By Cole Perry
Pharmaceutical research sites across the globe have recognized the need to adapt quickly to new projects for time-sensitive results.
According to a recent article from real-estate firm CBRE Group Inc. and The Wall Street Journal, over 31 million square feet of life science space was under development with new construction and conversions in 2021. While some have the ability to expand from the ground up, many are taking the time to refurbish their existing facilities completely.
Building a space that can adapt over time as research needs evolve is essential for growth. Creating flexible and resilient labs that can quickly modify to new scientific research requirements has the potential to save your company time, money, and allow you to take on new projects efficiently. With rehabilitated sites becoming more popular, there has been a significant focus on planning for automation and creating a space that accommodates robotics and automated specimen processors, even if this type of addition is five to 10 years down the road.
Flexibility Is Key
In the past few years, there has been a push for flexibility. The Covid-19 pandemic was a significant accelerator in this process as it created an immediate demand for new research and vaccines. We are now seeing that labs are looking for ways to utilize 100 percent of their space to allow for this type of quick adaptation. Of course, there is some variance in how facilities can make these changes. Companies are either looking for new real estate to build out, demolishing the areas they already occupy and rebuilding, or transforming the interior of an existing space. Even with the substantial financial investment required to accomplish one of these options, we are seeing that many companies are still taking the time necessary to rehabilitate a facility to take on the influx of fast-paced research needs.
Instead of focusing on one long-term project at a time, I’ve noticed that labs want to be able to quickly move from study to study in a space that can accommodate multiple tasks. Research teams prioritize labs that can change with them and quickly adapt to new technology.
In the next five to 10 years, more facilities will be operating almost entirely with automation. With warehouses being one of the first types of space to utilize complete automation, the end goal would be to have Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) move samples and drug products throughout the facility. Labs, warehouses, and other spaces are already planning accommodations for the future of automation so that additional renovations do not need to be made down the line. This includes creating wider doorways, auto door operators, selecting appropriate flooring materials, anticipating specific turn radiuses, and space planning for battery chargers.
Lab designs have already begun to be altered to accommodate robotics and automated specimen processors. While there is a discussion to be had around the implementation of AI, automated systems have the opportunity to improve safety and increase standardization in these types of facilities.
It is clear that research space today needs to be specific enough to address scientists’ immediate needs and flexible enough to modify easily and efficiently. There are multiple ways we are seeing different facilities accomplish this goal, but this type of transformation is something that we will see most if not all lab facilities undergo in the next few years.
Cole Perry, Senior Project Executive, joined Messer Construction Co. in 2010. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Rose-Hulman. Cole’s experience includes a variety of project types in the science and technology segment. Cole is also involved with the Indianapolis Quality Committee. In the community, Cole is highly involved with A Kid Again as a board member and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.