As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many medical professionals have turned their attention to some of the advantages of designing compact laboratory spaces. They’re finding numerous benefits, such as:

  • Less crowded common areas
  • Increased clinical testing lab capacities
  • More opportunities to deploy mobile lab resources—i.e. benches, trailers, and portable buildings—in the field.

Doing More With Less

Can compact laboratory designs really enable more functionality in less space? The answer could be yes—if you assess your needs carefully.

The first step would be to identify what your new compact lab would require. Unlike larger medical laboratory layouts that can easily serve multiple functions, the most successful compact labs focus on providing the best possible work environment for a limited number of use cases. Take the time to determine which lab functions you’ll need to support. Be specific.

Then, expand on each of these use cases by identifying which processes and workflows will work best with your lab furniture installations.

You should also identify specific regulatory standards that need to be satisfied, as well as how to manage safety concerns (such as proper ventilation). Be sure that access to specific utilities, materials, and supplies are easy to get to.

Take Advantage Of Multi-Function And Mobile Furniture Solutions

As you draw up your use case requirements list, you can begin looking for opportunities where clever custom furniture designs—i.e. mobile lab benches—could help you do more with less space.

One useful approach is to look at each area of your laboratory furniture design to see if one, two, or even three functions could be combined. For example, if you use a critical piece of equipment at a workbench only part of the time, could a custom, built-in mechanical lift allow the lab worker to safely move the equipment up and out of the way? What about opportunities to install custom storage space underneath the work surface or behind the lab worker? Remember, if you properly specify custom storage that accommodates the exact measurements of your equipment, you can fit more into a small space.

Mobile furniture is another way to get the most use out of limited spaces. Consider the advantages of using mobile carts to move sensitive equipment into place when needed, then returning them to designated storage areas when not in use.

Choose Lab Equipment Wisely To Save Space

Speaking of lab equipment, it’s pretty amazing how manufacturers have been able to integrate more and more functionality into smaller footprints.

In fact, many types of laboratory furniture that took up significant floor space just a few years ago have either integrated additional testing capabilities—thus reducing the need to use (and store) multiple devices—or have downsized their lab equipment to such a degree that it can now fit neatly on a shelf, further freeing up valuable floor space.

When designing a compact laboratory, consider the benefit of investing in newer, integrated test equipment that might help conserve valuable countertop or floor space.

Modular Laboratory Furniture: Adapting To Your Changing Needs

Earlier we mentioned that, unlike their larger cousins, compact medical lab layouts generally need to focus on certain use cases and workflows to make the most of limited space. But what if your needs change over time?

The answer lies in modular laboratory furniture design. Unlike fixed casework installations, which can be difficult (if not impossible) to retrofit after installation, modular lab furniture installations are inherently flexible. This means that when your needs change, you can use these same hand tools to swap out different components to meet your changing requirements.

For example, if you need custom lockable storage for a new piece of equipment, it’s very straightforward to order the new pieces and swap them into your existing installation. Also: nothing gets wasted. If you need to move your compact lab to a new location or combine it with another installation, it’s easy to disassemble your existing modular lab furniture and reassemble it in the new location.

Prototype Your Design

It’s always good practice to create full-sized mockups of proposed laboratory layouts, and compact labs are no exception. Creating a simulated work environment using plywood or cardboard cutouts and then testing whether the new lab layout will meet your specific workflow requirements can help spot design deficiencies before the manufacturing process begins.

A version of this article was originally published on Formaspace. Visit the bkm website for updates on our lab showroom and many additional options for modern laboratory furniture design.