Lab Design Strategies to Improve User Productivity
Research labs are often complex, large-format labs that are used by researchers for their path-breaking work. Research by its nature is an odyssey toward expanding the frontiers of science. Modern research is interdisciplinary. It is a deep and challenging work environment.
Moreover, the research outcomes of these labs are spread over time and are complex to measure. Precious resources of machines, materials and highly qualified scientists are deployed under a single roof. It is a big investment demanding matching ROI. A well-designed research lab strives to optimize the use of these resources to deliver productivity by increasing the targeted outcome of the sensitive knowledge work.
Let us review few some fundamental design practices that work towards this objective.
Concept Layout We (lab architect) first review the concept note and interact with the project team. The URS (user requirement specifications) sheet gives us the exact inputs to plan and design. However, we have to depend on the users to fine-tune these inputs since it is them who know their requirements. Interactions with user team give us clarity related to following key points.
- Logical flow of materials and work through the facility. Consequently, the interaction between different spaces in a shell. A good idea would be to draw space (noodle) diagram that maps the movement of users and materials. It should be as uncluttered as possible. Any redundant movement is going to weigh in on productivity. Back-and-forth movement between spaces should be the least taxing. Adjacencies of spaces must have well-defined logic.
- The flow of samples (bulk to small) through the lab must be smooth and efficient. The location for storage of these samples and their transportation must be facilitated without straining the scientists. Pathways for trolleys and desiccators need to be carefully planned so that accidents can be avoided.
- Extra handling steps between work tables, sample storage, washing areas, glassware storage, etc. should be minimized.
- Adequate storage must be planned or else the workbenches become parking lots for glassware, samples and reagents.
- Washing glassware and waste disposal is a challenge in many research facilities. A lot of strain comes on scientists if these facilities are ill-designed. These areas also need fume extraction and level indicators for waste bins. We, as your lab architect have this expertise and experience in mitigating these challenges. There are many new ideas and concepts available that could be implemented in this area.
- Need for natural lights, artificial lighting levels, acoustic levels, exterior view, special ventilation requirements, etc must be properly designed for. Not many people are aware but these factors have a direct bearing on productivity. Once the lab is occupied, scientists must feel comfortable at all times.
- Support areas such as offices, meeting rooms, libraries, records, and breakout spaces must be easily accessible to the scientists.
- Large open areas although give a spacious feel, might pose challenges due to noise and visual interruptions. One can strike a balance with some privacy cubicles for reporting and engaging work.
Designing the workstations and the satellite spaces also directly impacts user productivity. Key points to remember:
- Fume hoods and spot extractors must be strategically placed alongside the work benches. Interactive space between them and work benches must be conducive to productive working.
- HPLC and GC tables are usually provided with 900mm height. HPLCs are stackable equipment over height. For an average 5’-0” height scientist, loading material from a 5L bottle may become difficult. Height-adjusting (sit-to-stand) tables may be needed.
- There must be adequate elbow resting spaces and knee spaces.
- Preparation tables must be ergonomically designed, avoiding narrow spaces and such constraints.
- Height-adjustable chairs and stools may complement modern work benches.
- Adequate space for computers, uncluttered cables (with labels), and ease of connection is a must.
- Acoustic chambers may be needed for noisy equipment.
- Spot fume extractors located at equipment locations, wherever necessary.
- Sampling and Powder dispensing booths at strategic locations.
- Balances placed adjacent to workbenches.
- Wall colors and finishes should give scientists a relaxed and efficient work environment.
Designing store rooms is often neglected and thus are most prone to accidents due to unsafe and inefficient planning.
- Hazardous chemicals must be stored in designated safety cabinets. Care must be taken about the height of shelves in these cabinets in a way that scientists are not strained while taking out or storing materials.
- Dispensing booths and auto dispensers may be needed in sample storage areas to reduce the burden on the scientists.
- Chemical storage labs must be at accessible standing height.
- Decanting bulk material must be facilitated safely and efficiently.
- Glassware storage must include storage for round bottom flasks and bespoke containers. This area cannot be far away from work benches.
- MSDS, first aid, and Safety Antidotes data require accessible racks adjacent to the chemicals.
Assured Safety-A scientist works at his/her best efficiency when he/she is assured about safety and gets an ergonomic work environment. Key assured safety related design initiatives are:
- Well-marked evacuation lanes for emergencies and assembly spots.
- Strategic location of eye showers and safety showers.
- Safe storage for Hazardous, biological and routine chemicals with easy access to safety data.
- Isolated booths for handling carcinogenic material.
- Safe location of fumehoods, biosafety cabinets, laminar flows etc.
- Clean areas designed for the intended class.
- Uncluttered spaces around fume hoods and bespoke equipment.
- Location of fire alarms, sprinkler systems and gas detectors must be visible and assuring to the occupants.
Some but not all strategies need to be employed for designing a lab with enhanced productivity. The list of dos and don’ts is rather endless. The user team along with the lab architect can discuss further.
With an uncluttered layout, a smooth flow of material and scientists, safe storage, efficient and safe furniture, adequate ventilation, ergonomic environment as the basis, you alongwith your lab architect are ready to create a productive lab.