Laboratory owners who have tackled a renovation or built a new facility tell us what they would do differently if they could do it over again. Here's their advice on what to do--and what not to do--to create the most efficient and ergonomic laboratory possible.
Hire a professional to oversee the project
We recently moved our lab into a larger building, taking on a 7,000-sq.-ft. renovation project. A building designer drew up the plans and we hired a contractor to handle construction. Since our new building was only three miles from our old location and I had an architectural background, I felt I could be at the job site on a regular basis and could "keep an eye" on the progress.
However, my mistake was assuming that the contractor would build our project precisely according to our architectural plans (in an ideal world, yes, but in reality, not necessarily). The location of one of our walls--including the plumbing inside the wall--was misplaced by 9 inches. The dimension was critical because this wall was meant to have four existing work stations against it but now only three fit.
By the time I discovered the error, the wall was completed and the second floor was being built on top of it. I could have stopped the project and demanded it be fixed, but we were already over budget and behind schedule. It would have meant demolition and possibly a stalled, unfinished project and legal action to settle a dispute. In the end, I was pragmatic and accepted the mistake.
If you are contemplating a construction project, save yourself time and aggravation and provide money in your budget to employ an expert to oversee critical construction stages to ensure the project is constructed as it was designed. Like quality control in the lab, you need to verify that the prescriptions (in this case, the plans) are read and followed.
Greg Killian, Vice President, Killian Dental Ceramics, Inc., Irvine, California
Design with flexibility in mind
If I could design my facility over again, I would not have built-in, fixed benches. With the advent of so many different systems and processes, I'd like to be able to move benches around and re-configure the layout.
When we designed our laboratory a decade ago, we did it based on the existing processes that were in place--and had been for the last 30 years--but someone went and changed our world! For example, we'll soon be pressing to metal and zirconia, and could use more room in the waxing and burnout areas. And, since there's no need for opaquing when you use zirconia, we don't need the opaquing area to the degree that we used to.
Another prime example of how changing materials can affect the layout of a laboratory: I was concerned that I designed my model room to be too small. However, with digital impressions coming, maybe it's just the right size after all.
Two things I did right: I isolated the production area from the front office, reception area and shipping departments so it's not difficult to hear when you're on the telephone or in a meeting. Also, all of the standup benches--in the model room, disinfection and shipping areas--are 39" high, which makes it much more comfortable for the person working on the bench.
John Bach, Owner, Design Dental Lab, Kennewick, Washington
Never underestimate your requirements
As part of my role at National Dentex, I've remodeled about 10 of our laboratories and built 12 new ones--and my motto is plan, plan and plan some more. We once built a roof too low and ran out of room for things like ductwork and suction units. In fact, we lost what was supposed to be our supply room, because we had to use that space for equipment that could have gone overhead. Now we make sure we have a minimum of 16 feet of space from floor to rooftop, so there's plenty of room to suit our needs.
The other thing I've grown very careful of is power supply; I make sure that we have sufficient amps coming in--and that we'll have enough as we grow--because it's costly to change it. For example, for a 10,000-sq.-ft. space, I'd want at least 800 amps; for a laboratory that's over 12,000-sq.-ft., I'd recommend 1,200 amps.
Art Champagne, Senior Vice President, National Dentex, Manchester, New Hampshire
Analyze your HVAC needs carefully
When we installed the HVAC system in our new laboratory, we placed one thermostat for the entire laboratory in the production area. We failed to consider how much heat the suction units, lathes, etc. would generate and how it would impact the office, administration and reception areas. As a result, our non-production departments are too cold in the summer and not warm enough in the winter.
In retrospect, we should have installed two separate HVAC systems: one specifically for production, another for non-production areas. They would operate at different temperatures and everyone would be more comfortable.
Joseph Young, Marketing Mgr., Young Dental Lab, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania