Gowning Room Design & Protocol

Semiconductor manufacturers invest hundreds - even thousands - of dollars per square foot of cleanroom space to meet the stringent particle standards required for profitable yield rates. Shouldn't the same standards be required of the people who enter and potentially contaminate this ultra-clean environment?

Proper cleanroom garments, including hoods, face masks, booties and gloves, help to contain particles that people emit. Yet improper gowning procedures can negate your investment in cleanliness and threaten yields of sensitive semiconductor devices. Once a garment is contaminated - violated by contact with a dirty surface - it spreads particles everywhere it goes.

Sure, you can train personnel on proper garmenting procedures, but how do you guarantee compliance? A violated garment doesn't set off alarms, and few facilities can afford quality control monitors to supervise every person through every washing and dressing stage. Yet if strict controls are not observed, dirty gloves and coveralls almost certainly will come in contact with clean operations.

A Gowning Area that Supports Clean Protocol

The simplest and most economical approach to this dilemma is a correctly designed gowning area, complete with well designed change room products, that keeps personnel on a clean track.

This design starts with a room that meets the same cleanliness specifications you require of your cleanroom itself. It includes a laminar flow of HEPA-filtered air, typically emitted through ceiling filter/fan units. This continuous wash of clean air immediately removes personnel-emitted contaminants, as well as particles present even in cleanroom-laundered garments (see Figure 1). Failure to maintain the desired particle standard in the change area will lead to clean garments becoming violated.

Figure 1: Gowning Area Particle Generators
Activity > No. of particles (≥0.3μm)
Person emits during garmenting process 3,000,000/min.
Cleanest skin (hands) 10,000,000/ft2
Employee street clothes 10,000,000 to 30,000,000/ft2
Floor and bench surfaces > 10,000,000/ft2
Garments supplied by cleanroom laundry 1,000,000/ft2

Source: Encyclopedia of Clean Rooms, Bio-Cleanrooms and Aseptic Areas, Dr. Philip Austin, P.E., 2000

The Change Room illustration depicts an effective floor plan that places the proper gowning stations in appropriate locations.

Recommended Gowning Room Design
Change Room Key
  1. Secure lockers for clothing and personal property
  2. Shoe cleaner with rotating brushes to remove gross contaminants
  3. Walk-off adhesive shoe mat
  4. Air shower with HEPA filtered air jets to remove loose contaminants
  5. Hands-free hand washing station
  6. Hands-free hand dryer (if not incorporated into washer) with HEPA/ULPA-filtered air
  7. Dispenser for glove liners or undergloves
  8. Glove washing/drying station (if gloves not clean)
  9. Glove washing/drying station (if gloves not clean)
  10. Headwear dispenser
  11. Face mask dispenser
  12. Waste receptacles should be installed wherever packaging is removed
  13. Garment storage facility - depends on garment type
  1. Waste receptacle
  2. Ergonomic lean rails support personnel while donning coveralls
  3. Gowning platforms provide a non-contaminated surface to prevent violation of garment
  4. Wiper dispenser used to clean bench prior to putting on booties
  5. Bootie/shoe cover dispenser (can be incorporated into benches)
  6. Waste receptacle
  7. Gowning benches for putting on booties. Booties stay on "clean" side
  8. Cleanroom mirror for final self-inspection (side-by-side with poster showing a correctly garbed model)
  9. Safety glasses and overglove dispensers
  10. Air shower - may be required in cleanroom entrance
  11. Garment hamper for reusable garments to be laundered
  12. Waste receptacle for disposable garments
  13. Tools and supplies cabinet for overstock garments or cleanroom supplies

Although many variations on this layout are possible, they should support these key garmenting guidelines:

Don't Touch

Most cleanliness violations occur when a garment is touched by dirty hands, or when it touches a dirty floor. Hands and gloves should therefore be washed and dried frequently. Select washers and dryers with no-touch IR sensors to minimize the chance of violating gloves. Maintain ultraclean, un-violated surfaces where garments can be donned without contamination

Dress from the Head Down

That way, released particles won't fall on clean garments or booties.

Understand Garment Design

In most instances, gloves and booties are worn over coverall sleeves and cuffs, and hoods are tucked inside collars. Make sure that personnel are trained on how to seal these gaps between clothing, and include a mirror to allow final self-inspection. Hang a photo of a correctly garbed person next to the mirror as a "how-to" guide.

Minimize Motion

As Figure 2 indicates, people wearing cleanroom garments emit thousands of particles per minute even when sitting still! People in street clothes, walking from one change room location to another, release millions of particles. Change room plans should therefore minimize motion, especially during the final stages of dressing, by efficiently organizing the flow of personnel from one station to another.

Minimize Maintenance

Do you have dedicated, trained personnel to peel off adhesive shoe mats, wipe down gowning benches, keep "clean zones" regularly scrubbed, empty waste receptacles, restock garb dispensers, and perform other upkeep with the absolute regularity that your protocol requires? If not, look for ways to minimize reliance on humans - through automation, careful product positioning, choice of materials, and so forth. Initial cost may be higher, but reduced maintenance and greater compliance provide a rich return on your investment.

Train and Reinforce

A good change room design supports proper protocol, but it doesn't teach it. Make sure that personnel complete a formal training program, and stress protocol by hanging reminder posters at every gowning station that reinforce proper procedures.

Figure 2: Austin Contamination Index
Particles ≥ 0.3┬Ám emitted per minute in garment indicated
Personal Activity Snap Smock Standard Coverall 2-Piece Coverall Tyvek® Coverall Membrane Coverall
No Movement 100,000 10,000 4,000 1,000 10
Heavy Movement* 1,000,000 100,000 40,000 10,000 100
Change Position** 2,500,000 250,000 100,000 25,000 250
Slow Walk 5,000,000 500,000 200,000 50,000 500
Fast Walk 10,000,000 1,000,000 400,000 100,000 1,000
*Note: Light/heavy movement refer to partial body movements (motioning with arm, tapping toes, etc.).
**Note: Change of position refers to whole body motion (standing up, sitting down, etc.).

Source: Encyclopedia of Clean Rooms, Bio-Cleanrooms and Aseptic Areas, Dr. Philip Austin, PE, 2000

Reprinted with permission from Terra Universal.