This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
The things Michigan makes are amazing. Everyday products like the phone you use and the medicine you take in the morning, plus the intricate network of satellites connecting us to a global community, all require incredibly precise processes to even be made possible. Even the smallest unintended particle of dust or bacteria introduced into the manufacturing process could crash critical systems and cost lives.
Whether it’s meeting tolerance concerns or abiding by hyper-strict regulations — as can be found in the creation of food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals — a company failing to take every precaution can quickly go out of business or be found liable when things go awry.
To prevent this, businesses around the world rely on isolated environments during multiple parts of the manufacturing process.
These “clean rooms” make pioneering companies possible and their influence on our world grows as modern manufacturing becomes more innovative and tech-driven. In a normal office environment, standard circulation systems will move and remove the air in a normal office space five to seven times per hour. The highest-level clean rooms can exceed 500 air changes per hour while being sensitive to the manufacturing processes happening in the room.
“High-level innovation goes into creating these environments,” said Tim Werkema, president & CEO for Clean Rooms International (CRI), a leading manufacturer of clean room technology. “Clean rooms require that control systems fully function while meticulously regulating and monitoring pressure levels, airflow rates, filter efficiency, temperature/humidity levels and energy usage — all with little room for error.”
Even as a cutting-edge company like CRI is on pace for record growth in 2019, they face daily challenges. A clean room at an aerospace manufacturer could be unrecognizable next to what a manufacturer of medical equipment like hip replacements requires, so Werkema and his team require talent with a special set of skills.
“We look for ‘jack of all trades’ talent — the people who can jump from project to project and adapt quickly; collaborate when needed and problem solve. Our customer base is very diverse so our talent pool needs to be equally adept at what they do,” explained Werkema.
The memories of the last recession and uncertainty about the future has led more manufacturers to diversify their business. What lessons can CRI’s experiences at the forefront of innovation offer?
“Be open and flexible — you need to be able to change with the times and they are changing faster than ever. Also, stop assuming there’s only one way to do something. If you can react quickly, intelligently and stay up with the customer’s needs, you’ll find that success,” Werkema offered. “We’re able to sit down with a customer and create something completely new for them and there’s no better feeling than that.”