6 Considerations for Effective Laboratory ExpansionRyan White
If your laboratory’s continual growth is occurring at such a rate that its environs have to expand as well, then there’s a lot to be considered before going ahead with any proposed developments. For example, the design of the expanded lab has to be realised in a way that’s conducive to employee satisfaction and their productivity; even something as simple as where new employees will sit has to be weighed up too.
Laboratory design that can work in favour of employees’ present needs and be capable of future demands is increasingly emerging. Factoring in things such as flexibility and a preparedness for incoming technologies, the list of considerations that those responsible for lab design have to be mindful of is becoming ever greater.
Here, we’ll go into some of the more salient factors to take into account when expanding your laboratory, along with general workplace design advice that can come in useful too.
Social buildings for team-based research
When a laboratory expands, so too does the team working within it; it follows that their workplace grows accordingly as a result. Most laboratories will have their fair share of teamwork and other social activities to be carried out throughout the day. Buildings and rooms that can accommodate this kind of multi-person work serve to foster the multi-person work that is necessary in a lab environment.
Research of a collaborative nature requires teams of scientists to synthesise their respective expertise in a way that forms an interdisciplinary team. Lab designers should look to ways in which people can connect and share data in a smooth, uncomplicated way. There are trends becoming increasingly common as a result, with lab designers creating team-based research centres, providing interior glazing so people remain in view, and using space in a way that allows team members to fully carry out their research in the appropriate manner.
Areas where staff can congregate, such as break rooms and meeting spaces, as well as stairways and other places people can meet and chat, fall under this consideration too. These might not be areas that employees give a second thought to initially, the optimised use of space will be much appreciated.
A balance between an open and closed environments
Following on from the above, team-based work can be better served by open labs where researchers share the space and equipment as well as working with the same support staff. This kind of design helps to facilitate better communication and can help make the lab more readily adaptable for the future.
Closed labs, meanwhile, are needed for specific kinds of research or to accommodate certain equipment such as nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, electron microscopes and darkrooms. Additionally, some researchers simply prefer to work in a closed lab; a large open lab with individual closed labs can work in their favour, allowing both types of approach the chance for researchers to flourish.
In designing, and later renovating a laboratory, optimising the capacity for flexibility is essential in order to improve the potential for expansion, better accommodate reconfigurations and to allow for new equipment to be brought in.
With regards to the latter, a lab must have flexible engineering services and easy access to both its supply and exhaust air, along with water, electricity, and vacuum systems. Connections to walls and ceilings make putting new equipment in place a much smoother process, while engineering systems may be designed in a way that enables fume hoods to be removed or added.
In the time it takes for a lab to be built, there’s a chance its research needs to change or people are replaced by others, which means the lab’s purpose may be altered entirely. And if the entire lab has been fitted with carcase, it might have to be replaced too. It’s recommended, then, that approximately 25% of the space in most labs is allocated to equipment zones. This allows for researchers to come in, move furniture and equipment around and add new equipment as necessary.
Rather than designing with specifics in mind, it may be a good idea to opt for something more generic if the type of research isn’t known. It’s also sensible from an administrative stance as each team member or researcher will be given the same basic amenities.
A degree of flexibility can still be built in with these kinds of labs, allowing for modifications and the installation of equipment, as well as alterations to engineering services and casework.
Another consideration lab designers must take into account is the need to design with computer use in mind. Furniture should be able to accommodate PC or laptop computer cabling, while modular tables that can be added to or rearranged to fit the furniture’s criteria is another key design element.
Write-up stations should be placed away from spill areas and have a width of at least four feet to allow for knee space and hardware under the worktop. Additionally, laptops with voice-activated microphones should ideally be used in fume hoods, where regular laptops may create safety hazards or be damaged by chemical spills.
As technology becomes more and more developed too, virtual labs are likely to be a frequent occurrence going forward, another addition to future lab designers’ list of considerations.
General workplace considerations
If you need to move locations entirely, then look for a space that will benefit employees outside of the lab too, such as being near public transit, for example. A location near but not right next to the middle of the most desired areas can reduce rent without sacrificing amenities.
It’s a good idea to involve any IT employees in the design early too. You can allocate budget, design and maintenance for all the necessary technology the lab requires; be mindful that IT systems have to be installed before walls are closed up or tied into the building’s existing systems. Their expertise can be used to survey areas and consult on infrastructure, saving time and money in the long run.
InterFocus can help you create an environment that’s the right fit for you and your team. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.