Designing with the user in mind
Unfortunately, there are some basic fundamentals to great design that are often overlooked or abandoned. Frequently, product design is compromised for reasons of cost effectiveness, novelty, or simply from a lack of understanding of its primary function. The designers at Plastic Concepts (Billerica, MA) specialize in fabricating products for laboratories, understand this and know that when designing custom-built products for any industry, it’s important for the designer to design backwards, from the person, and to fully understand the intended use. They also understand that it is important to build a product that is both innovative and useful, as well as being understandable, long-lasting, and aesthetically pleasing. This is especially true when designing for laboratories that may have very specific material and design requirements.
Building custom laboratory solutions
Designing custom laboratory solutions requires both knowledge and experience, as well as a thorough understanding of the applications involved. Laboratories often require a variety of work surfaces and storage solutions that are durable, long-lasting, chemical-resistant, and easy to clean. In many cases, polypropylene and other plastics are ideal materials. Capable of producing virtually any type of product in any size or configuration, from tanks and totes, to cabinets and fume hoods—one of the key secrets to their process lies in a hidden element of design—the plastic weld.
On first impression, plastic welding may seem simple enough. Using a gun that heats air or nitrogen, the fabricator feeds plastic welding material through the gun and adheres it to whatever they are working on. However, not all plastic welds are created equal. Building an exceptional product requires experience, patience, focus, and a steady hand to get it right. Building a product for laboratory use requires full knowledge of the materials you are working with, the correct temperature and pressure, the manner in which the welding material is fed, the type of gas used, and the rate at which you use it. An error along the way can end up in a failed fabrication, or worse, a product that fails under use.
Laboratory products and furnishings often have to be built to withstand harsh chemicals, as well as to support heavy equipment and instruments. This requires both quality materials and design. When fabricating products for laboratory use or chemical storage, the fabricators at Plastic Concepts use a deeper chamfer than most to ensure a stronger weld. The chamfer, which is a 45 degree “gutter” that runs along the edge of the plastic material to be affixed to another flat surface, is critical to producing a strong weld. Essentially, the deeper the chamfer the more welding material will be added, and the stronger the weld will be. To build laboratory-grade products, the fabricators at Plastic Concepts lay down eight to 10 welding strips in each chamfer as compared to the two or three strips often used in regular consumer goods and offshore products destined for laboratory use.
One example of great design achieved
Great design solutions are often the product of simple necessity. An excellent example of this is the construction of a portable enclosure for neuroscientist at Children’s Hospital Boston who were carrying out research on the effects on the visual cortex of varying light/dark cycles in groups of mice. The challenge was that the researchers wished to study only a small number of animals housed in a facility with high cage density and limited space. In this situation, altering the light/dark cycle of an entire room was not feasible.
The challenge was to build a light-tight portable chamber that allowed for monitoring of internal temperature and humidity. Further, the chamber needed to accommodate multiple groups of animals with different light/dark cycles, be portable, and easily sanitized.
Using polypropylene, as it is easily cleaned using liquid disinfectants, engineers at Plastic Concepts developed a multiunit chamber capable of holding either eight small mouse cages or six rat cages with the option to house both mice and rats at the same time. Doors had an overlapping gap seal to ensure light tightness, and upgraded versions of the sensors were developed to detect extremely low light levels (four lumens). Airflow was controlled by a filtered fan on the side of each unit, which ensured air quality equivalent to the surrounding lab. Lighting was provided by a 20-watt fluorescent bulb and temperature and humidity were monitored by a probe in each unit connected to a digital display.
Since development, Children’s Hospital Boston has ordered three such units and report that the mice placed in these chambers remain healthy and show no signs of stress. This design, driven by necessity, has since been adopted by other researchers and the studies performed in these chambers have been published in multiple papers.
Finally, while many novice purchasers may be attracted to off-the-shelf products based on price, often these products suffer from inferior design, materials, and construction not noticeable to the user. Often products aren’t designed with the end user in mind and, as mentioned earlier, are compromised for reasons of cost effectiveness, novelty, or simply from a lack of understanding of its primary function. At Plastic Concepts, each product is designed with empathy, within context and with collaboration and then fabricated with the best possible quality in mind.
They design and fabricate with the hope that their end product is so great that the end users never even notice.
Plastic Concepts specializes in lab and cleanroom design and manufacturing including fume hoods, casework and cabinets, mobile storage solutions, and lab furniture and accessories.
For more information, visit www.plastic-concepts.com.
Like this article? Click here to subscribe to free newsletters from Lab Manager