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Laboratory Control System Technology: A Comparative Analysis

David L. Brooks, PE, Affiliated Engineers, Inc.

This session will analyze and compare the various Laboratory Control System (LCS) schemes and systems available in the industry today. Systems are presented from a consultant's point of view (non-vendor) approach, providing an unbiased approach based on engineering principals. The presentation will focus on:

  • The design, performance, life cycle costs and operational features of the various Laboratory Control Systems,
  • Highlighting design implications and considerations when analyzing various systems such as fan system design, ductwork layout, specification development, and integration requirements,
  • Evaluating performance of the Laboratory Control System criteria such as repeatability, accuracy, response time, and ability to interface with controls,
  • Comparing the life cycle cost (evaluated over 10 years) based on first cost, maintenance costs, replacement costs, and energy costs,
  • Evaluating the intuitive nature of the user interface features, diagnostic features, interoperability features and automation capabilities,
  • Comparing control logic versus vendor specific sequences of operation routines used in the typical lab environment,
  • The numerous systems in the industry and the different features and schemes used by these manufacturers are just as diverse.

This presentation will provide the end user and designer with the information necessary to evaluate and select a Laboratory Control System that best fit application and budget requirements.


The evolution of the industry has led to improvements in controllability, reliability, and user interface enhancements. As DDC become more prevalent, integration and user interface capabilities have also improved. Based on lessons learned, data gathering and important findings, we can attribute the improvement of these systems to three significant enhancements.

  1. Direct Digital Controls (DDC) has given the end user the information needed for critical environment monitoring, flexibility in operational strategies, and simplification of lab systems to work seamlessly with the other building systems. In addition, the open protocols utilized by the laboratory control systems of today have made integration simpler and allowed for a more competitive environment.

  2. Pressure independent and pressure compensated devices have brought about faster response times and increased reliability. The venturi valve used today by many of the manufacturers has provided the industry with air terminal control devices that are much more repeatable and accurate than the standard damper/flow station package.

  3. A recent enhancement has given designers and users an option to break away from the pneumatic actuation concept and opt for electric actuation. The new electric actuators provided through the lab control manufacturers have performance characteristics that are equal to or better than the standard pneumatic actuator. This enhancement has single-handedly lowered the installation cost of LCS.

Labs21 Connection:

The information being presented here addresses some of the basic elements of the laboratory design. The laboratory control system manages the entire lab environment: (e.g. Lab pressurization, hood containment, temperature, humidity and provides a means for data collection).

The laboratory control systems available today present myriad options and control strategies. This session is about empowering the user and designer with the information necessary to make informed and budget conscious decisions of the laboratory design.

The laboratory control system represents the central nervous system of the laboratory system. The control system performance must reflect the level of performance desired for the specific laboratory type (BSL 1,2,3 or 4). With increased levels of bio-safety risk, lab control system performance criteria increases accordingly. The life cycle cost analysis gives the user and designer the tools necessary to evaluate and compare lab performance options against life cycle cost.

Many of the presentations thus far have been constructed and delivered by manufacturers focused on differentiating their lab control package from their competitors. David Brooks, PE has spent the last couple of years focused on researching technologies, visiting manufacturers, touring facilities, and developing test protocols to evaluate the performance of Laboratory Control Systems.


David L. Brooks, PE, is employed by Affiliated Engineers in Gainesville Florida and currently serves as the Department Facilitator for the Systems Integration Group (SIG) at this location. In this capacity, Mr. Brooks works directly with Owners and Contractors on all aspects of the intelligent building system and control system design from master planning, detailed design, installation management to commissioning. Mr. Brooks works closely with Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing/Fire Protection Engineers to ensure coordination and technology has been properly integrated into the project. Mr. Brooks has 15 years of experience designing, managing and commissioning all aspects of the Intelligent Building Systems Infrastructure (Laboratory Controls, HVAC Controls, Building Automation Systems, Fire Systems, Security Systems and a multitude of other intelligent building systems).

Mr. Brooks is a registered controls engineer, is an active member of ASHRAE, sits on the board of directors for the BACnet Interest Group of North America (BIG-NA), and a review board member for the ASHRAE Guideline 13-2000 Specifying Direct Digital Control Systems.


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