Photo of a clinical lab and their power cords and computers.
Sophisticated lab instruments are highly sensitive to power quality fluctuations.
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Getting Proactive About Your Lab’s Power Environment

Factoring power quality into lab design can help reduce costly equipment downtime and ensure its accuracy and reliability

Peter Huss

Peter Huss is a veteran electrical engineer with nearly four decades of experience in the industry, the most recent of two have been with AMETEK Powervar. Currently serving as an...

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Published:Jun 16, 2022
|3 min read
Photo portrait of Peter Huss
Peter Huss

Peter Huss is a veteran electrical engineer with nearly four decades of experience in the industry, the most recent of two have been with AMETEK Powervar. Currently serving as an applications engineer for AMETEK Powervar, Peter relies on the field experience he gained as an expert foreman prior to joiningPowervar.

Achieving high performance, seamless operation, and accurate results in a clinical lab requires an efficient lab design. When it comes to designing a lab for success, considering safeguards for every factor that could negatively affect performance during the design phase is certainly easier and more cost-efficient than disrupting an operating lab with all instruments and infrastructure already in place. A proactive defense against interruption is critical, and it starts with what every piece of equipment depends on: power, or more specifically, power quality.

In a lab setting, sophisticated lab instruments are highly sensitive to power quality fluctuations, which can result in persistent lock ups and logic errors in the short term and degradation that reduces product lifecycles in the long term.

Though the leaders of labs that are already up and running are encouraged to think carefully about how to optimize the power quality of their space, there are two reasons why doing so before the space is built and populated with instruments is more efficient.

1. Proximity matters

The first is that proximity matters quite a bit, both for the transmission of noise from other electrical equipment and for the power management solutions responsible for conditioning that noise. All electrical equipment creates noise of some kind, and modern systems are even more susceptible to this noise than older equipment. This is largely because modern electrical components run at lower and more energy efficient voltage amplitudes, which means power line spikes have a much larger proportional impact on these components than they would on higher amplitude (and less energy efficient) components. 

The greater the distance between two systems, the less noise will carry across them. For that reason, planning for space between high-consumption equipment is prudent, while keeping them sufficiently close if they are to share a power conditioning unit. Experts recommend conditioners be positioned within 15 feet of the instruments they protect, ideally as close to the point of use as possible. This short distance helps reduce the risk of the power signal acquiring new noise after it is cleaned. Adhering to this recommendation may often require the use of several strategically placed conditioners rather than a single large unit.

2. Leave some leeway

The second reason why preplanning for power management is essential is to accommodate the size of a power solution’s footprint. Though actual dimensions vary based on unique need, some uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units for labs are as large as a common refrigerator, making them difficult to shoehorn into an existing environment. Integrators recommend setting aside 5 percent of a lab’s square footage for power conditioning, leaving plenty of room in panels, busways, and conduits to run clean power as equipment changes. Leaving this type of leeway will also make servicing easier in the future. 

In the end, labs will operate as they are designed to operate. A lab operating with poor power quality may have issues with equipment performance and lifespan. To mitigate the risk of costly equipment downtime while ensuring its accuracy and reliability, while also saving clinical lab leaders from having to rearrange large equipment, power quality must be factored into the initial lab design phase.