The Evolution of Smart Lab Controls:

From Hazardous Experiments to Intelligent Systems

Introduction: Scientists have long been conducting experiments with dangerous materials to advance science and improve the well-being of humanity. Throughout history, lab controls have gone through a remarkable evolution, driven by innovations in technology and a growing emphasis on safety and efficiency. This article explores the journey of lab controls, from the early development of fume hoods to the advent of smart lab systems that utilize advanced data and sensorization.

1.           The Emergence of Fume Hoods and Basic Controls: In the 18th and 19th centuries, pioneering scientists such as Louis Pasteur, Alfred Nobel, and Marie Curie conducted experiments with dangerous substances. In 1790, Joseph Priestly introduced the first chemical fume hood at the University of Leeds in the UK, marking the initial step in the evolution of fume hoods and risk control in laboratories.

2.           Advancements in Fume Hoods and Initial Control Attempts: Early fume hoods relied on standalone blower motors with no real controls. As time progressed, some hoods started to integrate with the building's air handling systems. However, these early developments still lacked intelligent modulation, limiting the control over the hoods and their surrounding environments.

3.           The Introduction of Variable Air Volume (VAV) Valves and Pneumatic Controls: Around the same time as the development of VAV valves for HVAC systems, pneumatic principles were applied to provide some level of control within the hood. Nevertheless, these control mechanisms had limited influence over the lab space supporting the fume hood.

4.           Game-Changing Innovations in Lab Controls: In the late 20th century, two significant milestones transformed lab controls. First, the introduction of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) around 1960, followed by Direct Digital Controls (DDC) for HVAC systems, provided more precise and secure digital communication, increasing accuracy in the Hood/Lab system.

5.           Pressure Independent Venturi Air Valve and Intelligent Lab Controls: The development of the Pressure Independent Venturi air valve in the early 2000s marked a crucial advancement in lab controls. This device enabled accurate and rapid air control, significantly improving the range and efficiency of lab ventilation. Combined with DDC, this marked the dawn of the intelligent lab controls system.

6.           Integration of Digital Technology and Smart Lab Concepts: The rise of digital technology allowed the integration of various devices, such as occupancy sensors, into the lab controls system, creating an increasingly intelligent environment capable of responding to stimuli from the surroundings.

7.           Smart Building Foundation and Master Systems Integrators (MSI): The introduction of the internet and the TCP/IP protocol in the late 1980s opened the door to innovative possibilities. The concept of Master Systems Integrators emerged to bridge disparate operational technology (OT) systems in buildings and create "cause and effect" matrices. However, advancements in open protocols and peer-to-peer interactions reduced the need for dedicated platforms for the MSI.

8.           The Evolution into the Smart Lab: The concept of the smart lab has taken shape, where data and sensorization from various building systems, including people counting, indoor air quality, plug loads, security, and more, are utilized to make intelligent decisions. This approach optimizes energy usage, enhances safety, and improves overall lab efficiency.

Conclusion: From its humble beginnings with hazardous experiments to the emergence of intelligent systems, the evolution of lab controls has been driven by technological advancements, safety concerns, and a pursuit of efficiency. Today, the smart lab harnesses the power of data and sensorization, creating a dynamic and adaptive environment that optimizes laboratory operations, making the pursuit of scientific advancements safer and more efficient than ever before.

Preserving Health and Safety in Laboratory Spaces
Why Validating Your Laboratory's Air Control System is Crucial