5 Guidelines for Efficient Lab Design

The island (left) has storage underneath, accessible with doors on both sides.

Island counter has pass-through storage underneath, accessible from both sides.

Efficiency is getting the most done with the least amount of effort. It’s anticipating challenges and obstacles and having an organized plan to deal with them. Designing your laboratory for efficiency is a top priority. Here are five layout considerations for designing an ultra efficient lab space.

1. Make Safety an Element of Efficiency
A lab that is not safe is not efficient. When you make safety an element of efficiency you make it easier and more intuitive to follow safety protocol. There are several ways to incorporate safety protocols into your efficient lab design.  Safety equipment such as goggles, face masks, gloves and other protective gear should be stored at the entrance where it is easy to find and immediately accessible. Having this equipment in one place also makes it easier to inventory and replace when items run low. Wardrobe cabinets near the entrance can help keep down the clutter of boots, coats and other personal items in laboratory work areas.  Well planned storage can help keep work stations clear of extraneous equipment and tools. Overhead storage or under counter storage can keep necessary equipment out of the way but readily accessible.

Stations for potentially hazardous processes should be planned for the back of the lab away from the entrance and exits. Keep the doorways clear for an unencumbered emergency exit or for help to enter.  The space plan should provide utilities, gas lines or ventilation ducts to be located in the rear as well.

2. Use Fixed and Flexible Solutions
There are many options for mobile and flexible furniture in a lab setting. The use of permanent fixtures versus flexible options should be based on the designation of the lab. If the lab is used for different processes at different times the use of mobile workstations and flexible storage can help staff customize the most efficient work space. The stability and weight bearing capacity of fixed casework and storage is best for larger, heavier equipment. It is good practice to have both fixed and flexible options with a combination of drawers and cupboards to accommodate different sized items required for each task.  You need the ability to store frequently used items close by for the greatest efficiency.

Depending on the process, mobile stations can be configured with an upright support to hold shelving or wall cabinets. Investigate all the options for mobile carts and workstations as these can be very efficient in most labs. Designing a few mobile stations for your lab can allow for overlapping processes and free up counter space.

Steel D5 - efficient placement of shelving keeps countertops clear.

Steel D5 – efficient placement of shelving keeps countertops clear.

3. Provide Plenty of Storage and Shelving
Thoughtful well-placed storage and shelving can make a lab more efficient by storing items out of the way but keeping them close at hand. High, wall-mounted storage cabinets can help save counter top and floor space. Mounted casework and under-counter cabinets are great permanent storage options. For any overhead cabinets deeper than 12″, be sure to include under cabinet lighting for safe efficient work spaces on the counters below. Island counters can be up to 18″ deep and configured with pass-through storage cabinets allowing equipment to be accessed from either side. Also, remember to consider the storage options with mobile carts and workstations. These can be fitted with cabinet and overhead shelving.

4. Research the Available Options for Lab Equipment
The best way to maximize efficiency of lab equipment is to analyze its location, connection and footprint. Equipment location should be determined by the hazards it presents. The most hazardous equipment or the equipment used in the most hazardous processes should be to the back of the room away from the exit. Less hazardous equipment can be placed closer to the main door.

For safety and efficiency, keep utilities close to equipment and tasks that require it.

For safety and efficiency, keep utilities close to equipment and tasks that require it.

If equipment needs exhaust, or access to a gas line or other utilities creating a work space for that equipment closest to those utilities is essential. Finally, the size of the equipment, both height and footprint, must be considered in relationship to countertop space and overhead storage. If there is tall equipment that will require storage, plan accordingly. Also, as mentioned earlier, heavier equipment may require fixed casework for storage, and that should be installed near by.

5. Finally, Learn from and Expert
Ask questions, study product guides and communicate to your designer all the aspects of the work that will take place in your lab. The goal of every lab design is to create a work space that is safe, comprehensively equipped and laid out for the highest level of efficiency. Working with an experienced and knowledgeable laboratory designer can help you meet all three of these requirements. An expert in lab design will also help you find product solutions for safety, fixed and flexible furniture, storage and the options available for your variety of lab equipment.