Tuesday 18 October 2022

6 Reasons You Need a Flexible Laboratory Design


Configuring or reconfiguring a laboratory to handle new techniques, technologies or protocols has traditionally been an expensive and time-consuming process. Flexible lab space is gaining momentum as labs look for ways to shorten research and development times and cut costs.

By Emily Newton

What does a flexible laboratory design entail, and why is it becoming an essential tool to stay relevant in modern research and development (R&D)?


Creating a Flexible Laboratory Design


Flexible laboratories are designed to be easily changed or modified to accommodate different researchers’ needs without employing a contractor’s skills. These details can include:


     Adjustable cabinet configurations

     Changeable work surface heights

     Overhead connections for lab utilities

     Custom mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems

     Heavy-duty flooring to allow for heavy equipment movement

     Plug-and-play research equipment


The precise details of a flexible lab will depend on its user’s needs and changes it may need to undergo in the future. These spaces will also likely contain several stationary shared areas, such as fume hoods, as these require specialized systems to support them. Panels or partitions that are moisture resistant are great for laboratory settings since they are easy to clean and hygienic. These partitions allow individual researchers to work in relative privacy, even if they share the room with other scientists.


Employing flexible laboratory furniture makes the most of a given space without needing costly or time-consuming remodeling projects.


Reducing R&D Turnaround Time


Traditional R&D work can take months or even years. That timeline climbs even higher if researchers wait for contractors to complete their lab space before they can even begin working. The failure rate for new drugs is already incredibly high — around 90% failing before they reach Phase 1. Improving speed and efficiency across the board is key to getting these products and therapies to consumers faster. Flexible laboratory design may not accelerate research and development but can eliminate lab remodeling time.


Improving R&D Return on Investment


Biopharmaceutical firms’ return on investment (ROI) has been dropping in recent years. They enjoyed an ROI of 10.1% in 2010. By 2017, that number had fallen to 3.2%. The COVID-19 pandemic helped fuel some growth, increasing from 2.7% in 2020 to 7% in 2021. However, using a global pandemic to fuel industry growth isn’t the best business strategy. Reducing R&D turnaround time and shortening the new product pipeline may help improve the industry’s ROI.


Making the Most of Limited Space


Researchers in the United States are facing a shortage of lab space. Available areas are often designed with life science or pharmaceutical research in mind, leaving other fields like biotech out in the cold. Flexible lab spaces are easily adjusted for multiple specialties, even working on projects or in entirely different areas. People don’t need to wait weeks or months for lab space to open up when a flexible laboratory design can shift from one specialty to the next in hours.


Converting Office Spaces to Laboratories


When the pandemic pushed most of the workforce into remote positions, building owners were left wondering what to do with all these suddenly empty offices. As the demand for scientific spaces climbs, upwards of 20% of new lab spaces are being constructed in office buildings. These new spaces are ideal for flexible laboratory design because they’re not inherently designed for research or experimentation.


Combining these office conversions with flexible laboratory furniture fills two niches, giving researchers access to the necessary lab space and preventing buildings from sitting empty. At the same time, the world continues to work remotely.


Flexibility and Safety Protocols


Working shoulder to shoulder in a crowded lab became a thing of the past once the COVID-19 pandemic began. Flexible laboratory design means it’s easier to create a space that functions under a light duty as it does when it’s packed to the rafters with skilled researchers. It can even make room for human/robot collaborations. A single lab robot could be programmed to carry out dozens of different tasks, completing each with the same level of precision and quality.


Keeping Teaching Labs Full


Traditional teaching labs are usually designed for a single class or specialty. The problem with creating such a specialized space is that it’s impossible to make the best use of it. A standard teaching lab might only be used once or twice a week, whenever a class is in session.


A teaching lab paired with a flexible laboratory design could easily be switched up for different courses or specializations, depending on the school’s needs or current class schedule. It reduces the number of dedicated lab spaces necessary on a given campus, though it is always a good idea to have backups in case an accident or incident closes one of the teaching labs.


The Future of Flexible Laboratory Design


Flexible laboratory design is a relatively new concept. Still, as researchers struggle to find labs suitable for their needs, it could help fill the gaps and ensure plenty of available spaces for those needing them. Companies that haven’t already started to look into these designs should consider remodeling and adopting a more flexible outlook.


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