You have decided you’re going to renovate or expand your pharmaceutical manufacturing
facility. You have developed a conceptual
plan and now, during the detailed design
phase, you will need to make a critical
decision about the quality of the facility
of which you will be operating. One of the
most important decisions you will make on
this project revolves around the materials
of construction — specifically, the built
environment surrounding your process.
Each project type presents its own
design challenges, whether it is a generic
solid dosage plant, a BSL- 3 biologics
manufacturing facility, or a medical device
assembly plant. There are also some
common challenges shared between them
all such as the availability of skilled labor,
existing site/building conditions, and above
all the project budget. One specific design
challenge is to determine which relatively
common two options for wall and ceiling
construction types should be used when
building a cleanroom environment. This
blog explores how your specific project
might drive your decision in either direction.
Modular cleanroom wall and ceiling
systems typically include a “sandwich”
panel construction with an aluminum
honeycomb core between galvanized steel
outer sheets. Panel faces which are exposed
to the cleanroom environment are typically
finished with a white hygienic coating such
as PVC and are cold welded together for a
monolithic air tight environment.
Modular Panel Pros:
• Panels are designed to interlock during
installation to create a completely closed
environment with very little air leakage/
• Field finishing is not required. No joint
compound sanding, priming or painting.
• Wall system base typically provides a
solid backer for an integral floor base,
usually a weak point in the wall assembly.
• Walk-on ceiling systems can create
an interstitial space above production
areas which cuts down on shutdown
requirements during regular maintenance.
• Most modular cleanroom systems either
provide or can integrate clean room
doors and hardware saving on field
coordination. Doors show up on site
prepped for installation.
Modular Panel Cons:
• Larger upfront capital investment for wall
and ceiling systems.
• Longer lead-times for design time,
fabrication, and a detailed submittal
• Modular panels are less adaptable for
• Building structure must be substantial
enough to carry the load of optional
walk-on ceiling systems.
Metal stud construction with wallboard
such as gypsum or fiberglass composite
is totally field fabricated and installed on
site. Metal studs are measured, cut, aligned
and fastened in place followed up with a
wallboard installation, joint compound,
and several coats of paint or supplemental
finished surface. An acoustical ceiling can
be suspended in place in lieu of the wall
board type, consisting of an aluminum grid
frame and ceiling tiles of varying materials.
Metal Stud Pros:
• Lower upfront capital investment for the
• Materials are typically readily available
for delivery to the site.
• Field modifications /changes can usually
be accommodated easily and quickly.
• There is a deep knowledge base for the
means and methods of construction
amongst many contractors.
Metal Stud Cons:
• Project quality will rely mostly on field
fabrications rather than factory controlled
• Paper-based gypsum board has the
potential to harbor fungus growth such
• Working with wall board panels creates
particulate which could migrate into
sensitive process equipment during
• Harsh cleanroom cleaning chemicals
can damage wall boards without proper
protection and precautions.
With the increased availability of modular
type systems, many of the challenges
associated with the heavily field fabricated
traditional techniques are mitigated. As
the industry moves many process unit
operations to a modular approach, so can
building projects push the boundaries of
construction systems toward a cleaner,
simpler approach to building cleanrooms
(and helping satisfy regulatory agencies
with an expectation of a high level of
cleanliness, accessibility and visibility into
the facility). n
Modular Cleanroom Systems vs. Traditional
Methods – If These Walls Could Talk…
◗ By Michael J. Lennon, Project Architect
IPS - Integrated Project Services, LLC