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What is a Cleanroom?
A cleanroom is a space that maintains very low levels of particles, like dust and debris, and other airborne toxins for the purpose of keeping the environment safe for what it's producing or for activities taking place in the space. Cleanrooms actually have quantifiable particle counts for their air, which are measured frequently and held to high industry standards.
Willis Whitfield invented the cleanroom in 1962, circulating air through the cleanroom and taking air out of the cleanroom in a particular way as to not allow almost any particles in.
Cleanrooms function by using filters for the air, and by not introducing products or people (people are equipped with specialized garments when in the space) into the space that will bring its contamination measurements beyond the acceptable levels.
Airflow in a cleanroom is either non-unidirectional or unidirectional. Non-unidirectional cleanrooms utilize ceiling filters to push clean air through, and remove contamination in the air through wall, floor, or, sometimes, ceiling extractors. Unidirectional cleanrooms rely more heavily on a lot of air coming from multiple, spaced ceiling filters to flow quickly through the room in a much more unidirectional way and then out the floor or the wall.
Who Uses Cleanrooms?
The following industries might require a cleanroom:
- Medical devices
- Food and beverage
- Sterile compounding
Standards and Measurement
Cleanrooms are defined and measured based on how many particles are in the air per total air volume. The most utilized and accepted measurement for this is the ISO classification system. In addition, other certifying and regulating bodies are involved in cleanroom standards depending on the specific industry. For instance, the FDA is involved if you are a food and beverage manufacturing plant.
As mentioned, a cleanroom must be constructed using materials that don't introduce or cause contamination in the room. This is why special, industry-tested lighting is needed in these spaces.
IP Ratings and the NSF
Cleanroom lighting usually has to adhere to the Ingress Protection Code (IP Ratings) as defined by the IEC. An IP Rating is two digits, and the first digit refers to a light's protection against solids, like dust and particles, while the second refers to liquids. So, a 00 rating provides no protection from solids or liquids, a rating of 64 would protect against all dust and water splashing, etc. Lower IP Ratings are for indoor, less hazardous use. The scale goes from 0-6 for both solids and liquids, and you will always see that two digit rating.
Cleanroom lighting also adheres to NSF International standards and testing, like their splash zone ratings.
Other Lighting Considerations
In addition to industry standards for cleanroom lighting, there are practical design functions of cleanroom lighting that help keep spaces efficient, like plenum or top access lighting. These types of lighting are used in cleanrooms so that lights and systems above lights can be serviced easily and also put back together easily to disrupt the room and its functions as little as possible.
In a cleanroom, energy efficiency is top of mind because the filtering within the room already requires so much energy to operate that other technology in the room needs to be energy efficient. LED lighting is the best choice for a cleanroom because of its energy efficiency and simplified fixtures. Read here for more LED benefits.