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How Casework Arrangement Can Improve Lab Space

How Casework Arrangement Can Improve Lab Space

A lab’s casework—benches, cabinets, and tables—forms the foundation of research projects

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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A lab’s casework—benches, cabinets, and tables—forms the foundation of research projects. As the projects change, the casework needs to as well. In traditional labs, with so many pieces fixed in place, adapting the casework to fit new needs requires a sledgehammer, but some newer options offer adjustments with more finesse. Today’s adaptable lab casework offers many options, but they come at a price.

Superior Laboratory Systems’ (Lebanon, OH) president, Chuck Franz, and his team design, sell, and install casework in a wide range of labs. With 35 years of experience in the field, Franz understands what works and where. When asked where he usually sees a request for changeable casework, he says, “analytical labs.” And then he is quick to add, “In those labs, the equipment is constantly changing and evolving because of new platforms, procedures, and techniques.”

Although adaptable options in casework might future-proof a lab better than all-fixed casework would, they come at a price. In comparing general fixed cabinets with adaptable options, Franz says that the latter costs up to two times more than the former. For teaching labs, most of his customers select fixed casework; for adaptable options, he sees more of a preference in industry, like Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH). Even within industry, though, Franz often sees companies just redo casework as needed.

Some casework experts see a different mix. For example, Rand Weyler, client technical services manager at New England Laboratory Casework (Woburn, MA), says, “Almost every client we have uses flexible laboratory furniture these days.” He adds, “It’s somewhat rare to provide a completely fixed casework lab.”

In the end, the best decision depends on what a lab needs and how much can be invested in it.

Adaptable ahead

Adaptable casework comes in various forms. For instance, a fixed-core system consists of an attached section; however, cabinets, shelves, pegboards, and more can be hung from it and rearranged as needed.

“The most adaptable and most popular adaptable option is a table-based system,” says Franz. “All services come from an overhead carrier, and you can put the table anywhere and attach to the services.”

One key question regarding adaptable casework is: How easy is it to change? The core system is more challenging. Franz can think of examples that haven’t moved in 20 years. A table system is much easier to move, and it’s more economical—costing up to only 1.5 times more than a fixed option, according to Franz. In fact, he calls adaptable table systems “the wave of the future,” adding, “You save on install, save on material, and can move it anywhere you want.”

Selection tips

For any kind of lab design, Franz suggests a few general considerations:

  • Where are your services going to come from?
  • How many sinks do you need and where?
  • How many hoods do you need and where?
  • In a table system, would the perimeter casework be fixed?

With those answers in hand, along with a budget, a customer can work toward the best choice. But always ask a few other questions. Will casework really need to move? How likely is it to be moved? If it might need to be moved, what changes are the most likely? Knowing the answers to those questions means it’s possible to decide which adaptable features, if any, would make the most sense, and be the best investment.

It’s important to explore the options, as tearing out casework and replacing it is costly and creates a lasting impact on the lab. Adaptable casework offers numerous benefits, and can improve the functionality of a lab space. However, customers need to investigate different options and consider the laboratory’s needs prior to investing in new casework.

For additional resources on casework, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit