Lab-planning details that matter

If a researcher is struggling to perform a particular task, making a change to the architectural details of the lab space can help improve productivity.

By Mark Paskanik, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, CRB, Raleigh, N.C. November 2, 2018

Many of us have had that "Aha!" moment or said "Why didn’t I think of that?" In a lab, even the smallest of details can have a big impact on efficiency. A good lab planner will listen to clients and researchers and design a workspace specific to their needs.

If a researcher is struggling to perform a particular task, making a change to the architectural details of the lab space can help improve productivity. Many innovative details can be used including:

Biosafety cabinet—lab gas connections

Common setup: Lab gases are connected to the biosafety cabinet (BSC) with fixed copper piping.

Issue: The fixed piping takes up space, can be a safety issue when exposed, and makes the BSC stationary.

Better detail: Connecting the gases with a quick-connect system and hoses allows the unit to be moved. The supply side of the gases should also be fed from overhead or high on the wall. This allows the BSC and other equipment to be located tight to the wall so circulation space is not reduced.

High-performance liquid chromatographies (HPLCs) at the bench

Common setup: HPLC equipment is placed on fixed benches.

Issue: It is difficult access the waste bins and back of the equipment.

Better detail: Placing the HPLCs on a proper cart designed for this type of equipment improves access. A waste piping collection system can also be installed to limit the waste bins needed. This improves overall ergonomics and safety while reducing downtime when access is needed.

Polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) at the bench

Common setup: PCR equipment is placed on fixed benches.

Issue: Small equipment takes up bench space.

Better detail: Placing the PCRs on a mobile wire shelf allows for easy access and reconfiguration. Many units can also be stacked four to five shelves high. Additionally, a power/data raceway can be added and connected to the wire shelf.

Maximize storage

Common setup: A general lack of storage space.

Issue: There’s not enough of the right type of storage.

Better detail: Place storage in areas that take advantage of unused spaces. An example of this would be placing recessed cabinets next to thickened walls that hide services or low wall returns.

Location of gas fixtures and electrical/data raceway at the bench

Common setup: The horizontal location of raceway and deck-mounted fixtures.

Issue: The raceway and fixtures conflict with deep benchtop equipment.

Better detail: Place both the raceway and fixtures vertically to open up the bench space. Another option would be installing overhead service panels in the ceiling.

Pegboard details

Common setup: Paper towel and soap dispensers are placed in inconvenient locations.

Issue: The location of the paper towel and soap dispensers is not accounted for.

Better detail: Allow for space on the actual pegboard to locate the paper towel and soap dispensers. Additionally, integrating the waste bins at the casework eliminates safety issues by leaving the bins in the circulation aisle.

Freezer rooms are too hot

Common setup: Multiple freezers are placed in an equipment room.

Issue: The density of freezers causes the room to overheat.

Better detail: Place a split system in the ceiling, similar to a computer server room, to provide cooling when needed.

Benchmark your project

Typical project: A project has difficulty moving forward because of insufficient funding.

Successful project: When presenting to leadership, benchmark your project to provide data. Two examples are employees per square foot and net to gross square-foot ratios.

Establish tour routes

Typical project: A project may lose momentum over time or not obtain sufficient funding.

Successful project: When planning your lab, include tour routes for potential clients and donors early in the design phase. This also creates an added bonus by providing safety in the lab.

Right-size flexible casework

Typical project: Not all projects need 100% flexible casework.

Successful project: Yes, flexibility is an important aspect in lab design. Keep in mind that this added flexibility can cost more. Keep flexibility simple and be sure it is necessary for the researchers.

By coupling these details with a well-laid-out plan that blurs the boundaries between lab and office space, your new laboratory can be both efficient and collaborative.

-Mark Paskanik is a senior architect at CRB, based in the Raleigh, N.C, office. This article originally appeared on CRB is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.