Cleanroom ceilings: The differences between modular and stick-built

Published: 2-May-2024

Bo Coffman from Nortek Air Solutions discusses construction methods for cleanroom ceilings, which have to support many different systems that keep the environment running

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Cleanrooms are essential environments supporting semiconductor, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and healthcare advancement, where maintaining strict levels of cleanliness and contamination control is crucial.

One of the fundamental components of cleanroom design and reliability is the ceiling grid system, which supports critical elements such as HEPA or ULPA filters, lighting fixtures, fire protection, air handler units, and automated material handling systems (in the case of semiconductor).

Stick-built ceiling grids are commonly referred to as T-Grid

Identifying the right ceiling grid solution is an important part in designing and building your cleanroom.

Two common approaches for constructing cleanroom ceiling grids are pre-assembled modular and T-Grid stick-built ceilings. In this article, we explore the key differences between these two systems and the top considerations for selecting the right solution for your cleanroom application.

Modular ceiling grids

Modular ceiling grids support an off-site manufacturing model, as ceiling modules are fully assembled at the factory and delivered complete, ready to be installed in sections. These modules are designed to be compatible with the cleanroom's layout, requirements, and provide:

Faster speed of installation: Modular ceiling grids are known for their rapid installation process, as most components are welded at the factory and ready for assembly on-site.

This can significantly reduce construction timelines, minimising downtime during cleanroom setup or renovations.

Stick built ceilings can be advantageous in unique cleanroom configurations and retrofitting

Precision and consistency: Since modular components are factory-made, they tend to have higher precision and consistency in terms of measurements and quality, resulting in a more predictable cleanroom environment.

Customised components: Although modular systems are standardised, they often offer customisation options to accommodate specific cleanroom requirements, such as wiring, lighting, fire protection, and enhanced walkability.

Field labour cost-efficiency: Modular Ceilings are easier and faster for onsite teams to install, which can lead to cost savings around installation.

Cleanroom ceilings: The differences between modular and stick-built

Stick-built ceiling grids

Stick-built ceiling grids, commonly referred to as T-Grid, provide more flexibility to retrofit into existing spaces and delivery options that fit your construction site needs.

Modular systems may have lower installation costs, but tend to have higher grid costs

Stick-built solutions leverage individual components like structural supports, grid systems, and ceiling sections that provide:

Flexibility in design: Stick-built systems provide greater flexibility in design and layout, allowing for adjustments and modifications during the construction process. This can be advantageous in unique cleanroom configurations and retrofitting.

Hybrid construction model: Unlike modular solutions that are welded, stick built solutions are bolted assembly, giving more flexibility to construction and delivery. With a hybrid construction model, a manufacturer should be able to deliver the ceiling grid pre-assembled, flat packed semi-built, or ready to be built on site.

Cost shifts: While the overall cost of stick-built solutions is often lower than modular ceiling grides, the installation labour is more intensive and could result in higher chance of installation errors.  That total economic value with each company’s labour and installation model should be accounted for when deciding a cleanroom ceiling grid type.

Considerations for selecting the right ceiling grid solution

In many instances, both a modular and stick-built ceiling solution will meet the needed class ratings, reliability, and functionality needed. So how do you select the right solution? The considerations often come down to:

Project timeline: Consider the urgency of your cleanroom setup or renovation. If time is critical, modular ceiling grids may be the better choice due to their quicker installation, whilst stick-build will take more time. Consider if there are any site restrictions that may make offsite construction useful to keep the project moving.

Budget: Analyse your budget constraints. Modular systems may have lower installation costs, but tend to have higher grid costs, while a stick-built grid is likely to have a lower grid cost, there are higher labour costs and expertise needed for installation.

Future modifications: If you anticipate frequent modifications or expansions in your cleanroom, a stick-built ceiling grid may be more suitable, as it allows for easy alterations.

Choosing between modular and stick-built ceiling grids for your cleanroom is a crucial decision that impacts construction timelines, flexibility, and costs.

By considering your specific cleanroom requirements, project timeline, and budget constraints, you can make an informed choice that ensures your cleanroom functions optimally and maintains the necessary levels of cleanliness and contamination control for your industry.

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