Case study: Tex Plastics

Connect 2 Cleanrooms describes the Industry 4.0 features applied to a project it delivered to British injection moulder Tex Plastics to match its effort to achieve cost-effective, lean production for medical plastics

Speaking at the Cleanroom Technology Conference 2018, Rebecca Smith, national territories manager at Connect 2 Cleanrooms (C2C), discussed the many ways automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies are shaping the industry 4.0. Her presentation made it clear that big data, connectivity, new forms of human-machine interactions (i.e. touch-screens and augmented reality), advanced robotics and 3D printing are the tools at hand in the new era.

Smith said companies manufacturing in cleanroom facilities are joining the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” with custom-made solutions. One of the case studies she mentioned was the project featuring HEPA-filtered canopies controllable by a user-friendly touchscreen interface.

Tex Plastics, a UK-based injection moulding specialist, operates conventional, cleanroom production facilities in Barnstaple, North Devon, and Derby in the East Midlands. The company’s continuous improvement strategy towards cost-effective, lean production for medical plastics, comes with an explicit requirement for innovation and scalability. In looking to increase its manufacturing capability offering with cleanroom production, Tex Plastics entrusted C2C with a project that delivered both.

The tooling challenge

When considering injection moulding processes, the tool face of the machine is often the most exposed area of the production line and this is the area that often requires the supply of controlled air. A simple way to achieve this is to enclose the full machine in a cleanroom; however, this brings inevitable challenges of managing tool changes.

Enclosing the machine, mould and crane creates a large environment, in floor space and height. This approach leads to a vast amount of air being unnecessarily processed, negatively impacting on attempts to reduce carbon emissions. This approach also increases the risk of contamination and safety issues as the overhead crane inevitably retains particles and cleaning it is a cumbersome and difficult task, not to mention the hopper creating a mass of contamination within the cleanroom.

For this project, C2C developed an automated canopy system for the cleanrooms for which its HEPA-lite range takes centre stage

In this case, a more cost-effective and energy efficient option is to create a modular cleanroom on castors, that can be wheeled away to provide aerial crane access. While this low-cost solution is a practical solution for many, it creates downtime as machinery requires a full clean down following exposure to the external manufacturing environment.

This increases the risk of contamination and reduces the ability to offer a timely response to customer schedule changes. Manufacturing and production teams have been working around or compromising on these issues for years.

For this project, C2C developed an automated canopy system for the cleanrooms for which its HEPA-lite range takes centre stage

Through an intuitive, user-friendly touchscreen interface, Tex Plastics is able to remotely activate actuators that slide sealed HEPA-lite canopies back in the ceiling of the cleanroom, to allow overhead crane access to tooling.

This customer-driven requirement ensures that clean air is supplied at the critical point of production and reduces contamination by significantly limiting the areas of machinery that are exposed to the external environment during tooling changes. This limits downtime for cleaning, reduces the risk of contamination and increases productivity.

The canopy is a bespoke unit, containing a HEPA filter fully sealed to facilitate the recirculation of the cleanroom’s air conditioning. ULPA filtration is also able to be inbuilt for those users looking for higher cleanroom classifications.

An LED warning beacon above the control panel visually indicates when the canopy is open, reminding operators to close the canopy, prior to new batch production. This cleanroom solution also features LED strip lighting around the underside of the canopy for extra lux levels, illuminating the tool face for operators.

Big data management

The touchscreen interface has been designed to act as a control system allowing full control of HEPA filtration and lighting levels, as well as monitoring pressure levels and alerting staff if the cleanroom is operating out of specification. With this system, the pressure data is logged, exportable and auditable to demonstrate performance and continued compliance with the production processes.

Tex Plastics supplied 3D models of its machines allowing C2C to maximise on floor space when designing its cleanroom and ensure a seamless installation programme with minimal disruption

Tex Plastics manufacturing facility, operates to the British Quality standard ISO 9000:2015 and is also working towards achieving ISO 13485 accreditation. The cleanroom now features four zones, separated by partitions: two housing Arburg injection moulding machines, followed by a packing area and a goods transfer area. If one machine needs decommissioning or servicing, this can be achieved safely without affecting any of the other processes. The modular design means that additional space can be added to accommodate more machinery or create a larger packing area. This gives clients the peace of mind that scalability and future capacity is achievable when required.

Tex Plastics supplied 3D models of its machines allowing C2C to maximise on floor space when designing its cleanroom and ensure a seamless installation programme with minimal disruption to Tex Plastic’s production team.

The cleanroom is now fully operational, complimenting an already comprehensive “concept to completion” project solution for all conventional, white room and cleanroom thermoplastic requirements.

Meticulous project management of comprehensive tooling validation protocols including scientific moulding disciplines means Tex Plastics assures technical capability and a competitive edge, with a cleanroom production facility operating at maximum efficiency.

Project detail

Working in close collaboration with the staff at Tex Plastics, Connect 2 Cleanrooms has delivered an industry 4.0-ready cleanroom facility to the injection moulding company.

The project included:

  • Cleanroom area of 43.65 sq m with an internal clearance of 3m
  • The cleanroom achieves ISO 14644-1:2015 Class 7 through HEPA filtration
  • The cleanroom was validated to ‘as built’ occupancy state on completion
  • Comprehensive cleanroom validation report supplied, detailing compliance to the agreed scope of works
  • Ongoing cleanroom validation through C2C including two visits per year, validated ‘at rest’, plus filter integrity testing
  • Hardwall panel system with branding, HEPA-lite cleanroom canopy and ECO control system
  • Individual fan filter units to control airborne particles – more energy efficient than an AHU
  • External change area: 4m sq m (2m x 2m)
  • External goods transfer 2.8 sq m (1.4m x 2m)
  • 90 air changes per hour at an air speed of 0.45m/s in the main area
  • 55 air changes per hour at an air speed of 0.45m/s in the change area
  • 16 x 36w IP20 tear drop light fittings
  • 11 variable speed controlled HEPA ceiling fan filters
  • Five remote variable speed controllers for economic zone control for four zones
  • Two motorised opening hatches above the mould areas to allow for tooling access

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Connect 2 Cleanrooms (more information, website)