover between shifts, preventing costly errors and wasted time. Blue Line, a Danish designer and manufacturer of cleanroom technology, has pioneered a line of cleanroom tablets that will further improve cleanroom practices
Blue Line tablets are 60% lighter and thinner than competing tablets
Blue Line saw a dearth of tablets suitable for long-term use in cleanrooms. Niels Pedersen, Blue Line’s CEO, says that most existing tablets for demanding environments were designed for the healthcare industry, which means that while they can endure quick wipe downs, they will degrade quickly if subjected to the rigorous cleaning practices of even the lowest classes of cleanroom (e.g., class D and C). The demand for suitable tablets was such that many pharmaceutical companies required employees to engineer their own solutions, such as by wrapping consumer tablets in plastic.
Stainless steel (316 or 316L) is a pharmaceutical technology standard because of its durability and resistance to even the harshest of cleaning agents. However, its weight makes it unsuitable for constructing tablets. Easily the most obvious advantage of tablets is their mobility, but that advantage is cancelled out if workers find them too heavy to carry around. Blue Line found that existing tablets marketed for cleanroom use were simply too heavy, upwards of 2 kg, which led to workers putting them on trolleys for regular use. “This defeats the purpose of a tablet,” says Pedersen.
To ensure as thin and light a tablet as possible, Blue Line spent a considerable amount of time researching different plastics. They found an engineering polymer that served as a suitable alternative to stainless steel. Commonly used in the aerospace industry, as well as in other demanding applications, this polymer is upwards of 80% lighter, almost as durable, and just as resistant to chemicals and biological contamination as 316 stainless steel. In this way, they could construct a tablet weighing less than 1 kg without sacrificing quality or computing power—it is about 60% lighter than competing tablets. Not only does this ease cleanroom practices but it reduces musculoskeletal strain (a severe problem in cleanroom and other manufacturing settings).
Both GMP and FDA protocols concerning cleanroom technology require that devices be designed to withstand regular cleaning and minimise areas in which contaminants can hide. This can be problematic for commercial tablets designed for healthcare settings because most have a charging port, cooling vents, or home buttons built in, all of which are places wherein contaminants can build up. Thus, to clean them, workers may have to adapt standardised cleaning routines to avoid damaging the equipment, which can be both inefficient and irritating.
To address these problems, Blue Line built their cleanroom tablets out of a single piece of polymer to eliminate any creases. They further designed the tablets for fan-less cooling, removed all vents and buttons, and utilise a flush magnetic connector for charging and USB connectivity. To maintain their integrity, Blue Line designed the tablets to meet IP65 ingress protection specifications.
Touchscreen sensitivity is also important to consider, as cleanroom technicians typically wear multiple layers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Accordingly, tablets must be sensitive enough to be used without removing PPE but not sensitive enough to react to inputs as light as cleaning solution spray. Blue Line’s cleanroom tablets utilise “projected capacitive multi-touch” technology in their screens for that reason—technicians can use them while wearing up to 3 layers of gloves.
The use of tablets in cleanrooms is part of broader efforts in the pharmaceutical industry to digitalise cleanroom practices (“Swapping notepads with tablets,” says Pedersen). As part of the broader “internet of things” (IoT), cleanroom tablets can enhance the connectivity of previously analogue practices like signing off on completed procedures or quickly inputting important changes in data. Moreover, when compared with mobile monitors, they are also far more flexible: Manufacturers can, for instance, link individual tablets with particular batches of a product, following that batch throughout its entire lifecycle from production to storage to shipping. In this way, data is consolidated and handover is efficient, allowing workers to quickly identify where, how, and when particular batches were made, stored, and transported.
The mobility and connectivity of cleanroom tablets also serves to prevent costly production errors by ensuring rapid, accurate communication between cleanroom staff and outside operational support staff. Good communication can mean the difference between batch spoilage—potentially costing the company millions of dollars—and successful production. Moreover, tablets enable more efficient and informed transmission of data to managers and upper-level staff.
Cleanrooms are pushing to integrate rapidly advancing mobile technologies to reap the benefits of leaner modes of operation. Blue Line’s cleanroom tablets are one such solution, enabling workers greater mobility and enhancing documentation practices without requiring substantial changes to established cleaning practices or creating workarounds with existing technologies.