Facility Design and Expansion: Commissioning for Innovation

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-05-01-2006, Volume 19, Issue 5

Once guiding principles are identified, designers can explore the most cost-effective methods for delivering a flexible, expandable site.

A modern biotechnology facility resembles a living organism, constantly evolving and changing. As research programs change, so do the requirements for equipment, staff, and laboratory space. While the next generation of biotechnology facilities must be adaptable and open to change, these facilities must also contain elements that ensure energy efficient operations and continued reliability in the face of even the most daunting challenges. Meeting these comprehensive requirements requires a design concept that employs the expertise of the biotechnology firm, design professionals, and construction specialists to deliver a facility that is flexible, sustainable, and reliable.

Mark N. Yakren, PE


A key variable contributing to the growing demand for flexibility is Big Pharma's growing dependence on the biotechnology industry for cutting-edge pharmaceutical products. As bureaucracy continues to limit the development capabilities of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, reliance on the biotechnology industry for the research, development, and delivery of new pharmaceutical products has required versatile facilities.

As a result, many smaller biotechnology companies are now aggressively pursuing expansion plans in order to increase their research capabilities, add staff, and procure new equipment. Such expansion requires a flexible design concept to accommodate growth and adapt to the ever-evolving atmosphere of the biotechnology industry.

Flexibility, in many instances, is a relative term. While designing an adaptable facility would be easy with unlimited funds, budgeting plays a prominent role in planning and implementation. As a result, delivering a flexible facility design is directly related to the client's budget and expectations.

In many cases, project design commences without a clear definition of the scope of the work. This lapse in preparation often plagues small companies, which sometimes lack comprehensive in-house facility development experience. Proceeding to the design phase of a project without clear communication about intended goals and specifications of the project can lead to costly change orders, lost efficiencies, and expensive delays. To avoid such costly roadblocks, it is vital to build consensus among the client's management, researchers, and facility management team to meet the diverse goals and expectations of the project.

ICN Pharmaceuticals, in Costa Mesa, CA, maintained its research operations throughout its renovation process. The new design allows flexibility for future expansion.


This can be accomplished by employing qualified and experienced consultants to lead the development of a facility from preliminary meetings with internal users, maintenance personnel, and operations professionals to discuss the specific needs for the project. The project's designers can then consolidate the data into a document called the "Basis of Design" or "Project Definition Statement," outlining the program in terms of architectural, engineering, and construction objectives.

Once the guiding principles are identified, the facility's designers can explore the most cost-effective methods of delivering a flexible and expandable site. Employing a flexible design concept also enables the owner to make changes and adapt, due to the ever-changing business climate of the biotechnology industry.

The laboratory at California State University, San Marcos, was designed with flexibility to accommodate various research programs.

Building a modular design is a popular method for ensuring flexibility. This approach employs a system composed of various interchangeable parts that fit cleanly together. In a modular design, all major equipment is designed and arranged in such a way that new components, such as air handlers, fans, and electrical panels can be easily added or modified in the event of an expansion without major impact on the entire operation.

For example, a laboratory space requires an array of specialty services such as compressed air, vacuum, carbon dioxide, and purified water. By running a loop around the facility and providing take-offs to supply these services to laboratory benches and equipment, the facility can be easily modified and expanded without the need for additional services. As these lines are provided, space should also be allocated for additional utilities to be added in the future, such as natural gas, nitrogen, and many others.

Another method of accommodating for future additions may involve installation of a multi-header air supply system with a limited number of air handling units initially supplying the system. This would enable the firm to add more air handling units in the future when requirements increase or funds become available to provide additional capacity or redundancy.

Many modern facilities also employ the "plug and play" concept. This design style provides an array of outlets and sources that facilitate the use of equipment virtually anywhere in the building. For example, a laboratory exhaust system could be laid out to allow a fume hood to be added, if necessary, by simply removing an exhaust register and installing a new duct connection for the added hood. Air quantities could be adjusted to ensure that rebalancing air systems would not be required during installation of the new hood.


Even in the most flexible biotechnology facilities, sustainable design is needed to ensure that the facility operates at maximum efficiency at the lowest possible cost and provides the best optimum working environment for the staff.

One common misconception about sustainable design is that it is a defined entity. The diverse biotechnology industry requires that sustainable design be approached not as a hard and fast concept, but as a process of integrating ideas, objectives, and priorities through sensible decisions made early in the design process. This necessitates an integrated design process that teams building owners, designers, contractors, facility managers, and building occupants to execute the best possible strategy for the project. It also requires placing laboratory spaces as a top priority.

Once a strategy is defined, several design considerations must be observed to ensure maximum efficiency. Equipment selection for the building and research plays an integral role toward improving building energy efficiency. Many biotechnology facilities can consume more than tenfold the amount of energy used by other buildings, with much of the energy being absorbed by equipment.

Selecting energy-efficient and low-demand laboratory equipment represents an effective and immediate way to reduce energy consumption. More efficient equipment reduces power consumption, diminishes cooling requirements, and reduces the size and cost of building equipment required to support these functions.

Lighting is also important to consider when designing a sustainable biotech facility. A strategy that is often overlooked is the use of "daylighting," relying on natural light from windows to reduce the need for electrical lighting during daytime operations. Additional methods include dimming controls and reduced general lighting levels with task lighting.

Biotechnology companies also overlook the high importance of water efficiency. Because laboratories use more water than standard office facilities, reducing water usage and recycling water can play a key role in reducing unnecessary costs and preserving the environment. This can be accomplished through a variety of basic measures, including gray water collection and reuse, rainwater recapture and reuse in irrigation or flushing, drought-tolerant landscaping, and use of closed-loop equipment cooling systems.

Perhaps the highest priority in the design of a biotechnology laboratory involves the assurance of indoor environmental quality. This requires the design team to accurately assess the risks and provide proper air dilution rates. Precautionary measures such as hood alarms and room pressurization monitoring are of critical importance. Furthermore, biotechnology facilities must be designed with the proper placement of air intake and exhaust systems. Many facilities are also being designed with containment areas to protect occupants and minimize risks of cross-contamination.


Unfortunately, no biotechnology facility is completely immune to unforeseen circumstances. As a result, critical operations must be assured of uninterruptible running in the face of emergencies.

Perhaps the most critical element of ensuring continued operations is having a reliable power supply. The devastating effects of recent power outages have made backup power a high priority for all industries. The effect of a power outage on sensitive laboratory experiments requiring critical refrigeration, ventilation, and consistent power supply can be even more devastating. As a result, facilities are being constructed to accommodate larger standby power plants to operate critical functions and keep buildings running for long periods of time.

In many instances, it may not be practical to back up the entire facility, because it is simply too expensive. Instead, biotech companies must assess priorities for various operations. A priority list may include the following, in order of importance: 1) vivarium 2) pilot plant 3) laboratories 4) laboratory support systems 5) offices, and 6) amenities.

Consider that both the vivarium and pilot facility should have 100 percent back-up, because their operations are time-sensitive and critical to the central function of the entire organization. In addition to standby equipment, strategies to share equipment or reduce services for less critical functions are often a cost effective and dependable means of ensuring 100 percent uptime for critical facilities. For example, use a laboratory air handling unit to back up a vivarium system in case of failure or maintenance, provided that the laboratory function can accept a temporary reduction in service.

A number of additional system redundancies are also required to ensure that the critical elements of a biotechnology facility, specifically the laboratory space, are adequately prepared for the event of an unexpected power failure or system shut down. This includes information technology safeguards, security, fire and life-safety equipment, and various procedures for operations, maintenance, monitoring, controls, and disaster recovery.

As the biotechnology industry continues to play an increasing role in the delivery of cutting-edge products and technologies, modern biotechnology firms continue to pursue new research programs and adopt modern technologies that will help them remain agile and ahead of the intense competition. Their success in implementing these new programs and technologies in the years ahead will be contingent upon the delivery of flexible and energy efficient design concepts that allow cost-effective expansion efforts.

Mark N. Yakren, PE, is Senior Vice President, Syska Hennessy Group, 11 West 42nd St., New York, NY, 10036, tel 800.328.1600; fax 212.556.3242, myakren@syska.com