Reason Three in the Five-Part Series: How to Maximize Returns on Lab Protocol Change 

When research or production spaces get too tight, processes suffer. Where flow between workstations used to feel smooth, you may now find yourself gathering reagents and equipment from scattered cupboards because a new piece of equipment has been installed on your old shelf. Or, you may have added staff who now spend 15% of their time trying not to bump into their coworkers. When laboratories maintain quick-fix systems instead of reclaiming or investing in necessary workspace, safety, quality, and throughput all become compromised.  

You know you need more space to smooth out your processes, but it’s essential to first consider the reasons why the space has become constrained. It may be tempting to say, “for every reason!” but pause to intentionally consider what factors were most recent or obvious. This approach of first understanding what led to the tightness will help to clarify whether space can be reclaimed, or if an investment in additional space may be necessary. As you navigate this root cause diagnosis, keep in mind that no matter the case, long-term process changes due to space constraints are not advised! 

Have customer demands increased? 

The law of supply and demand traditionally applies to the correlation between need and cost; but what about the correlation between need and space? Whatever the purpose is for your lab, when customers request an increase the frequency or quantity of an outcome, the physical capacity of your laboratory ultimately determines the feasibility of the request. Will the lab accommodate the new staff or equipment required to scale to meet new demand? If not, it might be time to add more space – especially if low-value process space cannot be repurposed and demand is expected to continue.  

Have regulations increased the need for processing space? 

Regulations are a continuous necessity in any pursuit, especially in STEM environments. Regulation changes often address discovered opportunities for quality failure and therefore mandate additional staff time or instrumentation-based safeguards. There are interim solutions that may not require permanent facility renovations for unique or isolated experiments, but always avoid operating a space outside of its intended design to limit liability and undesired experimental factors.  

Has new equipment recently been purchased, and/or have supply stores been strategically increased? 

Discarding a significant past investment can feel disgraceful, but logic helps us understand that this is not the case. Unused supplies and equipment – regardless of the initial investment – tax laboratory operations in a variety of ways including: 

  • Displacement of value-generating processes 
  • Delay of essential equipment upgrades 
  • Difficulty maintaining standardization 
  • Duty to maintain degenerating inventory 

Current costs to construct new laboratory space can easily reach $600 – $900 per square foot, so if unused inventory is expected to deliver less than this value, strongly consider selling, donating, recycling, or discarding these former assets. In short, don’t allow that outdated inventory collecting dust to devalue your other state-of-the-art tools and operations! 

No matter the reason your lab processes are constrained, understanding the drivers of those constraints is an essential first step in planning future space and operations. After all, capacity for growth is the strongest indicator for achievable growth! As your customer behaviors, regulations, and technology continue to evolve the needs of your laboratory, Progressive AE is here for you as a trusted advisor in laboratory space.