The modern lab contains chemicals so potent they’re regulated by governmental agencies, assets so pricey they’re amortized over decades, and samples so valuable they can dictate the trajectory of life itself.
It should be of little surprise, then, that moving a lab represents an undertaking of outsized proportions.
Though temporarily taxing, relocation is often the result of a victory — hard-earned funding finally secured, discovery suddenly replicated, or headcount decisively increased. But before such progress can be fully realized, a caravan of moving pieces have to find their way to their new home.
While by no means comprehensive, the following represent a roundup of the ten most pressing considerations for any team facilitating a lab’s relocation.
- Moving a lab is a lengthy process and major investment.
It’s easy to underestimate the effort required to move a lab. While the task might bring to mind durable assets, incubators, and lab notebooks, the real burden revolves around toxic chemicals and temperature-sensitive samples. A typical lab relocation requires roughly six months of planning and the assistance of consultants, movers, and internal stakeholders. If such a timeline sounds like a non-starter, consider hiring a lab transition planner to facilitate the process.
- Yes, moving is regulated too.
Your thoughtful government bought you a moving present: red tape. While most LabOps managers are experts at ensuring compliance with facility regulations, moving mandates compliance with another set of standards: transportation regulations. Depending on your line of work, you’ll likely need to brush up on regulations from the EPA, OSHA, and DOT, not to mention miscellaneous parties of interest within your own locale. When in doubt, ask. Contact your local regulatory bodies and ask for guidance.
- Internal buy-in must be sweeping.
Moving a lab affects stakeholders company-wide. It affects research timelines, supply chain logistics, budgetary considerations, building security scheduling, and more. As a result, it is essential that the planning process include representatives from each of the parties that will be impacted. Establish a “move committee” and include delegates from each department, EHS, facilities, IT, and more. Such meetings should also include any professional help being brought in to facilitate the move itself.
- External support is essential.
Moving a lab has a way of creating envy of the ten-person ad agency down the street that can get away with moving offices with a few pizzas and a caravan of personal vehicles. Moving equipment as sensitive as scientific instrumentation is a task for a licensed and insured logistics company. Depending on the size of the lab, you may also need to hire outside project managers, relocation experts, and environmental consultants. For certain equipment, supply chain vendors should also be consulted. Devote as much time and attention to vetting the proficiency of your logistics staff as you would the experience of a fellow LabOps manager. Consider this: the years or even decades spent curating the assets, samples, and reagents are all put on the line during a move. Proceed with care.
- Monitoring environmental conditions in transit is both possible and crucial.
From tissue and cells to mice and worms, many of a lab’s contents require finely tuned environmental conditions that must be replicated while on the road. Wireless sensors like those from Elemental Machines should be deployed to monitor conditions throughout the journey. Each asset can be tracked in real time (even while disconnected from WiFi) to ensure a range of conditions, including temperature, humidity, light, and sound. If a designated metric falls out of range, you’ll immediately receive an alert, giving you time to add dry ice to a warming freezer or make other corrective measures before contents are rendered useless.
- Ensuring proper chain of custody could be a matter of life and death.
For certain types of laboratories, who has access to something is just as important as how it’s transported. Most common among labs that process evidence for law enforcement agencies, ensuring a proper chain of custody is easy to overlook during relocation. Negligence could render a DNA sample impermissible in court. Make no mistake: proper justice for a victim or acquittal for the wrongly accused could be affected by the chain of custody in place during your lab’s relocation.
- Hazardous waste is an inevitable byproduct of moving.
Just as moving a house renders piles of unwanted items destined for thrift stores and garbage bins, so moving a lab reveals irrelevant or expired chemicals and other volatile waste. In preparing for your move, every chemical should be assessed and either disposed of properly or prepared for transport. When in doubt, consider this: it costs roughly the same amount of money to transport a chemical that it does to dispose of one, though disposal mitigates your transportation liability. If it’s not going to be used, dispose of it rather than moving it by enlisting an expert in hazardous waste disposal.
- Hazmat transportation is an operation of its own.
Among the substances you deem worthy of keeping, hazardous materials are almost surely among them. The transportation of hazardous materials requires meticulous and regulated treatment, as well as special permitting. Consult the Department of Transportation and enlist a team member familiar with the process, including the specific packaging, labels, and placards required. You may soon discover that transporting a thousand-pound freezer is the least of your concerns.
- The lab may be empty, but your job isn’t over.
After your assets have been moved, hazardous waste properly discarded, and chemicals safely transported, an invisible task remains before you. Following a facility move, you’ll have the additional “environmental liability” of decontaminating the previous space. Laboratory decommissioning guidelines are available from ANSI, but compliance is best left in the hands of a team member experienced in the practice. Every step of the decontamination process should be documented and quantified via real time sampling and lab analysis, both of which must be documented in a report retained for future inspection.
- A project’s viability could hinge on the length of a single cord.
The move-out has been planned with the choreography of a Broadway musical; the transportation, mapped out to a T. But there’s another factor to consider when planning your move: the destination. Your stopwatch, temperature sensor, and emergency dry ice plan could be foiled by something as small as a malfunctioning electrical outlet or a narrow doorway in your new lab. In the months leading up to your move, conduct detailed due diligence, including measuring the lengths of power cords, the number of outlets, the availability of freight elevators, and ceiling clearance along the way. The day before your arrival, verify the operability of every outlet, elevator, and circuit, and have electricians and building maintenance on call for anything that goes awry.
Relocating a lab can simultaneously represent a triumph and a significant process that requires meticulous planning and considerable manpower. Yet with careful planning and meticulous follow-through, a Lab Operations manager can guide their organization through the process with confidence and poise.