For a vision of tomorrow’s world it doesn’t require too much imagination – we’ve got sci-fi literature and cinema to do the hard work for us – to picture our future laboratories as places of gleaming white, spaceship-like interiors, with immaculately robed scientists calmly applying the spellbinding technology that will surely exist in 50, 100 years from now.
Bespectacled technicians glance over a sample and have a Terminator-style relay of information and statistics flash before their eyes. Others wearing pristine, graphene-woven disposable coveralls and gloves handle toxic materials and need to adjust the positioning of equipment and make note of certain readings – a wave of the hand or nod of the head and it is done. Elsewhere, an inventory of cleaning materials must be taken, and a review of the logistics processes conducted – all of which is completed as part of an automated system; no late-night stock taking required, no whiteboards, coffee and biscuits necessary.
Yet, as much as these ideas may seem to belong to a distant future, replete with Star Trek holodecks and replicators, these technologies are already out there (apart from the graphene-woven white coats). So the question is not one of ifbut when and how. And the issue, therefore, is not one of capability, but one of adoption.
First off, adoption requires a number of champions among the technologies’ users-to-be. Resistance to change is commonplace, so for new systems and processes to be successfully integrated into daily practices, some key members of staff must be enthusiastic about the opportunity to modernise the cleanroom, complex and operations. But while it naturally helps if the complexities of setup and training are minimal, what is also paramount is that key staff are able to see the value of innovative solutions – and an essential component of value is standardisation.
Having Minority Report capability with wearable technology, gesture command and interactive data retrieval may well have the potential to streamline operations, improve recordkeeping and boost product tracking, but if there is no near-field communication system in place, or if material types and values are not recorded in the same way, or if measuring practices are not consistent from cleanroom to cleanroom, teething problems will go full-blown – remember NASA’s Climate Orbiter, which ended up orbiting the sun rather than Mars?
Smart, powerful innovative technologies are out there, current and available to those organisations willing to invest in them. With the right technology implemented in the right way, automated processes for hazard control, advanced systems for data sharing and innovative solutions for operations management mean that new levels of efficiency and output are waiting to be exploited.
Tomorrow’s cleanrooms could, it seems, be coming earlier than perhaps expected – just hope for across-the-board standardisation and responsive teams or you might never get used to those Red Dwarf anti-matter chopsticks.