Despite operational differences among laboratories and research facilities in different industries, there are some common denominators when it comes to their flooring requirements.
Nearly all research and science environments require the following of their floor coverings:
- Durable protection, able to withstand frequent pedestrian and cart traffic
- Slip resistance that provides the appropriate level of traction for a given area
- An impermeable, nonabsorbent surface that can withstand exposure to chemicals in the room
- Low maintenance, with easy and economical cleaning and sanitizing properties
The above list provides the minimum characteristics for research lab flooring, after which additional performance benefits, features, and aesthetics may be included.
The impact of contamination
Of the innumerable ways an experiment can be ruined and its results invalidated, most researchers would probably cite contamination as enemy number one. Laboratory environments in general, and research facility flooring in particular, must be kept as pristine as possible to avoid contaminants that can skew the accuracy of test results. In any industry, unwelcome influences within the testing lab ecosystem can result in wasted resources, such as loss of time, man-hours, and materials. Postponed time to market for new products is just one of many potentially costly consequences, which can have a ripple effect.
In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, more than ever before, reputation can make or break an organization. Loss of a facility’s reputation due to a serious contamination event can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Thus, it behooves every science facility, whether an industrial R&D lab or an ISO-level pharmaceutical cleanroom, to make contamination control a top priority.
How resinous flooring supports research facilities’ efforts
Specialty epoxy and other polymeric concrete coatings have long demonstrated their usefulness as durable flooring materials. When well-selected for a science facility’s specific activities, followed by proper installation, resinous flooring systems can withstand repeated harsh punishment over the long term. This, along with a host of other desirable performance properties, contributes to the outstanding life cycle value offered by fluid-applied resinous flooring systems.
Epoxy and other specialty resin-based flooring provide significant support to the contamination-control efforts of laboratories and research facilities. As a fluid-applied coating system, resinous floors can be installed as a virtually seamless surface that penetrates deeply into the pores of the concrete, providing a tenacious bond directly to the concrete substrate beneath. This is in contrast to tile and other products that rely on a variety of glues or grouts that can break down, enabling the flooring materials to separate from the concrete slab. The resulting damage and uneven surfaces can pose trip-and-fall hazards for employees and shorten the life of moving machines and equipment. In addition, surface cracks and crevices that may develop can offer pathogens a perfect dark, often damp, environment in which to proliferate, adding to contamination concerns.
Custodial teams can make quick work of facility sanitation with monolithic, fluid-applied resin flooring systems, which can include optional integral floor-to-wall cove bases. Eliminating the angles along the edges of the room allows easy cleaning and reduces the opportunity for microbes and soil to accumulate. Epoxy and other high-performance flooring solutions can also be installed over secondary containment curbs, and they can be applied to follow or correct the surface slope in the direction of floor drains. Proper slope-to-drain flooring can be critical in eliminating puddling, which can help safeguard employees and support contamination control efforts. Also, some resin manufacturers offer innovative antimicrobial flooring for additional support.
Here are some additional advantages of resinous flooring systems:
- Depending on their formulation, epoxy and other resinous surfaces can generally withstand exposure to a broad range of harsh cleaning and sanitizing solutions, and they typically do not require waxing, buffing, or polishing.
- Resinous floors offer a selection of traction levels that can be customized by the addition of sand, quartz, or flakes to help employees and visitors avoid slip events.
- Epoxy and similar industrial-grade flooring is moisture-resistant and provides an impermeable, sanitary surface.
- Resinous coating systems can be used to repair and resurface damaged concrete surfaces, in some cases enabling facilities to avoid early slab replacement, which benefits both the maintenance budget and the planet.
As an added bonus, epoxy and other resinous flooring systems are available in a nearly unlimited choice of colors that can be customized to accommodate any design or branding. Embedded organizational logos and way-finding messages, delineation of designated walkways, or equipment and work areas can be easily achieved utilizing this material’s incredible design flexibility.
Additional requirements for specific industries
While general-duty resinous flooring provides outstanding benefits sufficient for the majority of science facilities, depending on the industry, there may be additional requirements. For example:
- Facilities with highly sensitive electronic instruments or robotics, locations dedicated to computer- and electronics-related products, as well as any structure storing flammable powders or munitions, have strict protocols in place for monitoring and controlling static electricity. Uncontrolled static discharge can not only damage expensive equipment, but it can also harm occupants and even result in fire and explosions. For such operations, electrostatic (ESD) and/or conductive flooring that safely discharges the static electricity from the room is warranted. In contrast to ESD tiles, resinous static-control floors can typically provide higher chemical and solvent resistance and a more sanitary, monolithic surface.
- Exposure to extreme pH substances can often damage otherwise sufficient flooring materials. Where high-concentration chemicals, strong acids or alkalis can come into contact with the floor, special epoxy and other industrial resin flooring can provide ideal protection for the underlying concrete. The proper system can be selected with the help of the local representative of a flooring manufacturer.
- Where heavy equipment is used or where continuous forklift traffic predominates, resinous flooring solutions with high compressive strength, extra abrasion resistance, or a combination of the two, can be installed.
- Resinous cementitious urethane systems are the protective solution of choice for facilities that subject their floors to thermal shock via the use of very hot sanitizer spraying or steam cleaning. In fact, any space with frequent temperature cycling, such as walk-in refrigerator storage units, can benefit from this thermal-shock-resistant flooring material.
How to choose the resinous flooring that’s right for your facility
With so many products and systems on the market, best practices include seeking the advice of an experienced manufacturer’s representative or an approved installer, who can survey your facility and ask the right questions. Be prepared to describe the activities that occur in the space in question, and to provide a complete list of the reagents and their concentrations that will be in use. By providing the resinous system manufacturer with those details, you can help ensure the flooring you get is the optimal solution for your needs and budget—and the best long-term lab flooring value.
Sophia Daukus is the marketing communications manager at Florock Polymer Flooring, Chicago, IL, www.florock.net.