Aerospace solutions for the 21st century


Will Vance, marketing manager at Panel Projects, discusses the benefits of prefabricated aluminium honeycomb wall and ceiling panels in cleanroom construction

Aluminium honeycomb is widely used in both commercial and military aviation, providing an extraordinary combination of strength, lightweight and dimensional precision.

These qualities also offer tremendous benefits for cleanroom construction. The versatility of aluminium honeycomb lends itself to a myriad of uses including wall, ceiling and floor panels and counter tops. Cleanroom applications span all classes of environmental cleanliness – from dust-free semiconductor to microbe free pharmaceutical. The cleanroom challenge Over the past few years, the design and construction industry have been overwhelmed with the expansion requirements from both the semiconductor industry and associated industries utilising advanced technology and techniques in cleanroom construction. Rapid change and technological advancement in cleanroom construction now require flexible, responsive and safe facilities. Domestic and international regulations, customer demand, competition, and the imperatives of quality assurance are all pressures that are pushing clean manufacturers to adopt higher standards in their practices. In addition to new cleanrooms, second, third and fourth generation facilities require upgrades to enable companies to meet production demands. Clean manufacturers now demand ever-increasing flexibility in layout to accommodate easy reconfiguration and to simplify equipment relocation to match changing business needs. Companies crave shorter project delivery times to get more products to increasingly disparate markets faster. All clean manufacturers want to meet differing challenges unique to their demands but, generally, the following trends in cleanroom construction are key. • Flexibility in layout to accommodate easy reconfiguration to match changing business needs • Modular layouts of suites to simplify equipment relocations within a site and between sites • Cloning of facilities across country borders to allow dual site production flexibility • Increasing use of modular wall/ceiling panel systems for flexibility • Shorter project delivery times, to get products to market faster. Focus on aluminium honeycombs Aluminium honeycomb cores within panels address many of the key issues facing current European cleanroom construction. With a range of attributes uniquely suited to the demands of cleanroom environments, the material exhibits an extraordinary combination of strength, lightweight and dimensional stability. Aluminium honeycomb panels are manufactured to form lightweight, high strength sandwich units that are extremely rigid and corrosion resistant. The core consists of a matrix of honeycomb cells fixed to the panel\'s outer facing with a non out-gassing adhesive. Aluminium is fire retardant, moisture resistant and, in contrast with mineral fibre and foam cores, there is no risk of fibre or dust contamination. Grade 3003 Commercial Aluminium is non-combustible and can be used in panel format to temperatures of up to 120°C. Good for construction Cleanroom design and construction is typically performed under very tight time constraints. Whether you decide to handle cleanroom installation internally, or outsource the project, prefabrication is key. Pre-fabricated panels with integrated service positions significantly shorten installation time, minimise disruption and lower overall project cost allowing companies to hit that narrow market window. Panels supplied in this format, with aluminium honeycomb cores, are significantly lighter in weight and provide the ability to incorporate integrated service position with minimal strength depreciation. Installation time is therefore further reduced, allowing for a more efficient delivery. One of the toughest construction jobs is retrofitting, upgrading or revamping a clean manufacturing area. It poses many challenges for all involved. When engaged in this process a short duration in construction is absolutely vital. Onsite alterations to panels are an inevitable evil of installation and, because aluminium honeycomb is non-fibrous, the core minimises onsite particulate contamination. Maintenance and operating costs are reduced as the lightweight and modular design allows for future upgrade flexibility. One of the many benefits of aluminium honeycomb is its inherent strength and durability. The stable hexagonal structure of the core material is capable of enduring external force disturbances without any significant deformation of the material, reducing long-term maintenance costs. Due to its excellent compression and tensile strengths, the structure of aluminium honeycomb is strong enough to promote the use of large-scale panels up to six metres in length. In the same vein, ceiling load capacity can limit the ability to incorporate apertures, HVAC and light fittings without additional structural support. Aluminium honeycomb panels allow for the construction of long span walk-on ceilings that exceed BS6399 loading capabilities, even with apertures, providing the opportunity for increased plant maintenance without intrusion into the cleanroom area. The panel is also much thinner and lighter than other cores. Excellent durability and high stability with respect to chemical damage make aluminium honeycomb cores superior to other materials. The core is fire retardant, moisture resistant and, in contrast with mineral fibre and foam cores, there is no risk of fibre or dust contamination. The air pockets inherent in the honeycomb core structure minimise heat transfer between sheets, allowing a constant temperature to be maintained within the cleanroom environment. An aluminium future? Traditional cleanroom designs and construction techniques inevitably have a limited shelf life, resulting in complete and expensive retrofits when the technology changes or the "Class" of the room has to be upgraded. With aluminium honeycomb as a panel core, presented prefabricated and in modular format, our industry just may have found the solution: • Prefabricated pre-finished wall panels with integrated service positions • Walk-on ceilings to heavily serviced areas • A lightweight, removable panel system to speed installation and offer full future maintenance access • Adaptability in the design to allow for future conversion. Clean manufacturers must remember that after the designers and contractors leave, the cleanroom is their responsibility. The durability and longevity of aluminium honeycomb provides a smarter long-term option for cleanroom construction. Tel: +44 (0)117 316 7020