No one needs to tell you that stocking your lab with the right materials is critical to your overall success as a scientist, researcher and professional. That includes the countertops on which you prepare experiments, the workstations at which you conduct them and even items as simple as the chairs you sit in.
Even the little things make a difference, which is why getting the right metal laboratory furniture is so important for your long-term goal achievement.
If only it were as simple as that, though. With so many items needed, from fume hoods to storage cabinets and everything in between, it’s important to check several boxes to ensure you get what you need. After all, not all metal laboratory furniture is created equal. Your furniture system must be:
- Easy to maintain
- Roomy enough for all your supplies and personnel
- Resistant to the harsh materials often found in laboratory and manufacturing spaces
- Sturdy, holding up over time so you don’t have to replace it in a few years
It’s natural to want to get the project completed as quickly as possible, but before you make purchases willy-nilly, it’s worth considering which type of metal laboratory furniture is really right for you. Here are some of the most important considerations.
Why Metal Lab Furniture Is A Popular Choice
Before we got any further, let’s first address a common question: Why metal furniture? The short answer is, while it’s not necessarily the right material for everyone, it is the most durable, holds up best against harsh chemicals and is easiest to fit into any lab environment. That said, not all metals are created equal and should be evaluated for:
- Resistance to chemicals
- Resistance to others harsh items found in a lab, such as cleaning implements or sharp/heavy objects
Keep in mind that just because furniture has an industrial look does not mean it is equipped to withstand the difficult conditions often found in a manufacturing or laboratory workspace. Different aspects of your lab design may also call for different types of metal, which we'll further explore below.
Steel Vs. Stainless Steel
The main difference between these two materials is their component ingredients. Steel is iron forged with carbon, usually containing less than 2 percent carbon and 1 percent manganese, according to the World Steel Association. It also contains trace amounts of sulphur, oxygen, phosphorous and silicon.
Stainless steel has the additional ingredient of chromium and often other alloying elements that enable the metal to resist corrosion. Nickel, for instance, is a common one, though the exact recipe varies depending on the application. This makes it a bit more expensive than carbon steel.
Both have their benefits. True steel, because it often has a lower carbon content than stainless, is stronger. Stainless, with its higher carbon content but addition of chromium, is a bit weaker but is not susceptible to rust. Rust, which forms on iron (and consequently steel) with exposure to water and oxygen, is self-perpetuating, meaning rust begets rust.
When it comes to workstation bases, both types of steel are more affordable than wood casework, which needs fussier treatment. Also note that stainless steel lab casework can be upgraded to medical 316 stainless steel if needed for a laboratory’s application.
What To Consider With Your Workstation Base
Workstations put up with a lot of abuse in many labs, and as such, they need to be hardy. No one wants to go through the hassle and expense of implementing modular design, only to discover it needs replacement in less time than you can say “hydrochloric acid spill.”
Steel and stainless steel can both be a good choice for your workstation depending on your needs. For one thing, steel and stainless steel are both stronger than wood, and thus they are better able to resist wear and tear.
Even labs where lighter work takes place will benefit from the easy care and cleaning of a metal workstation. They don’t need refinishing, moreover, saving you an annoying recurring chore.
What To Consider With Metal Countertops
Countertops often take even more abuse than casework, given that most lab processes take place on their surfaces. Of all steel laboratory furniture, these are the workhorses of the operation. In most cases, stainless steel is a great choice for countertops because it:
- Wipes down easily
- Doesn’t rust with exposure to liquids or plain old air, which contains moisture
- Forms a self-healing chromium layer that continues to protect against rust for years
- Resists heat damage (it can withstand continuous heat exposure above 1500 degrees F
- Doesn’t conduct electricity well
- Resists corrosion due to harsh acids and bases, though your manufacturer can provide exact resistance levels if necessary
You can also get countertops in wood or aluminum, but those aren’t usually the best bet due to strength and durability, as well as resistance to harsh chemicals. Hence, if you’re looking for a industrial metal workbench or lab countertops, steel is often the way to go.
Other Considerations With Furniture Components
If you need additional stainless steel furniture, it’s smart to order it and install it at the same time as your other laboratory components. This saves on cost as well as headache for you. Some of the most common additional lab design components include:
- Shelving: Most labs have extra equipment for occasional needs, and you need somewhere safe and sturdy to store the equipment when you’re not using it. Shelving, like cabinets or countertops, should be sturdy and resistant to wear, tear, chemicals and rusting. Like workbenches and countertops, shelving can be constructed using steel or stainless steel.
- Lab Cabinets: Extra cabinets – differentiated from the workstation base – are also a common laboratory need. As with anything else, you want furniture that will withstand the test of time but is also nicely made, accessible and attractive. If these are in a low-traffic and lightly used corner of the workroom, you might consider wood for its increased attractiveness, but most lab spaces want something a little sturdier, which is why steel or stainless steel is a good choice.
- Drawer Handles: Messy hands are a reality of lab life, and you need to access your materials without washing your hands every three seconds. As such, you need drawer handles that are easy to wipe down and clean with stronger detergents, that won’t rust, corrode, scratch or wear down. Stainless steel and steel can withstand the repeated use of detergents and other cleaning materials.
Metal lab furniture that uses materials like steel and stainless steel is important in today's labs due to its high-end look, resistance to many chemicals found in labs and its durability. Getting the right metal laboratory furniture is important for meeting your long-term goals, however, which is why it's important to work with a quality laboratory manufacturer to ensure your current and future needs are met.