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Bridging the Gap Between Science and Construction

This article was originally published in Building Design and Construction Magazine Issue 258. Read it here.

Bulb Laboratories is an interior fit-out specialist in the laboratory & office sectors

The key differentiator for us, says Manisha Kulkarni, is the way Bulb “bridges the gap between science and construction”. The company’s laboratory consultant has been instrumental in enabling Bulb to grow in the sector, bringing its historically strong interior fit-out experience to the laboratory market. 

laboratory fit out by Bulb Laboratories

Manisha’s 20-plus years of laboratory user experience has supported Bulb’s ambitions in the sector, overseeing training and education of the workforce and providing the liaison between the client and Bulb to develop bespoke solutions that understand process and workflows, regulatory requirements and equipment needs to tackle wide-ranging objectives. This has seen the share of laboratory work within the company reach around 40% with further growth expected.

A holistic service, Bulb can tackle a project from conception to completion. Indeed, the company’s expertise in the sector is increasingly being recognised as clients begin to work with it to develop their projects from the beginning. For example, SpyBiotech, a biotechnology company, initially appointed Bulb to provide workplace consultancy before asking it to deliver the full turnkey package.

That included laboratory fit-out along with the creation of an open plan working area, offices, meeting room and break-out space. Bulb installed new furniture throughout. All laboratory areas required wet services, drainage, air conditioning and bespoke furniture solutions.

More recently, after successfully completing two laboratory projects at the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus, Bulb was awarded a third on the campus. The company, which also offers workplace consultancy services, building appraisal, project management and cost control, will deliver office and laboratory fit-out across two floors at the world-renowned campus.

new laboratory facilities

Largely through word of mouth, Bulb’s reputation within laboratory fit-out and refurbishment is founded on its flexibility in delivery, understanding of unique challenges, and capability to achieve the demanding objectives of the scientific community.

Indeed, Bulb is driven by a consultative approach. This is achieved by spending time gaining a clear understanding of goals and being prepared to challenge pre-existing ideas where necessary. Bulb can be introduced to a project at the beginning to produce concepts and designs or, equally, can be appointed post-design to carry out the build and fit-out. Yet, for many clients, the company’s turnkey package gives peace of mind.

It can develop a compliant fit-out or refurbishment package to suit needs and budget and offer advice and guidance throughout the project. Whether clients have specific health and safety considerations, require safe, secure storage for chemicals and biohazardous materials or need to develop a clean room environment, Bulb has the expertise to deliver the solution.

It begins with the briefing stage where a client’s own unique requirements and business objectives are determined including the departmental relationships, the level of customer experience and any other factors which may influence the design of the space. Laboratory design plays a fundamental and critical part of ensuring laboratories are safe places to work. Careful consideration is given to the function of the laboratory, hazard identification and equipment needs, and the degree of flexibility required for future growth or process change.

Bulb takes time to get to know the client’s business. Interviews are conducted with key employees, occupational studies are carried out, the visitor experience is examined, and the project’s key objectives are determined. Bulb investigates future plans for expansion, the current level of usage of workplace and meeting rooms, departmental interactions, the importance of teamwork, the flow of personal communication and the need for collaboration and relaxation areas.

laboratory fit out

The typical modern laboratory has changed dramatically in recent years. Balancing the demand for new working practices, staff retention, the right company image whilst achieving value for money requires a structured consultancy process.

Many factors can impact upon identifying the right solutions, even the choice of building. Each project requires a bespoke solution whereby the correct building is chosen, the laboratory design improves business performance and being right first time avoids post project delays.

This attention to detail is also afforded Bulb’s approach to health and safety. All activities under its control are carried out in accordance with standards and safe working procedures, and in regulatory compliance with statutory provisions. Bulb employs a team of independent auditors that undertake safety audits on its sites and provide training to staff and site operatives.

Any client has a responsibility under CDM regulations to appoint a specialist who is competent to comply with health and safety requirements. Most client duties require action well before work starts on site. As an accredited Safe Contractor, Bulb can aid clients in identifying hazards, creating a plan to organise and control health and safety matters throughout the lifetime of a project.

And it doesn’t end when the project is complete. A key element of a successful laboratory project is the programming of the equipment, de-commissioning and relocation process. The careful planning of the re-siting of equipment with the necessary connections and supplies will minimise any staff downtime at the existing or new facility. A number of Bulb’s specialist laboratory suppliers will support the client with ongoing maintenance support and its projects team deal promptly with any additional requirements post completion. It’s another reason why Bulb has enjoyed such strength in the sector, resulting in some long-term relationships.

laboratory design and equipment

“The last four years has seen the company experience significant growth in laboratory fit-out and refurbishment,” says Managing Director Derek Jones. “The company moved into this specialist sector organically as a result of working with clients to develop solutions for tenants that evolved from office to mixed use to those requiring a laboratory provision.

“Bulb’s expertise in advising clients meant our solutions are always bespoke and specified to the individual. Realising the specialist nature of laboratory fit-out and refurbishment, we sought to develop our in-house skills to accommodate client needs in this sector.”

Of course, this presented unique challenges for Bulb, but it has met these challenges head on. “Enhanced environmental controls, requirements for higher electrical loading, structural and supply implications such as gases and chemicals, and access to the building, are all aspects you need to consider. As well as this you require additional space to cater for the amount of servicing that goes into the building. Warehouses, for example, give you less to work with but are more flexible because it’s essentially an empty box you can put things into while some office buildings can be quite constrained. Our adaptability is why we say we bridge the gap between science and construction.”

Indeed, Bulb recognised the need to expand its in-house expertise to incorporate a working knowledge of the laboratory environment. That is why professional chemist Manisha Kulkarni’s role is a crucial factor in bringing together the demands of science with the built environment.

modern laboratory design

Manisha gets involved at the very beginning of every project. “It’s one of the way’s we differentiate ourselves from competitors. Most of the team have experience in the construction sector, and what we’ve developed is the in-house knowledge to translate those skills to the complex laboratory environment,” she says.

“That means getting to know what, for example, differentiates one lab from another and how different terminologies describe the types of laboratories – from chemical to molecular biology and so on - that we may work on. My role also meant providing the bridge between the client – largely scientists – and interpreting their needs in order to develop a solution that fitted their unique needs.”

It means there’s no cookie-cutter approach from Bulb. Adds Derek, “Manisha’s understanding of how the lab will function and to advise the client who might not understand the implications of upscaling their production facilities means we can help them design-in specific need and develop the interior design that captures the client’s specifications in a way that has considered the constraints and the opportunities afforded them by their building. It’s that understanding of need that we can offer that helps us stand out.”

It’s also why Bulb is in prime position to continue growing its presence in the laboratory fit-out sector. Its enviable reputation is not only indicative of its success in bridging the gap between science and construction, it also underlines the consistency of its solutions and why it has every reason to look to the future with a great deal of optimism.

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