As a manufacturer of lab workbenches for over 20 years, one of the most challenging decisions businesses face when creating a new lab is which worksurface top to use. It is also one of the most important decisions, because you want your investment to last as long as possible. And, let’s face it, the top takes most of the beating!
No longer the Labs of Yesterday
Gone are the days of labs that just use bunsen burners, simple centrifuges and hand-held calculators. Businesses today use a variety of new technology and automated instrumentation...desktop computers, liquid handling stations, and lasers to name a few. In addition, there has been a huge increase in the number of chemical compounds because of research and development.
So , how do you navigate all of these complexities to figure out which top you should use?
My recommendations are always based on my customer’s needs in the following areas:
- Chemical Resistance
- Abrasive Resistance
- Moisture Resistance
- Heat Resistance
Let’s take a look at how these issues will affect your decision on which material you should use for the top of your lab workbench.
According to David Giegel, director of High Throughput Screening Technology at Pfiizer’s Ann Arbor Laboratories, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of chemical compounds. “Whereas in the 1980’s we were talking about maybe tens of thousands of compounds in a library, now we're talking about millions." (Source: Science Magazine)
What does this mean for you?
If you use chemicals in your lab, your worksurface material has to be able to withstand not only the chemicals you are using now, but also ones you may be using in the future. Any time you are working with chemicals, if you don’t have a top that can resist your specific compounds, you will damage, crack, stain or affect the gloss on your top.
In heavy use applications, your top will get a lot of wear and tear. Abrasive resistance tests are used to determine hardness, brittleness, material failure and stress cracking. Depending on the type of work you will be doing in the lab, you generally want to get a top that has a moderate to high abrasive resistance.
For labs that use a lot of liquids, this is very important. If you use a top that is porous, chips or gets stress fractures, moisture can seep in and provide an environment for the growth of bacteria and fungus. In addition, moisture can slowly destroy the substructure of your top. Look for one that is moderate to high, depending on the level of moisture you are dealing with.
Continuous use of laboratory instruments and methods that create heat make it important to know the heat resistance of the top you use. Typically, the manufacturer will tell you the maximum temperature and the length of time you can expose the top to heat before you will see damage. It is important to find this out before you buy.
Many labs require continuous cleaning in order to ensure the results of their tests and prevent contamination. Tops need to be able to handle constant cleaning and the use of cleaning agents. Chemical resistance, abrasive resistance and moisture resistance can also impact this factor.
When you are building a lab, budget is always a factor. It is important not to get a material that doesn’t meet your needs in order to save money. In the long run, it will cost you more if you have to replace the top prematurely because it doesn’t hold up to your type of usage.
Do Your Homework
The bottom line is that it is crucial to do your homework before you buy, because purchasing the top for your lab workbench is an investment.
Almost all manufacturers provide technical data sheets that provide the above information. Be sure to ask for them, and don’t make the assumption that all products are the same.
And, remember that your best source of information is the manufacturer of the workbench itself. In most cases, they have used several of the products on the market and know which ones are best for you and your application.