Fraunhofer IPA offers a mobile cover to protect hi tech equipment such as space probes and lenses against contamination during transportation
The smallest degree of contamination can lead to major quality issues across many industries. For example, should any impurities occur on microchips, space probes and lenses, it can lead to defects or faulty end devices.
To avoid damage, companies tend to outsource the relevant manufacturing and assembly steps for high-quality products to cleanrooms. However, these are expensive, limited in their availability and fail to offer protection against contamination as a result of transportation.
Fraunhofer IPA of Germany has now developed a mobile cleanroom system in the form of a flexible Clean Multipurpose Cover that can be set up to ensure the sterility of products during transportation.
Particulate impurities and other contaminants incur additional costs for many industries. The semi-conductor, food, automotive, aerospace and pharmaceutical sectors, among others, may be affected by this.
Tanja Meyer, Project Manager at Fraunhofer IPA, explains: 'If products become contaminated, they are either rejected or must subsequently be cleaned.'
Meyer goes on to clarify that if companies are unable to rely on the cleanliness of their manufacturing environment, retrospective analyses are required. Both are time and cost-intensive.
Fraunhofer IPA says the Clean Multipurpose Cover is the first flexible cleanroom system designed to protect products against contamination during transportation.
Companies bypass this problem by manufacturing sensitive products in cleanrooms. However, there are also problems involved in this.
Meyer expands: 'Not all companies, above all SMEs, have their own cleanroom available. Of course, they can rent one or have the parts cleaned externally, but this is not financially viable over the long term in many cases.'
Furthermore, contamination can still occur during transportation. Static cleanrooms, as they exclusively are these days, cannot protect products outside their own four walls. With this in mind, scientists at Fraunhofer IPA have already received regular requests from industry to develop a cost-effective, flexible solution.
The Stuttgart-based scientists have fulfilled these requirements with the Clean Multipurpose Cover. It combines the technical cleanliness standards of a cleanroom with a product that can be set up quickly and simply wherever needed.
In being operated 'on demand', the user is not subject to enforced occupancy rates which come with static cleanrooms, thereby making energy and maintenance cost savings. Another benefit is the swift assembly time of under one hour.
The flexible cleanroom can be used immediately after a short start-up phase. Fraunhofer IPA has developed an airflow concept for the system composed of low-TVOC and low abrasion materials with a connected filter system.
Meyer says: 'This enables us to guarantee a contamination-free manufacturing environment up to cleanliness class of ISO 3, certified in accordance with DIN ISO 14644-1.'
The Clean Multipurpose Cover has a modular structure and can be individually configured as required. It is available in different sizes up to 4m2, with or without a floor. The constructed system can be transported, with a mid-range model weighing no more than 20kg. It is therefore fully functional.
Tests conducted in the cleanroom laboratories of the Centre for Contamination Control affirmed the operational capability of the solution. Photo credit: Fraunhofer IPA, Rainer Bez
In June 2016, scientists at Fraunhofer IPA produced the first prototype.
'The tests conducted in the cleanroom laboratories of the Centre for Contamination Control affirmed the operational capability of the solution,' Meyer confirms.
Companies can order customised models and costs are determined on a customer-specific basis, varying according to requirements, size and air purity class.
Currently, the Stuttgart-based scientists are working on further developing the system for industry and customer-specific requirements such as chemical and microbiological contaminants.