“There is a mindset shift in the market”

Rosaline Wijnen and Jo Nelissen, co-founders of ABN Cleanroom Technology, say increasing requests for modular cleanroom solutions and a greater concern for life cycle operational costs are the latest trends in the market

L-R: Rosaline Wijnen and Jo Nelissen

Dynamism in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries has paved the way for ABN Cleanroom Technology to experience steady growth for the last couple of years. A division of Belgium-based air management group ABN, the cleanroom construction specialist has reported a turnover of €16 million and sales volume on an upward trend.

The company has said that business is led by increasing requests for cleanroom installations, particularly a growing demand for mobile cleanrooms that are scalable. “It is not just growth, there is a mindset shift in the marketplace from fixed builds to mobile facilities,” Jo Nelissen and Rosaline Wijnen, ABN co-founders, comment.

With 21 years’ experience in the market, ABN Cleanroom Technology serves several sectors, including microelectronics, biotechnology, automotive, pharmacy, healthcare and the food industry. Nelissen says growth in the cleanroom market is mainly driven by a boom in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, stringent regulations in these sectors and new developments in biotechnology. “Compliance with the standards for product approvals results in more and more manufacturing companies depending on cleanroom technology,” Nelissen says.

Wijnen adds: “For 2018, we definitely expect this growth to continue because globally, the cleanroom technology market is witnessing growth due to increasing demand of certified products. These factors (stringent regulatory standard for product approvals, growing healthcare and biotechnology industry, etc.) are certainly amongst the most important ones to drive the cleanroom market.”

In a move to further consolidate the positive prospect of the business, ABN Cleanroom Technology completed the acquisition of Climatech, a cleanroom construction specialist headquartered in the Netherlands, to expand its presence in Europe. Climatech specialises in cleanroom construction for pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.

Founded by Jan Donderwinkel in 2012, Climatech has also experienced steady growth in recent years; the company employes 12 people and has recorded a turnover of €3.8 million. Climatech has delivered projects both in the Netherlands and Belgium for clients including Biocartis and Janssen Pharmaceutical. It is there that ABN got to know Climatech.

“We notice a remarkable growth in the pharmaceutical and hospital market. Climatech is therefore a perfect fit for ABN with its many years of experience in both markets,” Nelissen explains.

New trend in the market

According to Nelissen, across all sectors that the company sees more actively demanding cleanroom services, it is rather the way that cleanrooms are built that is really changing. “While conventional cleanrooms used to be the standard, we now see a changing and increasing demand towards modular cleanrooms,” he says pointing out that modular cleanroom services offer an innovative alternative to conventional cleanrooms for spaces that require a certain flexibility in terms of future needs or restricted build timeline.

Q: What is the most common request you get from clients when it comes to design and build a new cleanroom?

JN: Energy consumption optimisation, uptime and the life cycle cost play an enormous role for customers. With our energy saving VIX concept, extreme air tightness cleanroom constructions and less air changes for the same pressure level when a cleanroom is not used, we are one of the few who are taking actions when it comes to life cycle engineering and uptime in the cleanroom market. It is the so-called ‘voice of the customer’ that made us think in a pre-engineered way with a strong focus on the life cycle cost.

The SteriCube concept has been designed to facilitate a circular “use it when you need it” operation

Q: What is your unique selling point?

JN: While our competitors focus on capital expenditure (CAPEX), we like to focus on the life cycle cost and operational expenditure (OPEX) business models. That is our way of committing to achieve certain energy parameters and guarantee uptime. Within this engineering thinking, the overall equipment efficiency is a major parameter for availability guarantees.

RW: We even like to claim an uptime of 99,99% with a maximum guaranteed downtime of 53 minutes per year due to a redundant engineering approach.

Q: What is the most common flaw that you see at facilities you service?

RW: What is an unbelievable mistake is the fact that time-based maintenance still takes place in cleanroom environments. With our digital mindset, that is something we just don’t understand. For three years now, nearly all our cleanrooms have been Industry 4.0-ready and internet connected.

JN: We have the feeling that our company is one of the few where condition-based maintenance for cleanroom environments is fully accepted and takes place. If not, we wouldn’t guarantee an uptime that high. It is because of this condition-based monitoring that we help customers to avoid costs of failure, take action very quickly and maintain the cleanroom at the exact moment.

Q: Why do you think time-based maintenance is preferable?

RW: In many cases, the construction company differs from the company that is responsible for maintenance performances. There is a lack of proper knowledge transfer between the constructor and the user. By implementing a building information management system (BIM), we hope to improve this. Not many companies have a ‘design, build, maintain’ approach like ABN.

Q: Do you think validation and compliance is over-prioritised in detriment to operation and cost-efficiency?

JN: No, not really. But we do think, however, that it is about time to lay hands on the digital road in regulations. With ABN, we did some first proof of concepts with Smartlog.com to apply blockchain to validation documents, smart contracting, but also implementing blockchain technology regarding reliability for data streams (temperature, humidity, pressure difference, etc.). Due to this, data integrity and data security will be maximised.

Q: What trend do you see in cleanroom design?

RW: The concept of ‘modularity’ and ‘scalability’ for cleanrooms is trending. We noticed that modularity is the starting point that allows life science companies to introduce cleanroom technology. Modular means being scalable, flexible and agile. But more importantly, it enables speed, our value proposition.

JN: For large dimensional cleanrooms, an onsite built cleanroom is not that much of a problem. However, the current cleanroom market is one where companies in need of a rather small dimensional cleanroom are necessarily located in science parks or universities, with cleanroom designs that don’t allow easy relocation or expansion. More often these days, there are companies that are only temporarily in need of a cleanroom.

RW: Because more and more companies asked for small cleanroom solutions that are easy to relocate or repurpose, we started developing ‘SteriCube’, our pre-engineered and modular cleanroom unit with a much lower cost than fixed units.

JN: Pre-engineered and modular concepts stand for re-using knowledge, data and materials. Taking this into account, we made sure that the modular SteriCube concept facilitates a “use it when you need it” thinking.

Q: What changes do you see in HVAC systems for cleanrooms?

JN: The trend that started a while ago is using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which allows for remote monitoring systems and other features throughout HVAC cleanroom installations. Automated data collection is made possible through connected sensors that connect wirelessly to a network.

According to Wijnen, by implementing IoT technology, continuous remote decision-making becomes possible. By continuously monitoring a cleanroom environment, contamination threats and human errors are reduced, resulting in an optimised process. Also, by using IoT technology, companies can control compliance in several locations, no matter what sector they are in.

Nelissen and Wijnen are bullish about the prospects that the addition of Climatech will bring to the business. The new enlarged company is all set to meet the latest trends of flexible, modular builds with Industry 4.0 and condition-based maintenance systems.

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