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Clean-Room Services Provider Uses RFID to Keep Things Orderly

Micro-Clean is using the technology to track air-cleaning units, as well as tools for maintaining and testing those units, to ensure that all are being serviced and calibrated as required.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 29, 2015

Micro-Clean, a clean-room services provider based in Bethlehem, Pa., has adopted an RFID system to help it track the status and calibration of the company's air-testing tools and equipment at its own tool-calibration laboratory and tool warehouse, as well as monitor work performed at customer sites. The company is considering offering the technology to its customers as well, so that they can identify where their own air-filtration and related equipment is located, and when it was last serviced or maintained. The RFID solution, known as Micro-Clean Identification (MCiD), was developed by Verigenics.

Clean rooms are enclosed spaces in which highly sensitive work is carried out, such as the manufacture of pharmaceutical, veterinary or bioscience products (vaccines, for instance), and in which particulates, contaminants and pollutants must thus be kept within strict limits. Companies that operate clean rooms often work with Micro-Clean or other service providers to use tools (such as sniffers that count the number of particulates in the air) to periodically test the air quality within those rooms, as well as the functionality of air filters and other equipment used to ensure the air's cleanliness. Not only must companies that operate clean rooms be able to provide proof to regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that the equipment is tested and serviced as required, but they also need to prove that the air-testing tools used onsite have been properly calibrated.

At one of Micro-Clean's check-in/checkout stations, a technician uses a Datalogic Element Bluetooth handheld reader to capture the tag ID of each tool on his cart.
In the past, when it came time for Micro-Clean's tools to be calibrated, the company's technicians had to search for those tools, and then refer to a handwritten logbook to identify where those items were last located and who was using them. Calibration technicians often sent e-mails and made phone calls to field technicians to ensure that those tools were always calibrated in a timely fashion. If a clerical error was made, such as the wrong serial number being written down for a specific tool, locating that item and its records could become more difficult.

The rules related to clean-room tool calibration have become stricter throughout the years, says John Wagner, Micro-Clean's CEO, following recall events in which products may not have been made according to proper clean-room specifications. Consequently, he adds, "We have to have complete traceability for everything we do," so that the firm can prevent any tool in need of calibration from being used at a customer's site, as well as provide proof to customers that the tools are calibrated. This requires time-consuming paperwork administration on the part of workers.

However, Wagner says, since adopting MCiD, Micro-Clean has achieved a return on its investment based on labor costs alone. In fact, he reports, clerical labor has been reduced by about 88 percent.

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