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Principles of Compact Lab Design

Principles of Compact Lab Design

Strategies for selecting equipment and furniture for an efficient lab facility

Matt Benson

Matt Benson is the director of marketing for OnePointe Solutions.

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Efficiency and accuracy are always the goals of laboratory facilities, but for those that are limited by space constraints, creating an efficient working environment can be a major challenge. While many lab managers may dream of working in a massive laboratory, finding a large, available space is incredibly difficult, and the cost of purchasing or renting can be untenable. In reality, you don’t need an enormous facility to comfortably conduct scientific research and testing—you just need a competent design team with a little bit of know-how.

Compact design principles can be applied to labs of every size, not just those that are already compact.

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Compact design, in its essence, emphasizes the optimization of the workspace and encourages designers and lab managers to work together to create unique solutions for unique challenges. The aim of compact lab design is to create a workspace that is comfortable and accommodating for both lab personnel and all necessary equipment, furniture, and tools.

Features of compact design

Compact design may not be an immediately recognizable aesthetic, but once you know what to look for, you will spot compact design principles in labs and industrial facilities everywhere you go. Compact design often includes clever space-saving techniques, often relying heavily on modular furniture and flexible design to facilitate the often-fickle nature of scientific research and development.

Modular furniture

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Modular furniture is furniture that is designed to be flexible to accommodate multiple types of work, multiple configurations, or add-on accessories and features. Modular furniture can help save on space by conforming to the facility or being built to include additional storage and housing for equipment, tools, personal items, and so on.

Where generic furniture options are often rigid and difficult to change, modular furniture can be reconfigured to accommodate changes to a facility’s research, additional equipment and machinery, staffing changes, etc. Modular furniture allows for laboratory facilities and staff to more easily make workplace transitions, and help to prevent the accumulation of clutter by including additional storage or add-on organizational features.

Special equipment housing

Workbenches and lab tables that include special equipment housing are another excellent example of compact lab design principles. By housing special equipment directly within or on workstations, lab designers eliminate the need for secondary storage and make regularly used tools more readily accessible to lab personnel.

Microscope tables, for example, make microscopes conveniently available to lab technicians while simultaneously providing safe housing for these sensitive and expensive pieces of equipment. Analytical instruments can be housed in specially designed carts or benches with built-in enclosures for pumps, waste, and computational equipment.

Compact equipment and machinery

Along with the selection of appropriate furniture, choosing equipment and machinery that fit with the principles of compact design can help further maximize the use of space. While some machinery is inevitably large, it is always worth taking the time to look for more compact or smaller alternatives to necessary equipment. Fume hoods, for example, can be quite large, taking up lots of space within the laboratory environment. For labs not requiring the heavy-duty filtration power of a full-sized fume hood, a viable compact alternative may be a fume snorkel, which can easily be mounted on workbenches or suspended from the ceiling.

Why design compact?

If saving space isn’t enough motivation for you, there are plenty of other reasons to apply compact design principles to your lab. First and foremost, compact design allows you to fully utilize every inch of your facility, maximizing not only the equipment and storage that can be accommodated within your lab, but also maximizing available workspace for lab personnel.

Ensuring all technicians have ample room to work helps to promote a positive workplace attitude while improving data collection accuracy and reducing workplace accidents.

Beyond the obvious space considerations, compact design principles can also help you to save your facility money over time. Modular furniture is more easily customizable and can be tailor-made to suit the exact specifications of your facility. Unlike generic furniture options, modular furniture can evolve with your facility, completely eliminating the need to purchase new furniture with every change in research.

Finally, while compact design principles may emphasize the efficient utilization of even the smallest spaces, compact design can also facilitate plenty of growth. Combining efficient storage and organization tactics with modular furniture and flexible designs, compact labs are easily able to expand or grow with your facility. Incorporate new machinery, new personnel, new methods of testing, new types of research, or bring your modular furniture with you to a new or larger facility for easy customization of a new space.

Incorporating compact design

Before the design process begins, lab managers should take time to fully assess their facility. Beyond the nature of the work being done within the facility, the most important details to convey to lab designers will include facility measurements, machinery and equipment requirements, and special accommodations for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical requirements. Since no two labs are alike, it will be up to individual lab managers to accurately represent the needs of the facility, which in turn requires a deep understanding of all work to be performed therein.

While lab managers can compile hard data on their own, this phase will also require collaboration with lab technicians and researchers. Research and testing personnel will have a more intimate understanding of the day-to-day operations and responsibilities of the facility and can provide valuable insight to help select the most appropriate compact design solutions.

The time prior to the initial design meeting is also a good time to consult with facility stakeholders, including investors, managing partners, board members, etc. Now is the time to establish a budget, the expected project timeline, and to ensure expectations are consistent among all relevant stakeholders.

Meeting with designers

Once the initial work of determining your facility’s needs is complete, you’ll be ready to meet with your design team. During this step, it is crucial that you accurately communicate your needs to the designer. Though a reliable lab designer will ask questions and assess your facility themselves, they won’t have the insider advantage and will need to be told about specific accommodations and requirements. You should discuss everything you have already compiled, from the exact measurements of your space to the unique working challenges expressed by facility personnel.

Before anything is agreed upon or any contracts are signed, be sure to go through the fine points of your facility’s unique needs to ensure all factors have been considered. Your designer should supply you with renderings that feature the agreed-upon design, a custom quote within your estimated budget, and details regarding a tentative project timeline. The more information that can be shared during this initial design process, the better the end result will be. Don’t hesitate to over-communicate the needs of your facility.

Finally, it will be time to choose the appropriate furniture and equipment for your lab. To maximize space, be sure to consider all available furniture configurations from your lab designer and/or furniture manufacturer. Many lab furniture designers and manufacturers are readily able to accommodate custom requests, and often already provide a range of configurations to suit laboratory operations of every size and scope.