Industry 4.0 in cleanrooms

Published: 6-Oct-2016

What cleanroom operators can learn from the automotive industry

Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0 yet it often isn’t really clear just what is meant. A visit to this year’s Cleanzone trade fair (8-9 November, Frankfurt) offers the chance to find out the answers.

Essentially, Industry 4.0 means the ability to monitor conditions and control systems using sensors in conjunction with electronic data collection and processing.

This can even give rise to autonomous systems, something that – when networked with production – can also encompass incoming and outgoing goods, logistics, invoicing, controlling and much more.

Today, the Industry 4.0 philosophy can be most clearly seen in automation concepts, and in terms of cleanroom technology it gets right to the heart of operations.

New advances in filter integrity tests offer an excellent example of the advantages of a higher level of automation. These tests are essential for ensuring air quality in any cleanroom, be it in the pharmaceutical, semiconductor, chemicals or other industry.

When it comes to ensuring a smooth-running cleanroom, the filters that are installed are essential to its success. The smallest leak can lead to an increase in particle concentration.

As a result, it is necessary to regularly conduct integrity tests on installed filters as a preventive measure.

With such systematic checks for leaks, the entire filter system is scanned using a measurement sensor and increases in particle concentrations are pinpointed.

In the event that any ‘suspicious locations’ are found, the test aerosol is applied once again and then the particle quantity is measured on both the unfiltered and filtered sides using a stationary sensor.

Once this has been completed, the readings are compared with the maximum permissible number of particles.

The stationary sensor is a very important part of this process. Filter integrity tests are usually carried out by hand, which means that an employee must manually pass a sensor along the filter at a constant speed while maintaining the specified distance from the filter.

In doing so, the employee must also keep an eye on the current particle counts so that they will be able to identify any ‘suspicious areas’ for subsequent tests. This entails all manner of possible inaccuracies.

Robotic filter integrity tests that allow for the automatic measurement of the condition of terminal filters and laminar flow units represent a real improvement here.

The measurement process is computer-controlled, and the measurement results are issued automatically – a process that is reproducible and which takes less time than performing scans by hand.

Robots move autonomously

Increasing automation is currently manifesting itself in cleanroom-compatible robots that are able to move materials and products to any desired locations in a factory without any need for guidance systems thanks to their autonomous navigation capacity – the alternative whenever rail or conveyor systems are not possible or are too expensive.

Even apart from the undisputed advantages of automation, the ‘Industry 4.0’ utopia goes far beyond current cleanroom concepts in one significant respect: whereas it is currently the case that the cleanroom specifications are documented (particle contamination, microbiological contamination), ideally it would be possible to tailor the definition of requirements specifically to each product and the quality thereof.

Michael Skerat, MD of Skeratschoppe, a company specialising in process optimisation, change processes, strategic management and product management says: ‘In terms of these multiprocess standards, Industry 4.0 is already happening to some extent in the automotive industry.’

There are already numerous applications in cleanrooms in the automotive industry that serve the manufacture of diffusers, minuscule electromechanical high-precision parts, material conveyance systems in valve technology and in-mould laminated parts.

In other words, this includes components that are produced in cleanrooms or other controlled environments. It also includes the use of robots that work in close contact with people.

Skerat adds: ‘The applications utilised in such processes can also be transferred to pharmaceutical production.

In this case, however, great attention must be paid to the strict requirements for microbiological purity.’

One of the primary tasks will involve the definition of the interfaces at the points where cleanrooms and uncontrolled environments interact.

To this end, product and production data must be supplemented with room-specific parameters – e.g. this might include the heat generated by an injection moulding machine or tablet press, if this should be a criterion for the product quality.

Top themes at Cleanzone

Process optimisation, digitalisation and Industry 4.0 are the top themes for Cleanzone 2016. For example, Michael Skerat will be speaking to the Cleanzone Congress about the degree to which processes from the automotive industry can be transferred to cleanroom production. The German Cleanroom Institute (DRRI) is also organising a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Industry 4.0 in cleanroom technology – an opportunity for innovation and the future?’.
Find out more at

You may also like