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We ask a lot of our flooring in the life sciences and healthcare industries. Whether it serves research, development or production, there are numerous factors that must be considered. For example, moisture migrating from the concrete substrate can be a major issue for flooring systems. North American commercial property owners annually spend an estimated $2.4 billion on remediation of structures and floor coverings because of moisture-related flooring treatment failures. Additionally, $1.2 billion is spent on topical moisture treatments to address moisture issues that occurred before the floor covering was installed.  

These incidents add significant cost to any project in terms of delays, unplanned expenses associated with flooring replacement or delays and losses from business disruptions. Failure of a flooring system to mitigate moisture issues, resist caustic cleaning chemicals, eliminate cracks or seams that catch and hold contaminants can bring operations to a halt throughout entire facilities. High emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can compromise the health, comfort and productivity of employees. Even minor wear and tear may raise questions among inspectors.

The weight of so many factors make flooring specification a challenge. However, pharmaceutical manufacturers can assert greater control over designing these environments—from installment through maintenance—with solutions that manage the risks of moisture and particle contamination, maintain hygienic conditions, prevent signs of wear and tear and keep operations flowing.

FIGHT MOISTURE PROBLEMS WITH MOISTURE TOLERANCE

As mentioned above, moisture migrating from the concrete substrate causes major problems to flooring systems. New construction with non-breathable concrete flooring systems can cause bubbling and blistering, which can result in a facility shutdown. This bubbling occurs when moisture vapor migrates from the concrete substrate. 

Traditionally, once concrete is poured in a new facility it must cure completely before a floor system can be installed. This could take up to 28 days before the floor can be installed. However, as the slab ages, more moisture may migrate to the surface. When non-breathable flooring systems are applied over it the moisture is trapped, causing signs of failure such as bubbling and cracking. 

To avoid this issue, moisture-tolerant flooring technologies can be installed over green concrete (concrete that is just 7 to 10 days old). By design, these systems are fluid-applied in chemically appropriate layers and cured in place. Depending on the levels of ambient moisture several mitigation avenues are open to the designer. In cases where moisture is measured at six percent mass (part by weight) a moisture-tolerant epoxy primer will provide adequate protection. In instances of higher moisture levels a polyurethane-based cement should be applied to the slab. In essence, this feature prevents the negative impact of moisture by allowing it to pass through breathable barriers. This prevents bubbling and blistering, cutting long-term repair or replacement costs, avoiding stoppages—and, as a bonus, enables the manufacturer to accelerate installation. 

HYGIENE

More than 200 country-specific regulatory agencies throughout the world oversee the production, labeling and distribution of medicines and medical devices. With such a range of regulations applied to the industry, risk mitigation and emphasis on safety are driving the high cost of research, development and production of pharmaceuticals. With so much on the line for life sciences companies, designing a hygienic, efficient facility is of the utmost importance.

For floors, raising the standard for hygiene starts with eliminating seams where pathogens and contaminants accumulate. Because resinous floors are seamless, there are no cracks or crevices to catch microorganisms and contaminants. They also require less maintenance, as they do not need to be stripped or waxed, resulting in cost savings over time. The seamless factor can even be extended to encompass walls and ceilings. 

Sika, for instance, offers hygienic envelope systems that wrap floors, walls and ceilings into one seamless, non-porous, chemical-resistant barrier. The “cove” detail at the wall-to-floor transition offers a completely seamless interface with a “negative” edge that will not collect dust or impurities. This envelope capability allows greater efficiency in maintaining hygiene levels in cleanrooms and other areas that require regular wash-downs. 

Sika’s hygienic coatings are designed to provide the ultimate connection between floors, walls and ceilings to ensure an environment free from pathogens and other contaminants. Image: Sika Corp.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER

Pharmaceutical facility inspections are all about first impressions. Title 21 of the Federal Regulations Subpart C Section 211.42, which addresses the design and construction of pharmaceutical facilities, requires smooth, hard, easily cleanable surfaces for walls, ceilings and floors. When the FDA or OSHA checks a facility, a stain on the floor may motivate an inspector to dig deeper and look more carefully for other issues.

Since appearance can be an indicator of facility cleanliness, a pharmaceutical facility requires floors that can withstand stress and aggressive use without becoming unsightly. Developers must consider the toll that harsh cleaning chemicals, heavy equipment and foot traffic take on the floor’s appearance and functionality, and specify materials accordingly. 

Choosing a resin-rich flooring system allows pharmaceutical companies to anticipate and control issues stemming from stained, damaged or flawed floors. The resins used in these products feature high crosslink densities, which allow for excellent chemical and stain resistance as well as a durable smooth surface that does not dull easily from wear and tear. Also, resin-based flooring can be textured for added safety and slip resistance measures. 

Last but not least, companies must work with the flooring manufacturers to design a system to their preferred aesthetics. A wide range of color options and combinations—as well as the addition of decorative aggregates—empower designers to best reflect their companies’ brands and create welcoming environments where needed in lobbies, waiting areas, offices and multi-use spaces. 

KEEP IT MOVING: CONTINUOUS OPERATIONS

Most pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are 24-hour operations with little room for shutdowns, especially unscheduled ones. Although shutdowns are less frequent than in the past, they are still a concern, especially in facilities with older systems. Choosing a resin-rich flooring system that is built to withstand heavy use in a pharmaceutical laboratory can prevent these costly inconveniences, saving time and money. This requires resistance to abrasion, impact, UV rays and thermal shock. While the components of these flooring systems may vary, each system must be designed from the ground up to suit the environment and its intended use. An in-depth analysis of the needs for the space will determine what features to prioritize. For example, is a textured aggregate surface necessary to provide slip resistance for areas prone to high-traffic or regular wash-downs? Building this feature into the original design can prevent the need for a shutdown during a corrective application later on.

Another factor that can prevent downtime is reducing the VOC levels in flooring systems. Odors associated with VOCs can slow productivity or even cause a shutdown as they are widely perceived to be harmful, if not bothersome. Additionally, VOC content is highly flammable, so any grinding or open-flame operations must halt during installation. Due to these factors, demand for VOC-free products that do not contain formaldehyde has increased, as these options reduce off-gassing odors and installation delays related to open-flame activities. As an example, Sika’s flooring systems comply with AFSSET COMPLY and AgBB requirements regarding VOC emissions of construction products. 

Sika has engineered a line of systems specifically designed to meet pharmaceutical floor and wall regulations for physical properties including, slip, chemical and impact resistances. Image: Sika Corp.

CONSULT THE EXPERTS

The first step to designing any flooring system is to assess a facility’s needs. Working with a seasoned team with years—if not decades—of experience in designing and installing systems for pharmaceutical labs, R&D, production or manufacturing applications is a good first step. Architects, designers and managers of pharmaceutical facilities work with networks of technical, design and construction experts to create systems that address the unique demands of pharmaceutical environments. Installation partners work closely with companies to shave weeks off construction and allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to mitigate delays in production and costs associated with shutdowns—because asserting greater control over life sciences facilities should start from the floor up. 

References
1.    https://bit.ly/2rSgMGc

Jim Hendley is Vertical Market Manager, Life Sciences, with Sika Corp., a specialty chemicals company that develops and produces systems and products for bonding, sealing, damping, reinforcement and protection in the building sector and automotive industry. Sika has subsidiaries in 100 countries around the world and manufactures in over 190 factories. usa.sika.com

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