• The testing of carbon-enhanced materials must be done in specially designed spaces.

file under: Industrial, Education, Environment, Facilities, Metals and Mining, North America, United States

Big Ideas for Small Technology

Designing Safety into High-Technology Research

State-of-the-art research and development (R&D) must occur in controlled environments, where systems are designed to protect product quality, testing processes and human health. For academic institutions and aerospace, metals and mining firms, CDM Smith has leveraged our multidisciplinary capabilities to develop facilities that meet the infrastructure and safety needs for high-technology development.

Like many other old classroom buildings, the true challenge was retrofitting and creatively designing a 21st-century lab within a building from 1950. Furthermore, we were able to assess the processes to identify and mitigate the potential risks and develop a comprehensive lab design. 

The testing of carbon-enhanced materials, which can be woven into other fabrics to create high-performance composite materials, must be done in specially designed spaces. “Advanced R&D spaces rely on the integration of traditional architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical disciplines,” explains Brendan McLaughlin, CDM Smith principal client service manager. “The design of these labs should be augmented with specialty experience, such as a certified industrial hygienist, to help firms meet their needs in a safe, sustainable and cost-effective manner.”

Going Air-Tight for Owens Corning
In Granville, Ohio, USA, Owens Corning is conducting research to develop and commercialize carbon-enhanced reinforcements. To help safely advance their mission, CDM Smith designed state-of-the-art nanotechnology laboratories that facilitate development and protect employee health. The lab spaces are designed to operate under negative air pressure and offer two levels of protection. The primary control uses individual exhaust hoods around specific research process steps. The second level keeps the labs negatively pressurized with respect to the remainder of the building.

Nanotechnology Labs Owens Corning ConstructionConstruction of nanotechnology labs at Owens Corning will help with the research and development of carbon-enhanced reinforcements.

The related heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems treat the air supply to meet temperature and humidity requirements within the labs while filtering lab exhaust to capture nanoparticles before being discharged to the environment. “To achieve the required performance of the HVAC systems, the design of the new lab walls must isolate the lab environment from the remaining facility environment,” explains Tim King, CDM Smith associate and project architect. “This is a challenge when retrofitting existing buildings that were designed for open manufacturing and not for environmentally controlled research spaces.”

“These new R&D facilities will not only help drive the speed and efficiency in bringing new materials to market, but protect the health of our employees,” comments Aseem Sharma, Owens Corning general manager of carbon enhanced reinforcements business. “Potential applications range from electrical shielding to composite armor for defense applications.” Additionally, the project team designed and installed gas storage and distribution systems, as well as adjacent office space to support the new research, all within a building constructed in the 1960s.

Retrofitting for a Safer Future
Until recently, professors at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio, USA, were using labs originally designed for basic chemistry research to study the applications of nanocomposite materials—a type of research that was new to the university. “Our first step in the design process was to meet with the research scientists and walk step by step through their research to identify potential risks that might require an engineered control to reduce those risks,” explains David Marchese, CDM Smith principal chemical engineer and project manager. Based on initial reviews with the researchers, the project team determined that there was no risk of exposure to carbon nanotubes because professors were working with materials already impregnated with nanoparticles. However, several other potential hazards were identified and the proper controls implemented in the design.

The OSU lab project included renovating two existing rooms in a five-story structure that houses classrooms and office space. “Like many other old classroom buildings, the true challenge was retrofitting and creatively designing a 21st-century lab within a building from 1950,” notes Marchese. “Furthermore, we were able to assess the processes to identify and mitigate the potential risks and develop a comprehensive lab design.” As part of the overall design, CDM Smith studied several HVAC system approaches, including upgrading and replacing existing air handlers versus providing a new dedicated air handler. The team also studied exhaust loads to determine current and future air needs and loads. Lab users received a new dedicated air handler within a tight schedule for their research.

OSU is now able to conduct their research in confidence. “Until CDM Smith conducted their interview process with the research team, the real hazards were unknown,” states Nikolina Sevis, OSU senior project manager. "This process allowed the proper risks to be identified and controlled during design.”