If you find a fly in your soup at the local diner, it’s undeniably gross. But it’s a problem that’s quick, easy, and inexpensive to fix. Send your order back; wait a few minutes for a new bowl; and you will probably enjoy the whole meal on the house.

But finding an errant speck of dust in a shipment destined for use in a cleanroom setting is far worse than the proverbial fly in your soup. In fact, the damage caused by that microscopic stowaway is likely to be costly and time-consuming to correct.

For example, if that dust was trapped within a piece of semi-conductor manufacturing equipment, it may have damaged the circuits printed on the silicon wafer, so the machine will generate faulty parts on the production line. Diagnosing the problem, arranging for a new wafer to be manufactured, and waiting for it to arrive at the facility will compromise deadlines and, ultimately, the bottom line.

To successfully ship equipment that will be used in a cleanroom you must pay attention to all the usual priorities, including preventing damage from shock, vibration, and moisture. Plus one more crucial consideration: How to eliminate potential sources of contamination throughout the packaging process.

Defending against these tiny pollutants requires a combination of expertise, specialized supplies, and an appropriate location to perform the packaging process. Educate yourself about what is involved in a successful cleanroom packaging operation to determine if you want to handle this task in-house or hire an expert.

First, know your enemy: Particulate 

Any environmental pollutant, such as the fibers from a paper towel, can endanger your shipment. But particulate can be especially challenging to mitigate, because it tends to be so small as to be microscopic. The tiny droplets of moisture that are expelled when a person coughs are one example.

Before packing can begin, every effort needs to be made to remove any environmental pollutants such as:

  • Dust
  • Droplets of moisture
  • Strands of hair
  • Dead skin cells
  • Fibers from cloth or paper

Choose the path of least resistance.

Ideally, if your product will be manufactured in a cleanroom and eventually deployed by your customer in a cleanroom, as well, then it should be packed in a cleanroom. Moving the equipment to a standard shipping/receiving area to be prepared for shipment would be like wearing your brand-new white sneakers to play outside in the fresh-cut grass after a spring rain. You are just inviting pollutants to attach themselves to your super-clean equipment.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the product will need to leave the cleanroom environment before shipment (because you need the space for additional manufacturing, for example). Or maybe the equipment was manufactured outside a cleanroom, but will be installed in one at the delivery site. The product will require a very thorough cleaning, in a cleanroom setting, before it can be shipped.

Clean it once, then clean it again.

Even if your product was built and stored in a cleanroom, you should plan to clean it before it is shipped. Twice. Because even one speck of dust can irrevocably damage a delicately calibrated machine as it journeys around the globe.

No matter how well the moving parts of a machine are secured, you should expect some vibration to occur during transport. When those minimal movements occur, any trapped particulate could scratch the product’s surface or get wedged somewhere that will gum up the works when the equipment is deployed at your client’s site.

Nooks and crannies are delightful in English muffins, but a serious challenge for cleanroom packaging. These tools that will help remove particulate from your product before shipment:

Air knife:  Filtered air from the cleanroom is pumped through a hose to this device. A long, narrow “blade” focuses the air to blow particulate out of crevices.

Tacky roller:  This low-tech tool works on the same principle as the lint roller you might use at home. But instead of removing cat hair from your work clothes, this sticky wand captures particulate on the surface of the machinery you plan to ship.

Alcohol wipe:  A little elbow grease and the solvent on these disposable cloths will remove any stubborn contaminants. As an added bonus, alcohol dries very quickly, so a serious wipe-down won’t slow up the packaging process or introduce trapped moisture that could damage your product in transit.

Shop like a pro.

Just like you would never put off-brand hub caps on your restored Thunderbird, run-of-the-mill packing supplies are off the list. Cardboard boxes would add tiny paper fibers to your freshly-cleaned machinery. Bubble wrap would not protect your product from airborne particulate.

Even specialized packaging supplies commonly used by industrial packagers, such as open-cell cushioning foam, are forbidden (because the pores in the foam would collect every variety of environmental pollutant and redistribute it onto your product during transit.)

Here are a few items from the approved list:

Plastic corrugated boxes:  A good choice for containing parts during shipment since they won’t generate particulate.

Polyethylene bags:  Important for sealing out pollutants. Choose the cleanroom-certified version to avoid adding incidental particulate to your package.

Closed-cell foam:  Features a thin layer of material over the traditional open foam cells, so you get all the cushioning power without problematic particulate.

Don’t trust your eyes.

With all the time and effort you have put into cleaning it, there’s no doubt that your equipment will look spotless. But your eyes aren’t the best judge. Try one of these tricks to determine if your cleaning chores are done:

Turn on a black light. Hit your equipment—or your packing supplies—with a beam of ultraviolet light to help make any errant dust stand out.

Give it a bath. To test the cleanliness of a packing supply, bathe it in alcohol. Then count the number of particulates that were rinsed off the item.

Send it to the lab. Employ an independent tester if you need official verification that a particular packing supply meets the specifications for your particular cleanroom setting.

Trust the Cleanroom Experts at CDC Packaging

Cleanroom packaging can be complicated and time-consuming to handle on your own. CDC Packaging can provide the supplies, facilities, manpower, and expertise to ensure that your product is cleanroom-ready when it arrives at your client’s site. Contact us today to learn how we can help prevent particulate from becoming a problem for your cleanroom shipment.