Working Group cleans up at first session


By Carrie Meadows

As a first-time attendee at an Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (IEST) Working Group session, one probably doesn’t expect an animated crowd of participants sticking neon Post-It® notes on the walls. But at the inaugural meeting of proposed RP-CC044.1, “Vacuum Cleaning Systems for Cleanrooms,” at ESTECH in May, that is exactly what took place.

Roger Diener, chair of the new Working Group and contamination control engineer at Analog Devices (Wilmington, MA), took an unusual approach to the brainstorming session, one that has actually been in existence since the 1960s. Instead of soliciting feedback via the typical orderly roundtable discussion, Diener handed out the aforementioned brightly colored notepads to participants, instructing them to jot down any user-related aspect of cleanroom vacuum cleaners and stick them to any number of poster-sized papers on the walls, which were labeled with broad headings such as “general background,” “features,” “performance expectations,” “portable unit design considerations,” “design criteria,” and more. This technique, part of the K-J Method (or affinity diagram) invented by a Japanese anthropologist as a way to discover meaningful groups of ideas in a raw list, enabled the dynamic that produced an entire set of core expectations for the group’s attendees to fill in at a later date.

“I did it because a lot of people do have a different idea of what a Working Group meeting is,” says Diener. He notes that some attendees are reluctant to participate in a conventional setting, especially when they are new to the industry or RP process. The Working Group is composed of IEST members who design, manufacture, and use the systems for various cleanroom applications. “There are many different levels of experience to be incorporated into a well-rounded group. Some participants can be intimidated by that. This way gets all the questions and ideas out there, from basic to advanced, without putting anyone on the spot.”

Diener says that vacuum cleaning systems had been on the “short list” of topics that needed someone to rally for it in order to get the RP process rolling. Once it was identified as a need and he volunteered to chair the group, it was time to contact the manufacturing experts and get users to participate. During the Working Group session, Diener had pointed out that “a cleanroom is not just a ‘clean room’–it’s the largest piece of equipment [in your facility], and people need to act accordingly.” The Working Group is tasked with moving the proposed RP forward, keeping in mind the purpose of the vacuum cleaning system itself: to aid in the removal of large particles, fibers, and debris without becoming a risk to the surrounding environment.

IEST members brainstorm an initial draft of the proposed RP-CC044.1, “Vacuum Cleaning Systems for Cleanrooms.” Photo courtesy of IEST.
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“This document is intended to address the needs and issues you should understand when buying, specifying, and using a cleanroom vacuum cleaner,” he explains. “Let’s be clear: We’re not telling users, ‘This is how you should clean your cleanroom environment.’ With this RP, we’re recommending, ‘This is what you need to know about the [vacuum] equipment you’re bringing into the environment to keep contamination from becoming a problem.’”

The importance of these proposed guidelines lies in clearly outlining what is appropriate for a cleanroom vacuum cleaning system, agrees Ray McCarthy, a sales representative for industrial vacuum manufacturer Nilfisk CFM (Kingstown, RI) and a member of the Working Group. “I think it is important to note here that a vacuum is part of the whole cleaning process within a cleanroom environment. Each cleanroom is unique to whatever is being done within that cleanroom, whether it is a tableting process for the pharmaceutical industry or a fab within a semiconductor facility??? A vacuum may be a final stage of cleaning or just the first, but the use of it depends on what is being done inside that room or environment. This group does not address other cleaning methods nor should it. This was a group on vacuums and not a group on cleaning methodology.”

As a Working Group member, he says, “What I see as an important issue is determining what is a valid cleanroom-compatible vacuum. There are so many companies out there today with ‘HEPA’ filtered vacuums that many people see the word HEPA and figure that means it’s okay for cleanrooms or even hazardous materials.” He cautions, “A HEPA or ULPA vacuum must show certification and must be tested and documentation visible.”

Diener breaks down the intention behind the members’ approach to working on the RP in this way. “What the document might do for the reader is give the newcomer enough information to learn what’s important for purchasing and how to use this type of equipment. For the experienced, it’s a review of equipment usage and a thorough set of usage and maintenance criteria... [so they can] document their procedures and training for complete understanding of their contamination control program.” As was outlined during the meeting, the task is to remain focused on the issues that users would need to consider when specifying a vacuum cleaning system. The RP will not incorporate specific design configurations nor define testing methods; it will only reference other procedures that come from established RPs and other industry standards.

McCarthy believes the efforts of the Working Group and this RP are an opportunity to communicate all the appropriate features that a true cleanroom vacuum cleaner ought to have. “From a manufacturer’s point of view, we want to be aware of any standards that would improve the quality of the environments we sell to.” In the harsh industries that Nilfisk CFM serves, he says, “We are liable for failure or exposure due to faulty filtering. Contamination is an issue that can create a negative image to a vacuum manufacturer and is equally as important as exposure to hazardous dust.”

Some of the content under discussion for the document will likely include features for both portable and built-in systems (components, tools, consumables, etc.), environmental criteria, usage purposes and attendant considerations, storage and facility issues, among others. The Working Group expects to publish the RP within 18 months.

The Working Group plans to meet during the IEST Fall Conference (Nov. 11–13, 2008). For more information regarding this Working Group and how to participate in developing industry practices, contact IEST at, call (847) 981-0100, or visit


compiled by Carrie Meadows

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