A clean room in a hospital somewhere in the world. A mixture of concentration and tension is in the air. The pharmaceutical technical assistant (PTA) slides her arms into the gloves of the isolator just like she always does. She is producing a cancer medication specially tailored to a patient. Nothing can go wrong now, for the patient’s and her own sake: she works with highly toxic substances. The only thing protecting her is the isolator, which is also known as a glove box.
The box, with its glass panel and gloved openings, forms a physical barrier between the PTA and the substances, which are sometimes carcinogenic. Therefore, it is important that she makes no fast movements that could tear a glove out of the holder and that the gloves are not damaged. But it does happen.
Block makes sure that the people working at isolators are protected anyway. The company with its headquarters in Valašské Meziříčí, Czech Republic has been constructing and equipping clean rooms since it was founded in 1991. Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medicine, science and research, microelectronics, automotive engineering and other industrial sectors require clinically clean environments.
In 90 percent of cases, over 500 employees work on tailor-made solutions for customers, but a year ago, Block decided to develop three standardized isolator types. Jiří Hruboň, Product Manager at Block, describes the challenges this presented, “We had to check the exact customer requirements that a standard product had to cover, and ensure that it did.”
Safety in the isolator
The most vital and obvious function of an isolator is ensuring the absolute safety of people working on or around it. Yet, it is responsible for many other functions. For example, if it is not completely sealed, viruses that are being researched could escape and get out of the building. “When developing our products, we consider all kinds of accidents that could happen, including those that will probably never occur,” says Hruboň. “That’s why we place an emphasis on top-quality components.”
When developing our products, we consider all kinds of accidents that could happen, including those that will probably never occur.
Jiří Hruboň, Product Manager at Block
An essential component of an isolator is the blower. It ensures that there is negative pressure in the isolator. This provides assurance if barriers become permeable, such as a defective glove. Due to the lower air pressure in the isolator, if this happens, the air flows in from the clean room, stopping even the powderiest substances from escaping.
The blower makes the difference
But the blower is under even more pressure to perform: Block equips its isolators with a double layer of high-efficiency particulate air/arrestance (HEPA) filters, resulting in a very high-pressure loss of 350 pascals for each filter.
Even though the blower has to compensate for this, it is still not allowed to be noisy. “Users have to perform highly focused work at the isolator for eight hours. Any noise is distracting,” says Hruboň. How loud an isolator is depends on what the room is like. Block calculated and specified: the whole isolator may be no louder than 60 decibels, i.e. not much louder than a refrigerator.
Clean room specialists at Block used their experience to obtain a blower that meets all of the requirements and achieves an air flow of 65 cubic meters per hour at five to six kilopascals: “We’ve been working with ebm-papst for more than ten years and the products have proven themselves completely,” says Hruboň, 32 years old.
The best blower for standard isolators
His colleagues and ebm-papst sales engineer Martin Kaštánek’s team worked together to find the best solution for the new standard isolators. “We were under a lot of pressure, as there is a huge demand for medical products, so we had to work quickly,” says Kaštánek.
But the 29-year-old is convinced of the result, “Our blowers even meet the requirements when they are running at 50 percent of their output, making them particularly quiet. At full capacity, they have 70 kilopascals in them.”
The new Block product will soon be used in a clinic in the Czech Republic and protect the health of those producing life-saving medications.