Controlled Environment vs. Cleanroom: What’s the Difference?

As a leading manufacturer of prefabricated and modular cleanrooms, Starrco’s clients often use the terms “controlled environment” and “cleanroom” interchangeably. While both terms mean similar things, they are distinct enough to have significant influence on how your project is engineered, the variety of equipment that should be considered, and how much the project ultimately costs.

Controlled Environment vs. Cleanroom: What’s the Difference?

The greatest difference between a controlled environment and a cleanroom is how the room must be regulated. Controlled environments place an emphasis on atmospheric considerations, like air temperature, air pressure, and relative humidity levels. Cleanrooms add the complexity of decontamination and filtration requirements making those spaces more stringently regulated than a controlled environment.

What is a Controlled Environment?

Also known as a critical environment, a controlled environment delivers precisely regulated environmental conditions. No matter the application, a properly designed controlled environment will meet specific air temperature, pressure, and humidity levels — typically to protect the functionality of people, machinery, packaging, or products within the work space.

A controlled environment is engineered to meet ISO Class parameters that allow for higher levels of particulate contamination within the space (see the table below). Customers may implement procedures to prevent contamination from entering the space, but more often than not, the level of particulate contamination in the space is not mission-critical.

Common Applications for Controlled Environments

Starrco has delivered controlled environment work spaces for customers ranging from Top Secret government installations to companies increasing production of PPE in response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Other common applications include:

What is a Cleanroom?

A cleanroom is a sterile space designed to precisely measure, control, and eliminate contamination such as dust, mold, and microorganisms. Cleanrooms utilize industrial HEPA air filtration and highly-specialized HVAC systems that have been engineered to filter fine particulates and ensure a contaminant-free environment. While most cleanrooms utilize environmental controls like temperature, positive or negative pressure, and humidity regulation, their primary function is to deliver a particle-free environment for sensitive manufacturing, pharmaceutical, electronic, and medical applications.

Common Applications for Cleanrooms

Starrco has designed and erected cleanrooms for companies ranging from defense contractors developing future technologies to space institutions like NASA and SpaceX, to drug companies developing vaccines and other life-saving pharmaceuticals. A few common examples include:

Controlled Environment vs. Cleanroom: Which Option is Right for My Application?

The time to consult with the experts at Starrco is when you’re learning if your people, processes, or machinery will benefit from the engineering requirements of a controlled environment or the sterile environment of a cleanroom. Starrco will coordinate with your architects, engineers, and facility personnel to develop the perfect solution for your site.

As a general rule, if your application demands a controlled, stable environment that requires a certain temperature or humidity level, you’re looking for a controlled environment.

You’ll need a cleanroom when your application requires a specific level of decontamination or filtration to ensure that production is completed in a safe, sterile environment.

Starrco pre-manufactured and modular cleanroom wall systems are engineered to your exact specifications, carefully packaged, and delivered directly to your site where assembly will be clean and fast. In most cases, Starrco cleanroom projects are fully operational up to 75% faster than conventional construction methods.

If you’re still not sure whether a controlled environment or a cleanroom is right for your application, it’s a good idea to consult an ISO chart like the one below:

Anything greater than an ISO 8 class is considered a controlled environment. Anything less will require additional filtration and decontamination, making it a true cleanroom.

The cleanroom experts at Starrco are here to help. Call us at 800-325-4259 for an answer to your question, or submit a request for a free quote online today.

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