The laboratory enclosure market is accelerating, with the introduction of many new products. R&D takes a look at what’s prompting this growth.
Laboratories are like a living organism: They need to breathe to survive. Air exchange and management is one of a laboratory’s primary functions, and like the creature that breathes with lungs, the research environment contains many cells, or pockets, of both pure and contaminated air. These enclosures, from small gloveboxes to entire cleanrooms, protect specimens or samples from the deleterious effects of contaminated air and allow researchers to breathe freely.
This basic function has been so well served by the laboratory containment industry over the decades that, even after recovery from a recent recession, research firm IBISWorld in 2013 estimated the laboratory fume hood manufacturing industry, which includes a variety of containment products, will grow at an average yearly rate of 0.5%.
Yet, for several reasons, innovation still markedly affects even the most traditional enclosure designs. First, the increased desire to save on energy costs in the U.S. has driven an interest in alternatives to traditional ducted fume hoods, which are, because of high air exchange rates, the biggest energy draw in the average research laboratory. Second, developers and owners of increasingly modular laboratories require greater flexibility from laboratory enclosure equipment. Finally, the global R&D marketplace is growing, and the appearance of new laboratories in China, the Middle East and South America are spurring the creation of new products to serve their needs.
Products reflect customer demands
Hemco Corp., Independence, Mo., has introduced several new products in the last year, the most important of which is its latest AireStream fume hoods. This traditional vented hood is innovative in how it’s made: The AireStream features a unitized construction that doesn’t require screws, bolts, rivets or metallic hardware to assemble. The chemical-resistant, flame-retardant, non-metallic composite resin material is molded in a single piece, with all corners coved for easy cleaning and light reflectivity. This series of fume hoods is offered in either constant air volume or restricted bypass models, and is equipped with a 36-in-high extended view height, a slotted rear VaraFlow baffle system, an aerodynamic sash lift with perforated air-sweep feature and a molded-in belled outlet collar for reduced airflow resistance.
Because only a limited number of commonly used laboratory chemicals require the full containment capabilities of a traditional ducted fume hood, ductless filtering hoods have been a growing presence in the marketplace, with the arrival of Erlab’s (Rowley, Mass.) GreenFumeHoods and companies such as Labconco, Kansas City, manufacturing their own line of ductless hoods. These manufacturers have been raising awareness about the capabilities of these hoods, particularly in saving energy while ensuring their customers’ safety. Technology is helping them accomplish this: AirClean System’s (Creedmore, N.C.) Patriot line of ductless hoods helps users control their environment based on the chemicals in use. The AirSafe NXT automatic safety controller increases or decreases blower speed to maintain the user’s pre-set face velocity, keeping airflow in standard operating parameters. The system also monitors the Patriot’s carbon filtration bed, alerting the user to saturation, delivering statistics on energy usage and displaying the approved chemical class for the hood using the ChemMinder application.
Ductless filtering fume hoods are one of the primary alternatives to traditional fume hoods. But biological safety cabinets are also economical solutions for specific purposes. Labconco’s latest biosafety cabinet, the Purifier Logic+ Class II, Type A2 is a showcase of what the latest HEPA filter technology can do. Providing Level 1, 2 or 3 containment, these cabinets either discharge HEPA-filtered exhaust air directly into the laboratory or through an attached exhaust system. In the case of attached exhaust, minute quantities of volatile chemicals and even tracer amounts of radionuclides can be utilized safely.
The cabinet uses a blending strategy to dilute hazardous air. The HEPA filter is located internally, behind the cabinet. Seventy percent of the air from the plenum beneath the work area—a blend of filtered room air and air from the work area—is recirculated through the filter. The remaining 30% is discharged. This type of dilution technology has helped transform modern laboratories, which rely on a large number of high-capacity HEPA filtering units of similar type to guarantee quality in a variety of applications, from small wet laboratories to large pharmaceutical process installations.
The ability to handle all types of chemicals is important, but the increased modularity of the modern laboratory has brought innovations that benefit flexibility as well. Mott Manufacturing’s (Brantford, Ont.) adaptable Optima fume hood helps researchers personalize their ergonomics to suit changing laboratory processes. Looking much like a traditional fume hood, the Optima has a push-button, height-adjustable workarea that can range from 30 to 36 in through a motorized electro-hydraulic mechanism, which allows for the accommodation of different procedures, types of equipment and multiple users, making it ideal for ADA requirements.
The hood also boasts an automatic self-lowering sash system, a low-profile hinged airfoil with a spill containment trough and chain and a sprocket sash system. Optima is a self-supporting structure, which allows for mobile or slide-in cabinetry beneath to be relocated from hood to hood or throughout the laboratory. Offered in a range of standard widths, with a top hung frameless combination sash and a choice of interior liners, the hood can be used in either constant volume or variable volume applications designed for 80- to 100-ft-per-minute face velocities.
Gloveboxes are a variation on the fume hood concept which offer the ability to interact with materials that are completely sealed from the airflow encountered by the researchers. But switching between the fume hood to the glovebox can cost a researcher valuable time, and frequently the airflow on a fume is set to maximum to accomplish the task. But a recently launched product from Isolation Sciences, Williamsville, N.Y., that works around this step could save time. The Fume Hood CAP is a glovebox retrofit that installs between the sill and the sash interface. Estimated by Isolation Sciences’ to take about 30 sec to install, the glove box provides a 6-mm transparent polyurethane film barrier attached to an extruded aluminum frame. The distance between the gloves is adjustable, allowing users to interact with objects throughout the fume hood workspace. Wings on each end of the CAP, which stands for continuous access port, can be extended into the sash track to provide full containment.
According to Isolation Sciences’ CEO, Charles Akers, the CAP also improves energy efficiency of the fume hood by lowering the amount of exhausted facility air, improving energy costs by more than 80% when in use.
Protection during the active use of chemicals is important, but so is the long-term storage. Air Science’s (Ft. Myers, Fla.) Safestore vented chemical storage cabinets are meant to contain noxious or odorous chemicals without needing the volume of air exchange required by previous solutions. The cabinets feature the Multiplex filtration system, which uses carbon filtration technology to isolate and trap biological and chemical vapors. The design prevents operator exposure, cross-contamination and ecological impact through chemical or particulate release into the environment. The cabinets are available in three capacities, 25, 1,000 and 2,000 L.
Cleanrooms evolve to suit the space
Any wet laboratory features enclosures or containments systems, ranging from gloveboxes and storage cabinets to full cleanrooms. The extent to which a typical multidisciplinary wet laboratory depends on containment measures is often not fully appreciated by the staff. Of course, they are well-trained and understand their importance for safety. But they may not know how containment is making their research possible.
Hemco is one of many vendors that offers full modular work areas that maintain Class 1,000 to Class 100,000 environments and also provide exhaust systems to vent laboratory fume hoods and equipment. These rooms, which feature a composite resin surface that is cleanroom compatible and chemically resistant, can be outfitted with complete HVAC systems that recirculate or are single-pass. The entire array of laboratory furniture and casework can be designed and engineered to meet the room’s specifications. The pre-engineered modular room system is a cost-effective alternative to standard construction and offers additional flexibility.
An even more cost-effective solution for some research applications is a soft enclosure, such as Hemco’s Softwall CleanRoom, which is equipped with vinyl curtains and HEPA filtration for Class 100 to 100,000 environment rating. Recirculation is not possible with this type of enclosure, but for those laboratories able to provide single-pass to a temporary enclosure, this could be a better, more adaptive solution, especially with the addition of casters. Static dissipative curtains are also available.
In recent work, Hemco outfitted the Multidisciplinary Research Building on the West Campus of the Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, with a variety of cleanroom solutions. Dedicated to exploratory life science research, the project, led by architectural firm Gould Evans, featured design and planning for future biotechnology research and a strong emphasis on flexibility. The building has more than 2,000 sf of cleanroom suites, including a Class 1,000 plasma etch laboratory equipped with Class 10Q isolation soft walls that permit rapid pass-through and a Class 100 photolithography laboratory with light-sensitive windows. The modularity of the space allows a reconfiguration of these laboratory assets to meet changing research needs.