Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

March 2013    |    Volume: 45    |    Number: 3

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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The next-generation research facility

Nanotechnology sites come with a host of issues tailor-made for IEs

By Monty Stranski and Ted Johnson

Nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) research facilities are sought largely by a blend of government, university and corporate/private sector enterprises. With various missions, most are chartered to provide the basis to explore technology, including research and development for advanced electronic nanotechnology/micromanufacturing. These organizations face the challenge of providing research for many novel and at times critical processing environments within a cost-effective context. Cost constraints related to such projects include initial capital for facilities and equipment, along with the efficient cost of ownership for activities and operations. Further, these owner organizations desire an ever-increasing level of sustainable practice and infrastructure focusing on energy and resource efficiency and safety best practices.

IDC Architects, the architectural arm of CH2M HILL Ltd., has found that combining industrial engineering with architectural design approaches and integrating key operational requirements provides these new facilities with a flexible and technically capable nano/MEMS infrastructure. Applying industrial engineering tools helps these types of facilities identify and organize processes, research and pilot equipment requirements and evaluate materials flow and handling, including overall facilities planning. Integrating such activities with architectural planning for occupancy, codes, functionality, form, sustainable practices, advanced design tools and predictive modeling have attained significant results.

Specific design trends include modular space configuration to maximize space flexibility, extended vibration and electromagnetic interference (EMI) control strategies, bio-nano-MEMS integration, critical systems, critical characterizations, acoustics and the latest improvements in the use of computational fluid dynamics to model airflow and optimize energy efficiency and airborne molecular contamination control.The next-generation research facility 

Research to pilot production challenges

A number of approaches can help the latest-generation nano/MEMS research facilities accommodate specialized methodologies such as lithographie, galvanoformung, abformung (LIGA) utilizing lithography, electroplating and molding. These approaches can create high-aspect ratio MEMS structures that facilitate the multiuser MEMS processes (MUMPs), which researchers use to improve the cost-effectiveness of MEMS prototyping and ease the technology’s transition into volume manufacturing. Specialized considerations related to these approaches include:

  • Photo-lithography techniques
  • E-beam lithography techniques
  • Ion-beam lithography techniques
  • Nano-imprint lithography
  • Nanofabrication by self-assembly
  • Laser technology processes

Each of these advanced processes have critical environment issues that could hamper flexibility and present challenges to effective sustainability practices. The issues include bioprocessing for air management and containment, advanced operator safety protocols, airborne contamination, X-ray, toxic gas and chemicals, waste and exhaust contamination. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling is an effective tool for analyzing how clean room and air containment strategies impact the functionality of a future laboratory.

Figure 1 provides a CFD model analysis for a laboratory design that engages wet processing in an area that houses sensitive ancillary activities. The airflow modeling projections establish a basis of predictive analysis for chemical levels, flow patterns and input schemes for abatement systems. The model not only provides visualization but also statistical data for chemistry and airborne concentrations.

IDC Architects has developed rating and planning scales to judge various complexities for each laboratory type and configuration. These ratings are based on occupancy, technology, critical environment, classification of research and other parameters. The predictive summary shown in Figure 2 represents projections for scaling up an e-beam system suite to pilot manufacturing levels. This summary estimates that a pilot manufacturing project will need approximately four times the level of utilities and facilities support than what is required for an individual research room suite. This type of analysis provides the facility designer with valuable conceptual insight for cost and design scale.

In establishing a cost-effective design from the outset of the project, a modular space approach is developed to provide optimal features for structural and construction finishes. Modular laboratory planning includes modular finishes and casework concepts to establish a base level of utility and functionality for research activities. A common grid for distances is important for planning when using a modular approach. Modular planning accommodates support and “gray space’” allocation for developing and routing facility services.

With the ever-increasing use of electron beam equipment systems for microscopy and feature writing, design trends that include vibration and EMI control are a must when planning nanotechnology and MEMS research facilities. E-beam scanning, transmission and writing systems operate in vibration ranges below 3 microinches per second. Coupled with critical acoustics and sound requirements, they represent a growing trend in research operations. A key strategy in dealing with vibration requirements is to assess all aspects of the site location, together with the structure of the facility, the location of equipment within the laboratory and adjacent activities and operations from neighboring sites.

Outside of whatever research facility that is eventually constructed, the broader site location should be analyzed for vibration emitters such as roadway traffic, mass transit, high-speed rail and future development. This allows responsive siting and facility design solutions to take shape.

EMI control is approached similarly to vibration control. That is, proper siting and managing adjacent activities are critical to avoiding the more expensive approach of shielding areas and passive equipment controls.

Predictive models can be established to determine precise distances for magnetic generator equipment such as elevators, transformers, reciprocating pumps, automobiles, etc. These models are useful for planning distances and strengths of EMI emitters when laying out the building and when deciding where to locate sensitive equipment. For example, situations in which extreme EMI emitters have significant impacts within 12 or 14 feet can fall off to complete EMI dissipation if the emitters are at least 20 to 30 feet away from sensitive equipment. Such data are critical for layout planning and location preferences within the building design.

Operations and material flow issues

When designing nano/MEMS research and development facilities, planners must decide how to control hazardous materials, including their transport to and from research activities. In building occupancy codes, hazardous materials are limited by volume and by type. Volume control limits for flammables, corrosives, explosives, toxics and oxidizers are just a few of the material classifications that affect the design of research facilities. How these materials are handled and stored greatly affects what it costs to build the facilities and what it costs to operate and manage them upon completion.

So an effective layout and flow configuration for hazardous gases and chemicals is important. Hazardous process material (HPM) storage rooms are rated by material class and often positioned on the exterior of the facility. Flow from a central receiving truck dock to a single flow corridor allows HPM movement and is not available as a safety egress corridor. Flow into laboratory and clean room areas occurs via pass-through openings, material clean lifts or various dumbwaiter elevators, thus limiting hazardous material handling flow throughout the facility.

The analysis of flow and movement can be quite subtle, and minor changes made during detailed design and construction can completely subvert the original concepts as developed during the basis of design effort. As a simple example, Figure 3 shows some diagrams that demonstrate a basic concept of movement through a building where the red sphere represents a starting point, the orange spheres represent spaces or rooms, and the black lines are connecting pathways.

These diagrams represent radically different movement patterns (linear pattern versus a branching tree-like pattern versus a looped or ring-like pattern); but in fact, they all can be achieved in the same building configuration with only minor changes. This demonstrates why it is critical that the basic concepts of flow and separation developed during the basis of design be understood completely during later phases of design and construction. By changing around the entrances and exits from various rooms, the square building layouts in Figure 3 can be adjusted to fit any of the three suggested spatial flows.

Sustainability strategies

Around the world, countries have devised many different sustainability certification standards to lessen the potential negative impact that a new building may have on the environment. These standards promote measurable design, construction and operational practices in four environmentally sensitive ways: energy and water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality and ability to provide other “green” features.

  • Energy efficiency focuses on selecting and using building systems that optimize energy for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other building systems, along with reducing energy demand for and by the occupants.
  • Water efficiency focuses on reducing and appropriately reusing water during construction and building operations.
  • Environmental protection focuses on selecting sustainable construction materials and using appropriate resources to minimize the environmental impact of the building on the local and regional ecology.
  • Indoor environmental quality focuses on employing design strategies that enhance physical and psychological comfort for the occupants.

The sustainable planning for infrastructure aligns these focuses on action-based criteria, including reduction, disposal and abatement strategies.

Experienced infrastructure planners recognize that sustainable solutions will balance positive life cycle cost paybacks with public and human safety issues pertaining to waste and emissions from the research operations. For example, in most circumstances, reducing energy and water use (or recycling water) has a greater potential payback in terms of costs. But the greatest safety impacts can come from waste and emissions treatment and abatements. Striking this kind of balance is key to any successful sustainability strategy.

One of the fundamental principles of sustainability is to build for the long term. There is nothing more sustainable than a building that can be reused and lasts for centuries, not decades. Since advanced research is changing constantly, a key fundamental design approach is to anticipate change by designing in flexibility in building service systems in combination with robust building structure and enclosure systems. It is challenging to design things to function properly and cost-effectively in the short term, while being adaptable to minor and not so minor changes in the midterm and being flexible to cost-effective changes over the long term; it requires a highly integrated approach to system and spatial flexibility.

Sustainable design trends for nano/MEMS require a comprehensive approach to developing strategies and design and operating features that provide the broadest range of sustainable features. Figure 4 shows a full cycle approach to determining and managing sustainable features in the design and construction phases.

The framework diagram describes the phases of sustainability development, from the establishment of the optimal site location to definition of economic targets to master planning the future operations and growth of a research facility and its operations. Metrics are established with future targets tied to construction materials and implementation. Startup and commissioning is further linked and integrated so that the final operating results are tracked and optimized.

Applying the concepts to reality

As a response to China’s internal demand for MEMS and nanotechnology products, Nanopolis, a research and science park located in Suzhou, China, provides the industrial base of Suzhou MEMS/nanotechnology. Nanopolis also was the first construction project in the region for the innovative and entrepreneurial deployment of new products.

IDC Architects was engaged to design a new 6-inch MEMS pilot production line as a public platform in China dedicated to research and development, prototyping, processing, packaging and pilot production for internal Chinese manufacturers. This recent project is an example of the types of facility features that are representative of latest-generation nanotechnology facilities.

Nanopolis features and capabilities include:

  • Top level research and development labs
  • Stacked clean rooms for pilot and manufacturing lines
  • Nano/MEMS/nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) processing
  • ISO 5 and 7 clean rooms
  • VC-D and VC-C vibration criteria
  • E-beam metrology
  • Transmission electron microscope (TEM) suite capability
  • Remote bulk gas pad

A high-technology facility that functions for both research and development and as a pilot "first-of-manufacture" setting has several critical needs that provide the designer with many challenges. This multifaceted facility must balance the high flexibility requirements of research with the needs of the high-technology manufacturing equipment required for pilot operations.

Nanopolis desired the Nano/MEMS to comprise multiple clean room floors with a separate floor containing research laboratories. Due to site constraints, two clean rooms were developed for 150 millimeter and 200 millimeter wafer MEMS pilot and development functions. A top floor was designed for laboratories with common modules for room suite configurations. Criteria for vibration had to encompass both levels of vibration control, C and D, (VC-C and VC-D represent increasingly stringent levels of vibration sensitivity) for key lithography and analytical functions. To control structural costs, the first level clean room, which was the manufacturing clean room, was designed for VC-D while the upper level clean room provides VC-C vibration with a small area with VC-D capability.

Due to the complexity of the utility systems and their distribution throughout the building, the facility planners performed the design on Revit, software especially for architectural design, and created a full model to identify all research, pilot and preliminary production equipment locations. Load analysis from the equipment assumptions sized the distribution system, and extremely rigid coordination planning ensured minimal conflicts for services and routings.

The Revit design model, among other things, highlighted the main utility system routings to the clean room levels and lower level support areas.

Industrial engineers, working with project architects and facility engineers, coordinated the final design based on research and pilot equipment use points, material handling and people flow to test all design elements of the multistory design.

Specifically, IEs performed clean room equipment layouts (including the lower levels that were designed for subfabrication), support area layouts, clean gowning concepts, utility matrix reports, material storage concepts, material handling systems designs and material flow analysis. This included planning how to move the equipment into the building.

Project-specific design requirements

There’s an understandable temptation to replicate a “basis of design” facility design approach for similar facilities as a strategy to reduce costs. However, there is ample evidence that this can be a risky assumption. With nanotechnology and MEMS projects, there are many variables that determine the ultimate success or failure of an advanced technology research facility’s design in a given location.

For example, in the past two years project teams have designed nanotechnology facilities in China, Australia, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Each project involved variations in such critical requirements as climatic conditions, manufacturing equipment and manufacturing environments, regulatory requirements, vibration and electromagnetic fields. The design of these facilities needed to accommodate carefully targeted student and research faculty populations. Some were public institutions, and some were part of private enterprise. Some sought commercialization of research, and others were purely academic in nature. Some were greenfield, and some were retrofit.

In some cases, clean rooms designed technically to meet the base cleanliness criteria have proved difficult to operate and maintain or too expensive to operate. These clean rooms end up being used at classifications well below their design intention, or in worst cases, they were completely useless for their intended purpose. Similarly, HVAC solutions can be so complex that they are nearly impossible to reconfigure or repurpose without massive disruptions and costs, which can cause problems when research missions change even slightly.

Each one of the variations noted here translate into different design approaches that can make or break the success of a finely tuned research facility. None of these projects could have achieved excellence by merely replicating a design applied in one of the other projects. Applying a one-size-fits-all basis of design approach to projects of such complexity and variety in function and location would be perilous.

Blending disciplines

The trends in nano/MEMS research and development facilities will continue to be engaged in critical processes, human activities and creatively challenging research endeavors. The ever-increasing complexity of these pursuits requires a blend of technical competencies for architectural and engineering solutions with the aid of advanced planning tools, analysis and computational techniques. As research processes continue to evolve, maintaining sustainability and flexibility within a reasonable cost structure will continue to present the greatest challenges for facility designers.

Monty Stranski has more than 25 years of experience in the design of research and manufacturing facilities involving nanotechnology/MEMS technologies, as well as integrated circuit processes and tools, optoelectronics and photovoltaics manufacturing and electronics manufacturing. 

Ted Johnson has 30 years of experience as a technical writer and researcher. He has contributed to numerous technical articles related to advanced technology research and manufacturing, including nanotechnology, photovoltaics, flat panel, data centers, pharmaceuticals and electronics.