How to optimise workflow when designing your laboratory
Year of Collaboration-Guest Blog 3
When planning the layout of your laboratory, a focus on optimising methods and processes promotes more efficient workflow; gaining considerable time and ensuring financial savings.
Method miniaturisation is the squeezing of as many instrumental and analytical parameters as possible to optimise efficiency. Variables that can be examined include extraction solvent, extraction technique, injection onto the column, separation on column, quantification via the detector and finally the cycle time of one analytical run. As we strive to make the method more robust we should improve quality, obtain an equivalent if not better Limit of Detection (LOD) and deliver the result more quickly and hence more cheaply.
How do process improvements then arise?
Space is often at a premium in older laboratories. In Water Labs, after analysis methods are miniaturised, such small volumes of solvent and such small vessels are used that the space required in a fume cupboard becomes negligible. The extra space can be taken by a modern efficient soil extraction system that replaced a bulky and cumbersome original. No queuing means no time loss. The more efficient use of work space can also promote health and safety and might negate the need for a shift system, a shift premium, unsociable working hours and any extra energy costs involved.
How do lab re-arrangements then arise?
Allying space savings and method miniaturisations has led laboratories to regard their operations as manufacturing enterprises. The ideal in any modern lab is to have a “push” ethos. If as many methods as possible have been miniaturised it is perfectly feasible to gear the “front end” of a laboratory into a sample-splitting area. Here, each sample aliquot (whether it be a soil or water sample within an Environmental Lab) will be weighed into a vial that is then used for the extraction, this will save several people constantly going back to the original container, on a shelf or in a fridge, to sub-sample. These aliquots are then pushed down to the extraction department who in turn send the extracts, when completed, on to the instrumental analysts who then provide the results to the reporting teams for final delivery to the customer. If everyone can see the work coming, they are more likely to be focussed on delivery. Old style compartmentalised labs do not promote flow through the system, in fact they are more likely to ensure samples (and analysts!) go missing.
Diagram: Floor schematic of push lab v compartmentalised
Venting the heat via enclosed ducting and an external fan from a laboratory with ten dual GC-FIDs and ten GCMS systems and south-facing windows!
This can save hours and hours and is also better for the LC systems across the other side of the laboratory which are very temperature sensitive should they not have column ovens. Each island of benches has a half metre gap between them, so all the fans can breathe and so engineers can have easy access.
Conversely instruments are not best served against a wall or window:
Some sample preparation can be a large time outlay, if you are drying solid samples instead of having multiple temperature-controlled ovens, build a drying room, make it thermostatically controlled and use fans to speed up the drying process in a controlled fashion.
For critical instrumentation an electrical ring main with generator back-up is ideal and larger labs are best served by having their own electricity substation.
The gas supply also needs some thought. There are multiple third-party companies that will, for a few thousand pounds, future-proof a lab for five years growth in analytical instrumentation with efficient dual head mantles, etc. Although labs are rapidly moving away from cryogenic cooling, some may be stuck with an old analytical system, in which case a very short flow path is required to preserve the low temperature, that means unfortunately cylinders in the lab or preferably a lab situated against a perimeter wall with the cylinders chained to the exterior of the wall. Peltier cooling (no cryogen) is the way to go! In our experience, a health check of the gas supply is rarely carried out in laboratories past the installation date and the lab may be haemorrhaging helium gas and hence much money. This being a finite resource, we should all be diligent.
Anthias Consulting offers a 1-day Gas Supply & Plumbing Health Check. This practical course provides an onsite gas health check along with training on how to carry out leak checks, maintenance and ‘gas saver’ techniques, providing long-term cost savings.
Paragraphs 3 and 4 taken from ‘Miniaturisation in GC Laboratories – the Holistic Picture’ by Anthias consultant Richard Stokes, first published in Chromatography Today Mar 2016.
About Anthias Consulting:
Anthias Consulting provides training and consultancy in all aspects of Gas Chromatography (& GC-MS), Liquid Chromatography (& LC-MS), Spectroscopy and all related techniques. Anthias offers a range of services that lead the way to more productive methods and improved quality of results in the laboratory. Anthias’ consultants have worked in or developed methods for every industry that uses gas chromatography, liquid chromatography or a spectroscopy technique and can help you, whatever your application. Their consultants are practicing analytical chemists with current skills; when they are not teaching or consulting, they are in the lab installing, maintaining and troubleshooting the instruments, developing methods and analysing samples for partners.
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Tel: +44 (0)1480 831262