Zac Gleason is laboratory director for the Water Quality Association. Gleason can be reached at [email protected].
The Water Quality Association (WQA) has outgrown its home of nearly 40 years. With our board and leadership support, I have had the opportunity to design a new laboratory for testing and certifying water treatment products.
Time for a Change
Over the last few years, it became clear that a change would be necessary for us to continue to meet our clients’ needs, especially in product certification and laboratory services. There was simply no more space left to fit in the additional equipment needed for advancement, and honestly, things were shoehorned in where space allowed. The new facility will enable us to plan for expansive new testing capacity that maximizes efficiency while maintaining client confidentiality.
The WQA team spent well over a year imagining, designing, trialing and redesigning enhancements of the Gold Seal lab and will soon see the results at the new WQA Headquarters and Laboratory, which opens in 2021. What has been a relatively rough and cloistered space with a limited laboratory will emerge as a state-of-the-art facility at the new location in Lisle, Illinois, about 1 mile from the former WQA offices.
Increased Space & Efficiencies
The new lab is something that you will have to see firsthand. To give you an initial picture, let me explain some of the most significant changes.
The first thing you will notice is space. We are moving from 6,000 square feet to nearly 16,000 square feet for testing equipment, benches and tanks, allowing us to move from a “can we fit this in?” mindset to a “how can we create the most efficient lean process possible?” mindset.
One of the first exercises we undertook was to walk through our testing process. We created “spaghetti” diagrams of the overlapping paths that a lab technician would take moving from one step to the next during each of the operations that we run. We covered every step, things like adjusting pressure to checking hardness levels. The audit was a sobering exercise in that it revealed the vast inefficiencies of the lab. Staff was making anywhere from three to 20 trips back and forth to different parts of the laboratory over the course of a test simply because we could not get the item being used any closer to where the test was happening.
We then went to the new facility and walked through how the process might look in the new space, free from any limitations or preconceived barriers to work flow. We looked at having all tools and supplies readily available, how many tests could be taking place simultaneously, and how many steps, both physical footsteps and tasks, that we could eliminate from each process.
The next step was to pass our proposed layout over to the architects and engineers to help make it real. We poured over charts, diagrams, blueprints, photos and floor samples until we had detailed every square inch of the new lab space.
Construction has been under way since early fall with new walls, partitions and lots of plumbing installed at a rapid clip. Significant improvements have been made to the space’s air-handling, which becomes essential when analytical accuracy means measuring things down to parts per trillion in some cases. The attention to detail has been paramount. WQA Executive Director Pauli Undesser and Facilities Manager Dale Guttendorf and I have been on the site many times a week reviewing and confirming the installations and construction of each step of the process.
Another pivotal advancement, which will go mostly unnoticed by visitors, is our lab water system. Thinking of time efficiency and continued growth in product certification led us to prioritize increasing the water supply flow and volume for certification testing needs. With the support of several of our members, a new system was designed from scratch, starting with our goals in mind instead of being based on the location’s limits.
We should now be cutting the labor and time invested in water preparations by 60 to 70%. We will also be adding tanks and upgrading our bench designs, enabling different test water types with multiple connection points on the same rig through a redesign. The improved flexibility will help with unpredictable surges in demand for particular tests, which have challenged our capacity in the past.
With the planning phase over, and the construction approaching completion, the experience is about to begin. We think Gold Seal clients will be pleased that their products will be evaluated in a state-of-the-art laboratory that has been designed from the start with their needs and values in mind. It is not only custom-built, but purpose-built and client-focused. Testing and certification for water treatment products have taken a bold new step into the future.
What is the staff most excited about in the new facility? Honestly, I would guess it is moving out of a basement and having access to natural light, not to mention a restroom that does not require climbing stairs.