How much change in 100 years?
Laboratory design has not changed much in 100 years. Design still considers length of bench per scientist as a benchmark though open top bench work has disappeared into automated equipment and fume cupboards.
Changes in requirements usually mean construction work top adapt the laboratory for its new purpose. This inhibits change and costs money. There are alternatives
FlexiLab has been promoted across the industry for over twenty years originating with Tanvec designs for GSK first at Harlow, UK and then in the US and China.
The concept was a design that introduced the equivalent of ‘open plan office’ and allowed teams to be built, housed and equipped for a project, and the space to be repurposed for the next team with the minimum of effort and cost.
The objective of is to change a laboratory overnight, or over a weekend, without needing extensive construction work. Equipment could be moved in place and connected, on a plug and play basis, with a network of pre-installed utility runs.
The speed of change was not the only driver. The facilities themselves become simpler. GSK studies showed a £5m a year benefit in the costs of running their UK laboratories over a year.
The approach requires pre-installation of a network of services above the laboratory space serving every possible position where equipment can be placed and need connecting. This is expensive. To add to the cost theoretically it’s every type of services to every location. So the capital costs for the ideal solution can be very expensive.
To reduce cost the network of services is reduced and serves a lesser percentage of all the possible locations and the flexibility becomes compromised.
Missing services have to be installed to meet the needs of a particular layout and this means more than a plug and play positioning of equipment over a weekend.
STC have worked with Mylan to adapt buildings at Sandwich for new laboratories. Though opened in 2009 the previous laboratories were custom designed for their specific purposes.
The space was cleared and considered as a large open plan floor plate with two lines of columns at 6.6m centres
In any Flexilab approach an assumption has to be made about the centres where service connections are to be provided.
Typically laboratory layout work at pitch in one direction of 3.3m. It’s based on a walkway between benches and the depth of the bench(related to human reach)
The length the other way is a bit arbitrary but allows for access ways between the benching. The driver is access without going through other people’s work areas.
Some utilities will be needed for each module. Others maybe so specialised that providing them over 100% of the area may not be sensible or even practical. There is a compromise here!
For each modules:
* Ventilation for comfort and to compensate for extract air
* Up to 4 fume cupboards or other extracted cabinets, average 2
* Electrical power
* Hot and cold water
* Compressed Air.
Laboratory gases were excluded and where needed provided by local bottles.
Drainage is a bit of a killer. Naturally drains want to flow down but this means a double layer of services at the floor for the drainage and at the ceiling for the other utilities. Some examples exist for pumping drainage up to the ceiling. Even the designers thought this was a mistake.
The main plant can be designed to suit the average number of fume cupboards etc.
The distribution has to be capable of handling a diverse location of items of equipment.
The connections between the equipment positions and the take-off points in the distribution systems are made flexible connections. This allows some flexibility in the positioning of equipment.
The longer the flexible connection the lesser number of connection points are required and the less extensive the distribution runs.
Plug and play service connections.
Ceiling or not
The equipment is at floor level below the ceiling, the connections are above. So a full ceiling is really just in the way of making service connections. The obvious solution is to get rid of the ceiling. However users don’t like this so they remained. Demountable ceilings or part ceilings are a solution.
The final design includes minimal distribution systems serving each module with the basic services. Flexible connections allow the connection of equipment at any location within the module. The technical engineering of the connections allows the built-in utility distribution to be reduced in scale, thus reducing initial costs..
Biocontainment labs cannot use all of these approaches, or not easily. But there are some solutions.