Nothing Small about State-of-the-Art RMIT MicroNano Research Facility

Nanotechnology can be defined as ‘engineering at a very small scale’. The term can be applied to many areas of research and development - from medicine to manufacturing to computing, and even to textiles and cosmetics. It’s the precise nature of this science that necessitated the stringent design and delivery requirements at RMIT University’s Melbourne city campus in the construction of the new state-of-the-art MicroNano Research facility

7 Jul 2014
 

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Under normal circumstances, a project of this size, technical complexity and detail would typically take 12 months to deliver. However, time wasn’t a luxury RMIT University could afford. So AE Smith worked closely with head contractor Brookfield Multiplex to deliver the same installation in just six months to help our mutual client

Under normal circumstances, a project of this size, technical complexity and detail would typically take 12 months to deliver. However, time wasn’t a luxury RMIT University could afford. So AE Smith worked closely with head contractor Brookfield Multiplex to deliver the same installation in just six months to help our mutual client.

The AE Smith project team assigned this task was one of it’s most experienced, handling design verification, the challenging installation timelines and the final commissioning and handover. AE Smith’s engineering team worked closely with the concept designers Sinclair Knight Merz to ensure the development of their design met the requirements of International Standards Organisation (ISO), RMIT (the client) and those of the end users.

AE Smith’s scope of works also included the management of specialist services for the project including the design and installation of laboratory gases, fume extract systems, mechanical electrical works and building management controls systems. The latter also included the provision of alarms for gas detection and life safety sensors throughout the research facility.

Operational concept

The project involves the provision of cleanroom laboratories, designed to meet the requirements of ISO-5 and ISO-7, whilst also including the delivery of a Physical Containment (PC)2 laboratory and service chases within the original Level 4 area of building 7.

To achieve this, the top floor of the original building required a significant strip out and structural upgrade to clear Level 4 and to permit the building of a new Level 5 plant room to house the major plant items.

Each area within the ISO-5 & ISO-7 laboratories is served by a close tolerance air handling system which maintains room temperature, humidity and pressures to ensure a gradient of positive pressure out of each laboratory area.

With such a complex facility, the provision of high efficiency filtration is a necessity, so the design offered two separate solutions to cater for each ISO requirement.

ISO-5 laboratory areas are served by a ceiling formed by in excess of 170 fan forced High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. These units are an intelligent solution which provide a linked communication signal to permit fine tuning of the system. This suits both the requirement to maintain room pressure and particle cleanliness.

ISO-7 areas are all served by standard terminal HEPA filters which deliver constant air throughout these laboratories.

No such thing as good vibration

The equipment being provided within the research facility is extremely sensitive to various external conditions. Vibration control, being one of these conditions, was very high in the priority listing.

MicroNano Research Facility vibration requirements were described as “trying to balance a beach ball on a golf ball”. So with this as the challenge, AE Smith engineers engaged a specialist vibration supplier to provide up to 99% elimination to all pipes, pumps, fans and plant items on Level 5 to comply with the requirements of the RMIT vibration consultant.

Managed to the micro-second

With so many complex HVAC requirements combined with space and time restrictions, it’s an impressive achievement that this project will be delivered on time.

By the time you read this article, RMIT MicroNano researchers, research students and a number of external research stakeholders will have already started to move into their new purpose-built facility.