Florida campus launches space-age cleanroom project

Florida campus launches space-age cleanroom project

By Myron Struck

Palm Bay, FL –With the water, the swamp and the heat, it might be considered an odd place for a cleanroom and a state-of-the-art education and business facility dedicated to flat panel displays. Yet Palm Bay is the center for the nation`s first cleanrooms teaching consortium, a project laid out by the state legislature and Brevard County Community College (BCC) in cooperation with the private sector. Its goal: to vault into world-class status the business environment for firms that need access to, but cannot afford, their own cleanroom.

The notion took just a few years to put together, as the community looked at its assets: Harris Corp., Storage Technology, another major business, the nearby John F. Kennedy Space Center and a growing community college campus. At the Palm Bay Foundation Park branch campus, the state legislature saw a high-tech center.

The centerpiece of the project is a $1.8 million, three-unit cleanroom, and a facility that could house a large interferometer that could test liquid crystal display panels measuring up to 43 inches square.

The funds to build this facility came from various federal, state and local sources. The U.S. Department of Commerce`s Economic Development Administration provided a $1.35 million grant; the state Department of Community Affairs` Florida Energy Office provided a $250,000 grant; and the BCC tossed in $200,000. The Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA) provided the initial operating budget of $200,000. The TRDA is an organization established by the Florida Legislature to sponsor programs that enhance education, space research and economic development.

Flat panel display was an industry that needed the best standards and a place to grow. Previously, only a handful of college campuses — Kent State University and the University of Michigan, among them — had ventured heavily into cleanroom/flat panel display. Business analysts, however, saw green. It was an $8- to $10-billion-a-year industry measured to grow to $20 billion to $22 billion by the turn of the century. Would it all go to the Pacific Rim? This was the question planners asked when they thought about Palm Bay.

On a crisp Florida February weekend day this year, BCC unveiled its open-access cleanroom.

It was an all-in-one structure, offering three levels of cleanroom space, a conference room, enclosed and open office space, a training room and a warehouse. The cleanrooms available are a Class 10 (1,202 square feet), a Class 1,000 (1,229 square feet) and a Class 10,000 (1,043 square feet). The ceiling heights vary from 14 feet to 12 feet to 10 feet, respectively. There is a Class 1,000 gowning room. The facility also has a Class 100,000 receiving dock and a Class 10,000 equipment staging area.

Access and security are controlled by a programmable card key. Utility services include DI water, nitrogen gas, dry compressed air, house vacuum, equipment exhaust and various levels of electrical services.

The design of a cleanroom, even a dedicated room, is by no means cut and dried.

“The scientific research available with this facility stems from our partnerships with the various universities in the state,” says Warren Kugelmann, Brevard Community College`s director of cleanroom operations. “Our ability to couple university resources with the attributes of this facility makes us an attractive package to industry.”

Kugelmann says the college had as its object a design that employed “Best Practices.” Lepco Inc. of Houston was the primary contractor. The facility will serve as the center for research projects between industry, the college and the universities. The partnership between the college and the universities can be marketed as a service to industry.

The goal was to try and predict the needs of general cleanroom users, Kugelmann says. However, college officials remain “willing to work with any client on unique requirements.”

“In fact,” Kugelmann says, “we have organized an advisory committee of various cleanroom users in the area to provide us with insight of their unique needs.”

BCC President Maxwell King says the cleanroom allows Palm Bay to be a central location to train people to work in a growing worldwide market, focused on the development of flat-panel display corporations that need a cleanroom to test their products. Among the industries likely to be involved are those making everything from military weaponry to commercial pagers and laptop computers.

Among the organizations heavily backing the project was the United States Display Consortium (USDC), a San Jose, CA-based, industry-led public-private partnership focused on flat-panel display manufacturers, developers, users and the equipment and supplier base. More than 100 corporate and affiliate members, including the Pentagon`s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are involved with USDC.

Despite the basic focus on flat-panel display manufacturers, Kugelmann says that no single industry has expressed a stronger demand over the others.

“The various industries in the area — electronics, telecommunication, flat panel display, semiconductor and aerospace — all agree that a resource facility such as this would strongly support the technical infrastructure of the region,” he says. “This facility was constructed as an economic development incentive capable of providing a superior cleanroom environment for a modest fee.”

Cleanrooms learning environment

The open-access cleanroom facility at Brevard Community College is not only a place for researching and developing advanced technologies. It`s also a high-tech classroom. The students enrolled in the post-secondary vocational certificate program are being trained in cleanroom procedures and contamination control. They are introduced to current contamination control technology including the re quirement for contamination control in cleanroom design, construction and management and current methods to ensure air, water and chemical purity.

The open-access cleanroom is part of Brevard`s Teaching & Research Laboratories (BTR Labs), which attract tech-minded students from the area. Made up of three labs — chemical analytical, environmental biology and geographic information systems/remote sensing (GIS/RS) laboratories — BTR Labs has served the local community in numerous chemical, biological and environmental applications.

For more information, contact Warren Kugelmann, director of cleanroom operations, Brevard Community College, 250 Community College Parkway, Palm Bay, FL 32909-2299. (407) 632-1111, ext. 22351; Fax (407) 634-3759.

Myron Struck is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, VA. Kathleen Vail, a freelance writer based in Alexandria, VA, contributed to this report.

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