Helping lab professionals GoMolecular.

Get Ready to Grow


In this article:

  • Planning ahead for lab expansion
  • Incorporating flexibility in design
  • Accommodating new technologies and equipment

Flexibility, in addition to a health- and safety-conscious environment, should be at the forefront of any molecular diagnostics laboratory design.

"Molecular labs are growing rapidly, and it is difficult to determine specifically what the future holds," said Karen K. Mortland, RA, MT(ASCP), president of Mortland Planning & Design Inc., Chicora, Pa., and chair of the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute's Subcommittee for Guidelines for Laboratory Design.

Therefore, it is imperative that a molecular lab is designed to grow into the future.

Incorporating Flexibility

"If a lab is flexible, it can accommodate new equipment with fewer changes," said Ellen Sisle, AIA, LEED AP, principal, director of laboratory planning, KlingStubbins, Philadelphia, Pa.

To that end, utilities should be supplied from overhead and the casework beneath should be completely removable and repositionable. This does not necessitate a complex system — once utilities are disengaged from the casework, no fixed connection to the floor (except drains) is needed.

"Another important aspect of flexibility is the ability to adjust height without having to purchase new casework," Mortland noted. "As tasks change, standing or sitting heights change." For example, an adjustable table with hanging or mobile drawer or cabinet units underneath provides the desired flexibility.

Furthermore, bench tops should be free of shelving or have shelving that can be both adjusted or removed. Bench depths should be a minimum of 30 inches to accommodate most laboratory equipment. In some cases, larger equipment will require a 36-inch depth.

Adding redundancies in data, electrical and plumbing outlets will also address future expansion. Although costly, these elements can be even more expensive to add at a later time.

Creating “soft spaces” adjacent to the laboratory also bodes well for growth in the coming years. Soft spaces include offices and storage spaces that are easy to relocate. "Be careful not to become landlocked by utility rooms, restrooms, or other departments that are expensive and difficult to move," Mortland advised.

Another planning strategy is to identify laboratory departments, such as virology, that are slowly being replaced by molecular platforms. By placing molecular laboratories adjacent to such departments, that space can be used to expand the molecular laboratory as virology disappears.

Traffic flow should also be addressed. Utilize movement or a simple spaghetti diagram when designing a lab to identify areas of conflict.

Accommodating New Technologies and Equipment

Finally, it's important to consider the integration of new technologies and equipment in a lab design. New technologies that utilize standard power; do not require many special gasses; consume little space; or generate minimal heat can be more easily incorporated into an existing lab. Nonetheless, renovations can be made to accommodate equipment that does not meet these criteria. Harder to address are equipment requirements for low vibration or shielding from electrical noise, but devices such as vibration isolation tables and Faraday cages can help in these situations.


Integrating a new technology into an existing lab requires an understanding of the laboratory's available power supply; available utilities; existing temperature and humidity; existing airflow; and comparing these against the criteria for the new technology. Some renovations might be required, such as providing a new utility or upgrading the laboratory's cooling or exhaust systems. Casework might have to be removed to provide more floor space, or bench-top shelving removed to provide more bench-top space.

By incorporating equipment that delivers results in the most efficient way in terms of cost, speed, or both, a laboratory will be Lean. Ultimately, a Lean laboratory  uses fewer resources, less effort, and less time to test incoming samples.1

"By planning ahead for the future by incorporating flexible casework, room for expansion, and extra utilities; a laboratory can adjust when necessary and stay Lean," Mortland said. 

Make it Comfortable

A molecular diagnostics laboratory accommodates technology and provides a place for scientific research, but ultimately, it is also a workplace for humans. The needs of your staff should always be kept top-of-mind. 

"The resultant requirements, sometimes seemingly at odds, must be combined skillfully in a manner that not only meets codes, but also creates an environment that satisfies all of these interests," Sisle concluded.




  1. Lean laboratory. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2011.