Whether you are building a new facility, renovating, or adding on to an existing laboratory, equipment planning is an essential tool for the success of your project. Equipment planning services range from project to project but typically manage all equipment documentation, details, and requirements for existing and new equipment that will comprise the future facility. The inherent value of the process was first widely recognized and successfully utilized in facility planning for the healthcare industry and is now a part of many forensic projects. With an ever expanding array of new technologies in laboratories of all types, equipment planning for the laboratory community is a growing demand. This article will define the process and explain how your forensic facility can benefit from this value-added service.

Example of equipment planner's documentation

Scientific equipment for forensics has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, merging multiple advanced technologies with the latest and greatest of new scientific discovery methods. Much of this equipment has specific operational tolerances and requires forethought for the design and construction of its environment. It is the equipment planner’s responsibility to monitor and understand these requirements to help design more efficient, sustainable, and optimized facilities.

Laboratory equipment (existing, new, and future) greatly affects a facility’s structure. The extents include anything from additional foundation requirements and structural framing for vibration control to specialized shielding or mechanical, electrical, and plumbing requirements for the correct and safe installation of equipment. Having timely equipment information minimizes the risk of costlyredesigns and missed schedules.

When planning for a new forensic facility, it is never too soon to schedule this service as part of your project. Ideally, the effort begins as soon as possible to allow the equipment planner to stay ahead of the facility design. This ensures that sufficient equipment information is available when needed by the rest of the design team.

The equipment planning process begins early in the programming stage of a project with a survey of all existing equipment that will be moving to the new facility.This survey is typically in-depth and can require several days of on-site activity. The information collected includes the make and model of the equipment, physical size and associated clearances, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and other pertinent engineering requirements, as well as photographic documentation. All of this information is structured into an equipment matrix. The matrix is refined throughout early Schematic Design to ensure that it is a completeand accurate representation of the existing equipment.

The next step is to plan for, recommend, and select new equipment. New equipment research starts during early Schematic Design and will be further refined throughout Design Development. New equipment is determined by a number of resources. Programming documentation about the new facility is used to determine equipment requirements related to future occupancy and any core function changes from the existing facility. A thorough review of the existing equipment matrix can reveal usable information such as preferred manufacturers, a starting point for the required quality of new equipment, as well as any other equipment consistencies. User interviews are the preferred way to select new equipment. These interviews can often be integrated with an existing equipment review. A suggested list of new equipment will be structured into a new equipment matrix. The new equipment matrix is carefully refined and detailed with open communications among the equipment planners, users, design team, and potential vendors.

During Design Development, the two equipment matrices —existing and new — come together into one complete matrix that includes all documented information about each piece of equipment. The matrix is structured in a way that allows quick, easy identification of the major parameters for each piece of equipment. It also references and organizes any associated documents such as manufacturers’ data sheets, installation guides, and price quote information. This matrix is used to coordinate all equipment and equipment locations withthe laboratory planner, architects, and engineers involved with the project.

Equipment planners lend their expertise of new equipment and technology to the facility and its users. They are exposed to the latest trends and advancements that help laboratory users navigate the realm of new equipment and the advantages to their processes. The equipment planner serves as an intermediary to the users, meeting with vendors when necessary and determining what, if anything, the users themselves need to see. This benefit minimizes the time that users are away from their primary work functions, while still allowing them to provide valuable input. Another benefit is the coordination of equipment throughout the design process. This produces a synchronized set of documents for the bidding process, leading to a tighter bid and less construction changeorders from the field.

Equipment planning results in a well-planned and organized laboratory as shown here at the Philadelphia Crime Lab. (Barry Hawkin Photography)

All too often, a facility staff plans to take on the equipment planning responsibility themselves. However, this often proves to be an overwhelming task. The laboratory planner, architect, and engineers tend to get untimely, insufficient information; thus, the laboratory user is burdened with yet another job on top of other daily tasks. On a recent project, The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) determined they would perform their own equipment survey. The survey period lingered for three months. When all of the surveys were finally collected, the AFIP realized that each person had used a different method to survey their own lab space. The individual results were very difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate. Since the Institute did not want to accept therisk of faulty information, they contracted equipment planning services.

Sometimes it is difficult to get approval for equipment planning services. Mr. Stan Rich, Capital Planning Liaison for the Capital Development Board for the State of Illinois, had this issue while overseeing the design of a new forensics laboratory for Illinois State Police. Initially, the State of Illinois determined the laboratory staff should be responsible for equipment planning for the proposed new facility. However, upon further reflection, they found that the State would ultimately save money by contracting these services. The State realized that the equipment planner would provide an outside, impartial opinion and had exposure to new and diverse products. The State felt it was their job to run a laboratory, not plan one. In particular, the State recognized the financial savings they would gain by not increasing backlog, which would certainly have occurred had they spent time on the equipment planning process.

An equipment planner can help determine a facility’s equipment budget for capital expenditures. Initial planning for equipment costs has a general rule-of-thumb for 30% of the projected building costs. By creating a detailed equipment matrix, new equipment can be assigned a more accurate budgetary figure. The equipment planning process can also help the facility plan for capital expenditures by working with the facility to phase future equipment and project budgets for future purchases.

Moving existing equipment into your new forensic facility can be a very challenging coordination effort. The equipment matrix, used in conjunction with project drawings, can be an accurate guide to moving equipment. With thorough planning, equipment locations (existing and new) will already have been determined and can be used as a directive by the facility mover. The result is a faster, less complicated move with minimal laboratory down time.

Equipment planning is a vital component for forensic laboratory design. The process strengthens the working relationship between the architect, engineer, and client; promoting a highly coordinated design effort. For the first time, laboratory form, function, and support are viewed as a whole with an understanding of the equipment requirements. The result is an optimized and sustainable facility customized for the laboratory’s processes.

Chris Knox is an equipment planner with Crime Lab Design, which provides full A/E services for forensic and medical examiner facilities. He is currently working on various forensic projects, including the General Department of Criminal Evidence Headquarters in Kuwait. Contact Chris at

Susan Halla is a project leader and laboratory planner with Crime Lab Design. She is currently working on various forensic projects across the country. Susan may be contacted at