The next-generation research facility


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Nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) research facilities are sought largely by a blend of government, university and corporate/private sector enterprises to provide the basis to explore technology. 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. 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.

Research to pilot production changes
There are many ways to help the latest-generation nano/MEMS research facilities accommodate specialized methodologies, LIGA (lithographie, galvanoformung, abformung) is one of them which can create high-aspect ratio MEMS structure. Specialized considerations related to this approach include photo-lithography techniques, E-beam lithography techniques, Ion-beam lithography techniques, nano-imprint lithography, nanofabrication by self-assembly, and laser technology processes. Each of these advanced processes have critical environment issues (including bioprocessing for air management and containment, advanced operator safety protocols, airborne contamination, X-ray, toxic gas and chemicals, waste and exhaust contamination) that could hamper flexibility and present challenges to effective sustainability practices. Computer fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling is an effective tool for analyzing how clean room and air containment strategies impact the functionality of a future laboratory.

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.

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 efficiencyfocuses 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 efficiencyfocuses on reducing and appropriately reusing water during construction and building operations.
  • Environmental protectionfocuses 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 qualityfocuses on employing design strategies that enhance physical and psychological comfort for the occupants.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.