When thinking about design in a laboratory space, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the dream with the reality. For those of us who have been in research science for a while, it is a default to accept the lab workspace as a fixed environment where reagents, notebooks, and dust pile up on the benchtop and we age and sometimes grow incrementally wiser at one desk. However, as technological revolutions in instrumentation express their symbiosis with ever-more outlandish and ambitious goals, perhaps the ideal laboratory space should be thought of as one that is continuously adaptable.
Practically as well as philosophically, mobile laboratory casework (benchtops, cabinets, etc.) is an attractive solution to adaptable lab design. The advantages of mobile over stationary casework are many: lower cost; ease, expense, and time required for installation or de-installation; the ability to replace or upgrade individual elements without having to gut and re-build entire lab spaces. Moreover, the capacity for features like height and ergonomic adjustments, and the versatility to adapt the footprint of the laboratory to changes in personnel that will always fluctuate with funding, are strong arguments in favor of installing at least some mobile casework.
Among the considerations to take into account are the compositions of work surfaces, and the positioning of cabinetry. Available mobile benchtop and casework construction materials vary in their cost, and in their qualities of resistance to moisture, chemical corrosion, and heat or flame (see Table 1 below). Therefore, they are inherently suitable to different laboratory types, although the most typical finish for cabinetry is steel or wood veneer, and is largely an issue of limited aesthetics. Casework positioning is adaptable to ergonomic and footprint concerns, and can be integrated into bench footprints as suspended or vertical shelving, or as horizontally mobile cabinetry on gliding casters.
FormaSpace provides casework in all of these materials, and lab design consultants to customize modular, mobile workbench concepts and installations. Additionally, their 3DConfigure application allows one to imagine and design a virtual mobile workspace. New England Lab offers several mobile footprints with varying degrees of fixed laboratory cores supported by peripheral or central mobile casework. The connecting thread throughout their Flex, Freedom, and Optima products is pre-plumbed and pre-lined casework, allowing mobile and adaptable integration with building power and drainage supplies through wall or ceiling stations. Through Thermo Fisher Scientific, Mott Manufacturing offers several mobile casework solutions including their Optima line, with available wall, island, and bookend configurations that allow incrementally adjustable bench standing heights. FormaSpace and others additionally offer scaled-down benchtop fume hoods and biological safety cabinets that can be easily integrated into mobile casework footprints; and for microscopy, suppliers such as Sutter and Herzan provide mobile tables with air suspension to dampen mechanical vibration and thus mitigate environmental noise during collection of sensitive data.
For laboratory or clinical work performed in the field, casework can be used to mobilize entire testing systems and centers. New England Lab’s Metro Starsys adaptive polymer system can be configured rapidly and flexibly, with shelving, open carts, and enclosed cabinets in different arrangements easily customizable to mobile clinical testing in emergency and temporary field hospitals. SteelSentry produces mobile casework optimized for COVID-19 testing and intake, consisting of a mobile cabinet on locking casters, an acrylic face shield, stainless steel glove box, integral wiring, and a chemically resistant powder-coated steel surface. All of these mobile casework solutions immediately bring the laboratory workspace away from the static default and into a new age of flexibility and adaptability.