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August 11, 2016

‘Automotive Cleanrooms’ – A Contradiction in Terms?

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When it comes to automobiles, we all have our favorites. A convertible with the top down is the only way to travel the California coast or the switchbacks on Maui’s Road to Hana. Electric hybrids are perfect for those around town trips when you’re never too far from a charging station. Gas-guzzling SUVs do double duty, transporting the kids to their myriad unmissable after-school commitments and enraging the driver of the compact car who can’t see to back safely out of their parking space at the grocery store. I know about this last one for sure – I drive a Yaris. But whatever your personal choice in vehicles, they’re all pretty much in the same league, right? Well, not all. In fact, alongside the Maseratis, Ferraris, and Bugattis of the road there is a new set of hot wheels on the strip. A sleek, sophisticated, ‘supercar’ that the manufacturer hopes will change the way we look at Fords forever.

Ford? Wait – did you say Ford?

Ford? Wait – did you say Ford? Yes indeed. With its introduction of the Ford GT, the company clearly aims to blow car aficionados’ minds. Priced at a mere $450,000, this car is not only beautiful but also somewhat customer configurable with a dedicated website to allow potential clients to choose their own body and stripe colors. But did you note the use of the word ‘potential’? Given that the company is planning to build only 500 units, those who have set their sights on owning one must survive a grueling application process in which they are made to demonstrate their brand loyalty. In a singularly 21st century move, Ford is actually scrutinizing potential customers’ ownership history (‘How many Fords have you owned and where are they now?’), their intended use of the GT (“How often will you take it out for a spin?”), and – in an era when the hashtag is king – will also probe the customers’ use of social media.(1)

And assuming you, as a customer, are not voted off the metaphorical GT Owners island, Survivor-style, having passed the test, raised the money, and taken delivery of your twin-turbo V6, 600 H/P EcoBoost, there are still a few hurdles still to overcome.

Servicing is one.

For most cars, the received wisdom is that the oil should be changed every three months or 6000 miles. And for the Ford GT that is probably also the case. But it’s the way in which anything more significant than an oil change is handled that has us interested. According to an article in AutoBlog.com, any dealership wishing to service this ever-so-special model will be required to invest at least $30,000 in service center upgrades.(2) And the word they’re using is ‘cleanroom.’

…And the word they’re using is ‘cleanroom.

This nugget of leaked information has the car world in a furor. According to AllFordMustangs, the specifications for the contamination-controlled environment are very well defined(3) and include the following:

· Cleanroom area must be strictly limited to use for Ford GT
· Dealer must have an enclosed trailer to transport the car from owner’s residence to dealership. And back.
· Cleanroom must have available a twin post hoist with 3” thick arms, a set of GoJak 4520 wheel lift dollies, and a rolling dolly rack
· Cleanroom must feature a fuel tanker/gas caddy for fuel siphoning
· Cleanroom must be equipped to handle 1234YF refrigerant servicing
· Cleanroom must also use tire changing equipment with a leverless tool head that contacts only inside the tire hub, never touching the wheel or the inside of the wheel rim

The list goes on and on. And in addition to the facilities, a Ford-certified master technician and a Ford GT sales representative are the only people permitted to work within the cleanroom environment, increasing the overhead for any dealership not currently employing such individuals.

As cleanroom technology experts, this whole scenario has us scratching our heads and wondering how an item so inherently contaminated as an automobile – one that spends its time in non-sterile environments such as highways and produces significant amounts of particulate matter in its everyday operation – can possibly be at home in a genuine cleanroom setting. Perhaps there is less to this than meets the eye?

Cleanroom technology does have a place within the automotive industry but in a different way than might be imagined. For Paint Shops, electrostatic color-painting tunnels are used to spray vehicles, and these tunnels are connected to a contamination-controlled vestibule, with positive pressure being maintained between the paint shop, the vestibule and the rest of the automotive plant. Air in the tunnels is filtered through multiple high-efficiency filters with the maximum allowable size for particulate matter being 3-5 microns. Air exiting the tunnels is filtered through a grated floor with a downdraft of between 60 and 100ft/min which allows for paint overspray or any other contaminants to be carried away at the same time.(4)

And then there’s the issue of personnel. In Chrysler Corporation’s Missouri assembly plant, human workers are part of the build process, requiring them to be present in the tunnels. And, as we know, with human presence comes the threat of human contamination. Reflecting that human particulates are a serious problem when working with water-borne paints and powder coatings, process engineer Mike Byrne of Chrysler’s Missouri Tech Center commented:

‘Personal hygiene products such as deodorants and hair sprays are deadly to the defect rate and can ruin a system in very small amounts.’(5)

And aside from personal hygiene products, lint and other particulates from workers’ clothing are the worst offenders, leading NH-based Textron Automotive Interiors Inc. to mandate – in addition to tunnel air-balancing with laminar-downflow air – cleanroom gowns, hoods, and gloves for service technicians with access to the Class 100 portions of the cleanroom facilities.

This is all a far cry from Ford’s call for separate, ‘clean’ rooms to be established in their GT service centers. Notably absent from the list of technical specifications for these areas was a discussion of HEPA or ULPA filtration, ISO classification, or contamination-control products and cleanroom accessories. So we wondered where the disconnect lay.

A thread on Reddit offered some insight as it delved into what might be meant in Ford’s case by ‘cleanroom.’ One commenter described their vision: ‘Probably an ISO 7 or 8 and no low wall returns or airlock rooms, just a net positive pressure and regular 99.99% HEPAs. […] they might even just put activated carbon bag filters and pre-filters in the air handler and call it a day.’(6) And another Redditor commented similarly: ‘You don’t even need a clean room to work on the turbos, which is probably the most likely thing to be damaged by large particles anyway.’(7)

…wonder whether this ‘cleanroom’ might in fact be more of a clever marketing ploy

And then there’s the question of the budget. As we highlighted in last week’s article, ‘Getting High – The High-Tech Way’, the cost of a Class 5 cleanroom for cannabis technology innovator Green Technology Solutions, Inc. was in the region of $250,000 plus stocks. Ford’s dealership estimates come to only $30,000 per dealership. Clearly the math does not add up. So in considering the contamination-controlled environment postulated in Ford’s PR materials, we’re led to wonder whether this ‘cleanroom’ might in fact be more of a clever marketing ploy designed to hype the service and elevate the ‘experience’ of owning this kind of supermodel vehicle. But with a purchase price in the mid-$450k, who wouldn’t want the illusion of superior service for their brand new toy?

Thinking of buying a Ford GT? We’d love to hear from you! (And perhaps go out for a spin in it!) Just leave us a note in the comments section below…

References:

1. http://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/news/a28806/the-ford-gt-configurator-is-here-go-reserve-your-4/
2. http://www.autoblog.com/2016/07/13/ford-gt-supercar-dealer-service-center-upgrades/
3. http://www.allfordmustangs.com/2016/07/12/dealer-spend-30000-just-to-service-ford-gt/
4. http://electroiq.com/blog/1995/01/brought-to-you-bycleanroom-technology/
5. http://electroiq.com/blog/1995/01/brought-to-you-bycleanroom-technology/
6. https://www.reddit.com/r/cars/comments/4tob51/ford_dealers_will_need_a_dedicated_clean_room_to/
7. https://www.reddit.com/r/cars/comments/4tob51/ford_dealers_will_need_a_dedicated_clean_room_to/

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Comments

  1. Wenda Ramos

    Very interesting.

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