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R&D Laboratory Renovation Trend: Say Goodbye to the Benchtop?

© Vanderweil Engineers
By Donna DeFreitas
January 23, 2018

This past year, we have seen a shift in the individual laboratory planning layouts required in Research & Development (R&D) Laboratory Renovation projects that are being initiated to support the research end users new laboratory equipment needs that allows them to process more samples and their associated data quickly.  We have found this trend specifically in Biologic R&D laboratories renovations which means goodbye to the standard benchtop space and hello to the floor mounted equipment with adequate clearances on all sides and infrastructure being brought from below and/or above (see photo below).  There is also a requirement for adjacent computer equipment to aid the scientist in simulation, minimizes the runtimes of samples and faster evaluation of their data collections.  Examples of laboratory floor mounted equipment include automated liquid handling workstations, high speed cell sorters and mass spectrometry carts.

Additionally, we have seen benchtop space being replaced by dedicated Biological Safety Cabinets (BSCs) for specific evaluation processes being dictated by specific research end users.  BSCs are clean air enclosures used to protect the person, the product and the environment from exposure to biohazards and cross contamination during routine R&D processes.  Classification is a critical consideration in the selection of a BSC and one which needs to be evaluated with the end users and their environmental, safety and health (ES&H) counterparts to understand both the R&D processes and handling hazards that are created within the enclosures.  The type of classification selected and the laboratory utilities required within the BSCs may have a large impact on the type of infrastructure required in a R&D laboratory renovation project.  We’ve seen this shift of lower amount of bench space and an increased concentration of BSCs to provide an increased level of potential safety for researchers regardless of historical ES&H classifications of their research activities.

Lastly, we are seeing continued removal of write-up desk space from the laboratories.  Perhaps this is based upon the use of more floor mounted large throughput equipment that utilizes computerized means to collect sample data or it may be a client specific ES&H change in their standard operating procedures.  While the researchers have reported to like to ‘live’ in their laboratory spaces, the push to change the research culture to have them setup, do hands-on experiments in the laboratories and then all “non-lab” activities performed in office space provides obvious benefits ranging from increased collaboration, lower first costs, and lower resulting operating & maintenance costs.

In R&D laboratory renovations, the success of the project is driven by establishing a proactive approach with the specific end users of the laboratory spaces in order to understand their current and potential future research equipment needs and work flow patterns as well as making them an integral part of the design team to help them own their research laboratory spaces and to understand how to properly operate within them.  The development of an equipment matrix with all the proper information on the laboratory equipment specifications and the required infrastructure becomes a key means to document the renovation design development process and can help initiate the discussions on the project requirements for the future.

Communication is always a key element in every project, specifically in an occupied R&D laboratory building as it engages all key stakeholders from the researchers, ES&H and building facilities early which helps to understand the purpose of their subject matter expertise to provide an interactive design and construction phases.  Finally, it is critical that there is clear and concise documentation of the existing and new infrastructure capacities, provisions for system isolation for future modifications and possibly improving the current building design and record documentation; all which are key project turn-over packages to support the new operation of the facilities as well as the flexibility and adaptability for future R&D equipment changes.