Does size matter? Key considerations for optimizing your lab design with limited space

Regardless of how big or small your lab is, it can sometimes still feel like you will never have enough space. Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can optimize your lab design to maximize space, without compromising on performance. As a result, you not only make room to accommodate new technologies, but you also support lab teams to improve productivity, and foster a collaborative atmosphere.

4 key lab design considerations to maximize your lab space
  1. Think vertically
  2. Invest in equipment with innovative modular design or multi-functionality
  3. Explore collaborative approaches to working
  4. Digitalize lab records
Article highlights:
  • By optimizing your lab space, you support lab teams to accommodate new technologies, improve productivity, and foster a collaborative atmosphere.
  • Exploiting a combination of strategies, such as investing in modular or multi-functional instruments and digital transformation, can help optimize lab space.
  • Strategies for maximizing your lab space include vertical and overhead solutions, as well as multi-functional devices.
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Implement principles of modern lab design

When it comes to maximizing your lab, optimizing your infrastructure is a good first step. In particular, when your floor space is limited or you are working with awkwardly shaped spaces, one of the most practical options is to use an infrastructure that is adaptable. For example, modular benches are composed of individual units with wheels mounted to the bottom that allow the unit to easily move and roll, they can be reconfigured or placed in storage to accommodate new equipment or novel workflows.1,2

But why stop at optimizing your floor space? Labs can benefit significantly from designs that optimize vertical space. Utilizing vertical space not only maximizes storage capacity but also creates a more organized and clutter-free environment. Vertical solutions, such as modular shelving and overhead storage units, make use of an otherwise unused area. 

Going a step further, automated systems with elevator and overhead conveyor modules allow vertical and overhead transportation of samples without blocking walkways. Such systems enable teams to split solutions across multiple areas of the lab and take advantage of all the space they have available, even in awkwardly shaped areas or across multiple elevations.3,4

Collaborating and reducing redundancy

Collaborative strategies including the use of shared workspaces and collective use of equipment are another key element of the modern lab design.5 It simply isn’t necessary for each individual in the lab to have their own instruments. Furthermore, the creation of dedicated work areas for specific tasks that can be booked by lab members minimizes equipment redundancy and supports teamwork.5

Labs can also save space by establishing agreements for sharing equipment with neighboring labs or research facilities. In this scenario, lab teams gain access to specialized instruments without having to sacrifice a portion of their own floor plan. This approach has the added benefit of minimizing downtime on large and expensive devices. Considering outsourcing experimental work is another option. Samples can be sent to external facilities and while saving space, this approach also facilitates wider access to expert services.6

Making your equipment work harder

Maximizing the area within your lab doesn’t have to be complicated. An approach as simple as buying stackable equipment can free up space on shelves and in cupboards. Advantages can also be gained from using portable equipment that can be freely moved when needed, and then stored for later use.5

A key approach for designing a lab with limited space is investment in equipment that is modular in design or is multifunctional. Innovative modular systems or instruments can offer the flexibility for labs to expand or broaden their testing capabilities in the future, for example. Multifunctional devices combine several lab processes into a single unit. Thereby reducing the need for multiple machines and saving precious space. 

For example, modern devices enable clinical chemistry, immunoassay, and ion-selective electrode diagnostic capabilities to be performed using one machine.7,8 Such devices, designed for labs with limited space, can offer over one hundred assays encompassing key diagnostic markers for a range of disease areas.9 Consolidating functions in this way also offers the additional benefits of reducing costs and simplifying maintenance, making it an ideal solution for small labs with limited resources.

Digitizing lab documentation

A key aspect of lab work is record keeping. Labs may need to keep such records for years and in doing so amass a huge volume of documents and files. These records, when stored in a paper-based format, can take up a significant amount of valuable lab space.10 By transitioning to digital record-keeping systems, labs increase their capacity for additional equipment and workstations. 

Digitalization works well for the majority of lab documentation including electronic lab notebooks, sample inventory lists and standard operating procedures.10 Records are ideally stored in a cloud-based solution to reduce the requirement for server space and data should be revised routinely to ensure it remains current. In addition to saving space, digital records are more straightforward to analyze and enable the opportunity for easier collaboration and file-sharing, and potential use of clinical decision support tools, for example in the analysis of slide image scans in digital pathology. Meanwhile, quality and reproducibility are improved, human error is minimized, and search queries become quick and easy.10

Implementing a lab design that goes beyond saving space

Optimizing lab space goes beyond the strategic arrangement of bench space. It involves an orchestrated blend of innovative design, collaboration, and digital transformation. By leveraging these opportunities in their design, labs that are pushed for space can continue to elevate their operational efficiency, increase their capabilities, and foster a productive research environment.

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  1. Farkas. (2018). 5 tips for maximizing your lab space. Article available from  [Accessed October 2023] 
  2.  Lab Manager. (2020). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  3.  PR Newswire. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  4.  Roche. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  5. (2021). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  6.  Astrix. (2023). Article available from  [Accessed October 2023] 
  7.  Roche. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  8.  Roche. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  9.  Roche. (2023). Article available from [Accessed October 2023] 
  10.  Labtag. (2022). Article available from [Accessed October 2023]