A well-designed lab can be a game-changer for its users, allowing them to stay calm, cool and collected in a comfortable environment that promotes safety and efficiency. Whether used for research and development, education or production, a lab's layout is foundational to its success.
If you're in charge of planning and designing a laboratory, you're in luck. We've put together a guide on how to design a lab space that supports safety, efficiency and the scientific process.
1. Assess the Lab Space
The first requirement for any lab is an appropriate physical space. Check out the lab with a detailed walkthrough, and identify any elements that might impact your layout, such as inconvenient support beams or built-in countertops. Note the location of your utility connections, like gas lines, water and HVAC. Collect measurements to help you avoid surprises from ill-fitting equipment. Check on the lighting, too, and consider whether you need additional lights to brighten the room.
Consider the lab's vicinity to other resources, including:
- Emergency exits
- Delivery areas
- Storage rooms
2. Analyze Your Workflow
Finding the optimal laboratory layout for your space requires a thorough understanding of its future workflow. Determine who will be using the room and in what ways.
Here are some suggestions on what to consider when designing a lab:
- What will the workflow look like in the lab? Try to create a detailed workflow with regular tasks and the order in which they occur. This information will help you know what instruments you'll need and find an effective way to arrange them.
- What kind of samples, materials and chemicals will be used in the lab? Some items used in the lab will have more precise requirements than others. Identify the characteristics of samples, materials and chemicals you anticipate using, so you can choose appropriate equipment. For instance, temperature-sensitive samples might need refrigerated centrifuges, while some hazardous items require explosion-proof storage.
- Will you have people from multiple departments using the lab? Some labs will create separate spaces for different departments or purposes, while others use a more integrated approach, particularly if different users will need to access similar instruments.
- How flexible does your lab need to be? If there's a chance your lab will need to shift gears in the future, design for flexibility. Easy modification can save valuable time and help you avoid headaches later on. Look for multifunctional equipment and arrangements that support versatile workflows.
3. Collaborate With Others
Get all stakeholders involved in your grand design. Talk things through with the facility owners, the people who will be using the lab, the lab manager and anyone else you think should have a say in how it's set up. When the time comes, you'll also want to involve trade professionals, like mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineers, who can help you ensure smooth and safe installations.
4. Identify the Equipment You'll Need
With your long list of requirements in tow, you can start selecting your equipment. List any instruments your team will need in their workflow, as well as any consumables and materials.
Some common instruments you might need in a lab include:
- Biological safety cabinets
- Benchtop or floor centrifuges and rotors
- Freeze dryers
- Incubating shakers
- Tissue processors
- Ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers
You'll also need safety equipment such as eyewash stations and fire extinguishers in easy-access locations. Consider power requirements, too, such as backup power systems and cables that must be tucked away so they don't trip anyone.
Note the size of the instruments so you can map out where each one will go in the lab. Create a detailed plan and incorporate measurements for larger equipment to ensure a good fit. At this point, you should have a better idea of where instruments will fit and whether you need to adjust your purchase plans.
If possible, err toward creating more space in the lab. While uncomfortable, a cramped workspace can also contribute to safety risks and spills. Try to provide plenty of room for workers to get the job done safely.
5. Consider Coding and Safety Requirements
Like all buildings and facilities, a lab designed for safety will meet applicable codes and safety regulations. Pay attention to requirements from your local jurisdiction, industry standards and your organization. For example, many universities will have safety requirements designed for the experience levels of student researchers.
Below are some unique coding and safety requirements you may need to consider in a lab:
- Chemical storage: Many entities and industries will have strict requirements for handling and storing chemicals. Medical or industrial facilities, for instance, may need a ULT freezer with data logging or battery backups. Know the characteristics of your chemicals, and use appropriate storage and handling equipment for flammable, combustible, explosive or otherwise hazardous substances.
- Worker safety: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has its own set of standards for workers in lab environments, covering personal protective equipment, general environmental controls and toxic and hazardous substances.
- Emergency exits and ventilation: Your facility will need appropriate emergency resources to comply with building codes. For instance, you can't block vents or emergency exits with large equipment. Anyone using the lab should have easy, quick access to exits, fire extinguishers and eye-washing stations.
- Inclusive access: Although labs are rather unique, they must accommodate people of all abilities. Your lab should meet requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act. Better yet, try to exceed those standards and create a space welcoming to everyone, with wide aisles, low-level countertops and tools, such as flashing fire alarms, for people with sensory disabilities.
Deck Out Your Lab With Used Equipment
Whatever your lab looks like, buying used equipment is one of the best ways to get the instruments you need at affordable prices. A lab built with all-new equipment can be incredibly costly with long lead times. Used instruments can give you the same functionality at a fraction of the cost, so you get to put those extra funds toward building a safe, efficient lab environment. You might be able to increase your capacity, invest in higher-end tools or perform some renovations.
New Life Scientific is a trusted provider of used lab equipment, with transparent listings and 120-day warranties on everything we sell. Our team is well-versed in our diverse selection of instruments, so we're ready to help you find the right tools for your lab space.