Construction is messy. And I’m not just talking about your basic home improvement project (although, is there anything worse than cleaning up drywall dust?). I’m talking about big construction. Each year, the U.S. construction industry generates 164,000 million tons of material waste and debris. This accounts for 30 percent of landfill content (EPA, 2004). And you thought plastic water bottles were a problem?

Now, I’m not blasting the construction industry. It’s a vibrant, necessary institution here in the U.S. But there are “greener” options those of us in the construction industry could consider – like modular construction. Modular construction involves subdividing a structural system into smaller parts. These parts can then be combined to create a customized final structure. It’s sort of a “plug and play” type of construction that requires less of a learning curve, less waste because the modular components are prefabricated, more consistent end structures, and labor savings for contractors. Modular building also allows for simplified expansion as additional modules can be seamlessly integrated into the end design.

Cleanroom constructed of modular panels.

A cleanroom constructed of modular panels.

As a custom structural panel laminator, I’ve supplied builders with prefabricated panels for modular structures. And I can say that these builders demand high-quality cores, surfaces, and laminations. Currently, the big users of our prefabricated panels for modular structures include: utility enclosures, communications buildings, recreation buildings, hurricane/tornado shelters, security booths, hazardous chemical storage, deployable kitchens, and portable classrooms.

 The Panelman wonders, why hasn’t modular building really taken off? It seems like a perfect tie-in for the current “green” mindset, it reduces energy, saves on labor, and provides a structurally sound end building. I’d like to hear what others out there have to say…

Want to read up on how modular building could fit into the U.S. construction industry? Check out this document by the Committee on Advancing Competitiveness and Productivity in Construction.

One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity to share the latest advances in panel and lamination products with my customers (and with followers of the Panelman blog!). An innovation that still amazes me is germ-fighting lamination for cleanroom applications: The antimicrobial coating actually penetrates the cells of germs, preventing them from spreading or reproducing. If you’re interested in how this actually works, read on…

Obviously cleanroom walls need to be microbe-free, but did you know that the inside of the walls should be equally resistant to growth? Typical modular cleanroom wall construction consists of a painted metal skin (aluminum) bonded to both sides of a core material which can be either aluminum honeycomb or fluted polypropylene.


Fluted Polypropylene Core.

In modular cleanrooms, the wall system often consists of two panels of the same thickness, say ¼” overall thickness, separated by extrusions to make the wall structure. In a modular “negative pressure” clean room, air flows through a HEPA filter, usually mounted into a ceiling plenum. Air then moves in a downwards direction, throughout the room. Air ends up moving through vents at the base of the wall into the wall interior and upwards into the center of the wall back into the HEPA filter, completing the cycle.

Laminators of panels for cleanrooms have access to special germ-fighting coatings applied on the aluminum sheet or coils. The antimicrobial protection is integrated at every step during the manufacturing process to fill the interstitial spaces present in the coating’s molecular structure. These coatings are “baked” onto the aluminum coils for a thorough and durable finish. Once installed in a cleanroom, the antimicrobial additives migrate to the surface of the coating where any germs encountered are destroyed. Compliance testing is done according to:

  • ASTM G-21-96 (fungal)
  • AATCC Method 100 (bacterial)
  • ASTM D-5589-97 (algae)

If anyone out there is interested in obtaining even more detailed information (yes, there’s plenty more to share on the subject) about cleanroom panels, let me know. And if you’re installing cleanroom panels, be sure you take the anti-microbial properties of the panels’ interior into consideration!