4 Things Every Life Science Company Should Do Before Building Out a Laboratory

February 2020
RJ Panzo

When I worked for a small biotech company, I was responsible for establishing small-scale processing labs all over the world. With every subsequent lab I established, I realized that effective planning was critical for a successful build-out, and I learned how to plan more efficiently.

This planning helped me identify and build spaces that were appropriately sized and compatible with the science, and I ultimately gained valuable time on an already short launch timeline. These are four of the most helpful steps I took to plan a successful laboratory build-out.

1. Develop a Space Program

Any lab build-out or renovation will start with space programming. This helps determine a base square footage that you’ll need for equipment, workspaces, and forecasted headcounts. Programming also documents the square footage for utility and facility functions, circulation (space to move around), and loss (hallways, egresses, etc.).

Once you have this base square footage, you’ll then be able to look for spaces that are the right size and will meet your current and future operational needs.

In order to develop successful space programming, you’ll need input from all scientists, lab occupants, and stakeholders. This will establish all of the pre-design criteria and organize the specific laboratory needs, such as tissue culture rooms and radioactive labs.

Programming should also include any adjacencies and process flow relationships—like placing a Media Prep area close to glasswash and an autoclave—that can eventually give shape to the design and increase efficiency.

2. Create an Equipment List

In order for the architects and engineers to shape the lab’s spatial and utility planning, they’ll need a robust and detailed equipment list. This list should include equipment dimensions, power requirements, gas, HVAC, plumbing, and any other details that will impact the lab’s design.

It’s also important to include forecasted equipment in this list to be able to install for any future mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) needs. When I was planning a metabolomics lab, I knew we’d eventually be expanding the lab’s capabilities, so I arranged to install extra outlets, HVAC snorkels, and nitrogen lines. Later when the new equipment arrived, we didn’t need to plan for additional construction that would have disrupted the laboratory.

Installing extra power and utility lines can make for a more adaptable laboratory down the road.

3. Involve EH&S Early

Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) provides guidance on the design, operation, and maintenance of a laboratory’s building systems, such as fire safety regulations, local exhaust ventilation systems, and chemical limits. Involving this group early on is important during the planning stage since it will likely inform the overall design and function of the lab.

Whether you’re using in-house services or outsourced providers, a good EH&S partner will help determine the maximum quantities for chemicals in a given space and advise on the control and storage areas you would need for chemical and biological labs. This information factors into the overall SF needed when planning to look for space.

EH&S will also help you understand HVAC requirements for fume hoods and biological labs needed to maintain personnel safety. This is especially important for architects and engineers when planning out the systems to support these requirements.

4. Find the Right Partners

Teaming up with the appropriate architect, contractor, and MEP engineer on a laboratory build is crucial. Finding partners that have worked specifically on laboratory builds will help you minimize errors, especially related to engineering and facility regulations. Even better to find partners who have worked together in the past and have proven they are able to drive the planning stage and mitigate gaps in the design.

Experienced service providers will help you avoid wasting time and money on things like installing the wrong type of gas piping, having casework that interferes with shelving or electrical devices, or other aesthetic and functional issues that can impact the lab’s efficiency.

With over 20 years of experience in the life science industry, I’ve seen lab spaces actually support and advance companies’ science. I’ve also seen poorly planned labs get in the way of it. Now, working with clients as an extension of their operations teams, I’ve helped make sure their labs and facilities do the former.

Interested in learning how to use your facilities to advance your science? Send me a note at RJ@t3advisors.com.