Engineering firm pioneers cleanroom technology

4th August 2006 By: Bert Swart

Terrorists threatening to spread deadly viruses and coercing governments for political agendas, are no longer only the substance of paperback fiction.

Since the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, threats of this nature have become common, including the discovery of anthrax- laced packages in the postal ser-vices.

However, these types of deadly viruses can only be tested and contained in specialised laboratories, says Stewart Scott International (SSI), incorporating Deryck Smith Consulting Engineers, industrial sector group manager SF van der Linde. This is a very specialised field, which requires an in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals, principles and applications of cleanroom technology, he says.

The company is presently designing a BLS level 4 facility, to be built in South Africa.

The facility, which will be the first in Africa and one of six in the world, is being designed for the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, where viruses such as Ebola, Marburg or bird flu viruses will be researched.

In the biosafety sphere, the labora- tories are normally categorised in BLS laboratory scales. Level 4 is the most advanced design. The cost of such a designed is around R20 000 per square metre.

Deryck Smith says that instal- lations are often either under- designed, resulting in enormous costs for the client to rectify the problem, or overdesigned, also result- ing in high costs. The company aims to offer the most cost-effective solution to its clients’ requirements, while ensuring that the design complies with the regulatory standards.

The company provides end-to-end designs, and its services include feasibility studies, innovation of existing installations, cost estimates, initial concept design and detailled design and contract documentation, calling for tenders and negotiations of the installation costs.

These include validation and acceptance of installation prior to hand-over to the client.

There are four main industry applications in which cleanroom technology is applied.

These are the pharmaceutical, electrical, biosafety and food sectors.

As a cleanroom specialist, the company designs the building and air flow to prevent people on the outside becoming contaminated and to contain the diseases in the laboratory. Smith says the company is presently involved in three more BLS level 3 laboratories, of which one is at Onderstepoort.

At these laboratories, highly-effi-cient particular air filters are used in the supply and exhaust systems and specially designed seals are fixed on the doors. Smith says there is an international demand for research facilities in Africa and pressure to get the Onderstepoort facility completed is high. The World Health Organisation is involved in this project through the Centre for Disease Control, in Atlanta.

The bulk of work done in BLS level 3 laboratories is pharma- ceutical research. In these laboraties, the employees must be protected from the effect of medicines such as penicillin and hormones.

The company recently completed an upgrade of a hormone laboratory where the aim was to protect men against female hormones.

Cleanroom designs are used in level 1 areas where products, such as fruit, are protected from contami- nation by humans.

A much more commercialised example is operating theatres and hospitals, in general, where the environment lends itself to the breeding of germs.

Van der Linde says that requirements for cleanroom services in hospitals are soon to become more stringent and the company sees this as a key growth area. Most hospitals within South Africa were incorrectly designed or maintained, he says.

Smith adds that there are not many consulting engineers for these services, as they are of such a specialised nature, and the field of scope in these designs often requires international expertise.

The company is one of a few pioneers in this field in South Africa and is presently part of a team compiling regulations for the industry.

Smyth says that regulation is necessary, and it is clear that the more developed a country becomes, the higher the standards tend to become for cleanroom services.

SSI is a multidisciplinary com- pany, which offers expertise in the full spectrum of engineering disciplines, including developmental community-based sustainable development and management-consultant projects.

The company was established in South Africa in 1992 (from two companies established as early as 1922) and has since merged with various consulting engineers, including the well-established firm in the mechanical, electrical and electronic building-services field, GH Marais and Partners Inc, Karabo Engineering (incorporating CDS Electrical Engineers) and recently (2006) the incorporation of Deryck Smith Consulting. With a staff complement of over 450, the firm has 17 offices in major centres in South Africa, covering all nine provinces. In addition, SSI has offices in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, Angola and Nigeria.

SSI is associated with the DHV Group, a consultancy based in the Netherlands and operating inter- nationally in Europe, North America and Asia. DHV is one of the leading cleanroom consultancies in Europe, having done work for Philips (semi- conductor industry) Bayer, Janssen’s Pharmaceutical, Roche, and others. In terms of this association, both organisations have access to the total extent of each other’s expertise and experience.