As a laboratory professional, your mind is usually preoccupied with calculations, formulations and speculation, but when it comes to buying laboratory equipment, it’s perfectly okay for you to admit to entering uncharted waters. But since your daily operations depend upon acquiring the work station that suits your unique needs and tasks, it’s incumbent upon you to ask the right questions while shopping so the outcome is as successful as your most daunting scientific challenge.
What do you do?
The devil is in the details, so coming up with a succinct answer to what first appears to be a simple question requires specificity. List all of the tasks that you perform each day to get started, and don’t forget the tasks undertaken by lab associates who may use your workstation from time to time. Now, match those tasks with features currently installed on your existing lab bench and add features you wish you had to make your job easier and more efficient. Examples of considerations are: storage requirements, ergonomics, lab bench size and height, and importantly, proper work surface materials, because solids and liquids you may handle may call specifically for epoxy resin or stainless steel if they’re to hold up over the long haul.
Does size matter?
You’re in luck. Today’s work station can leave as large or as small a footprint as you need to accomplish your most daunting tasks because you live in a modular age and just about every set-up under the sun can be configured to meet space parameters. A schematic of your lab’s layout gets the process in motion. If you’re not skilled at ascertaining spacing parameters, ask someone who is adroit at measuring area precisely so you wind up with exact measurements indicating left-to-right width and front-to-back depth. Explain to whomever plots the area how much work surface is required to host vertical accessory systems and equipment and if any of that equipment is unusually heavy, make mention of that so you don’t wind up with weight lode construction issues.
Which bench supports your typical workflow?
Does your workflow resemble a Detroit assembly line where tasks are moved along in linear fashion or does your system require a back-to-back, signature T, U, X or Y layout plan to meet your needs? Given many choices and the popularity of modular design, you no longer have to settle for “one-size-fits-all” lab furniture that doesn’t perfectly suit your needs. Add ergonomic efficiency to your list of workflow requirements so lab techs don’t end their days suffering from the stress and strain of working at a station that is too high or too low. Experts agree that a 30.5-inch work bench height accommodates between 99.5-percent and 99.9-percent of men and women. If your unique tasks require surface height adjustments, you may wish to place a crank- or motor-driven adjustable height system atop your list of features you can’t do without.
What are your lighting and wiring needs?
Perhaps your lab furniture setup requires a specific style, height or type of lighting to accomplish tasks. It makes no sense to install banks of overhead lights that drive a power bill through the roof when individually lit stations make more sense. Further, today’s lighting market offers products that are designed to suit benches requiring unique illumination requirements. For example, your lab may need to compensate for too much or too little natural light–or you might need fixtures that are fitted with glare and light-reduction filters. On a complementary topic, critical decisions must be made about power outlets, cable and cord management, ground fault circuit interrupters, hard wired data ports plus interfacing links between work stations so monitors or laptops are an integral part of the overall lab bench design configuration.
How important is storage?
Your mother wanted you to put things back when you were finished with them and you have probably come to appreciate that lesson—particularly if you have been forced in the past to deal with lab furniture that was counter-intuitive to tasks you performed regularly. What saved you? Storage. But every laboratory’s storage needs are unique, which is why a thorough inventory of items you keep on hand is important–so you don’t choose drawers, cabinets and shelves that are incompatible with the shapes, sizes, weights and number of items and supplies that require quick retrieval. Why is this so important? Imagine discovering, after the fact, that implements or tools you use for everyday tasks are too long to fit into standard-size drawers you ordered and that you’re stuck with that bad decision. Proper storage is so important to efficient laboratory operations, you may wonder how you survived without it once your lab is revamped!