Getting What You Need in a Laboratory Hood

Issue: Many times a lab owner reflects negatively on the purchase of lab containment equipment. It was too expensive. It never worked correctly. It was inefficient to use. It was destroyed by the very chemicals it was supposed to contain.

Negative purchasing experiences such as these may be caused by poor communication. When customer meets manufacturer, relevant questions must be asked by the manufacturer and answered by the customer.

Method: After listening to the customer, a manufacturer should put this input into written form. Once complete, this document becomes a template for a product in line with customer needs.

Example: A series of such questions can stimulate a fantastic conversation with the customer. The following ten questions cover main factors that define most lab containment devices:

1)    What is the process/procedure to be done inside the device? (the application)

2)    How much space is needed for apparatus and materials? (footprint and height)

3)    How many people will be simultaneously working on this procedure? (access)

4)    Are there any chemical reactivity hazards?  (corrosion, explosion, flammability, environmental contamination)

5)     What plumbed services are needed to support the procedure? (air, gas, water, vac., other)

6)     How many outlets do you need; which voltage(s)?(electrical)

7)     Is a control system required to monitor/operate devices inside the containment area? (equipment controls)

8)     Will there be an exhaust fan operated from the containment device? (containment controls)

9)     Does some equipment need to be mounted on scaffolding? (accessories)

10)   Are there chemicals involved in the operation covered by storage requirements, such as OSHA regulation or company policies? (storage)

You notice, I omitted one frequently asked question, “What containment device are you using now?” In most cases, what we define with the ten questions may be far better for the customer than simply providing that which dissatisfied the last time.

Answering the questions:

Let’s say someone at a chemical lab answers the above ten questions according to the chart below:

Is it possible to incorporate these answers into a standard product?

The answer is “yes”.

The questions were organized in a fashion where each successive question progressively leads to a proposed solution. After question 10, a fairly clear description of the customer’s fume hood has been assembled. The final fume hood selection options can be visually displayed, as seen in the example graphic below.

This illustration is taken from a worksheet Flow Sciences uses frequently to form a visual picture of what a customer wants. We use the worksheet to record interview questions and consult with the customer to formulate, and eventually resolve, an understanding of the customer’s needs. Ultimately, Flow Sciences produces a “blueprint” of the customer’s solution for the manufacturing portion of the process.

All preferences and options are subsequently transformed into categorical data. The resulting data accelerates the process of manufacturing the unit. The total number of options available on a standard fume hood are quite robust, as shown in the chart below:

Simply starting with the above chart would be a fallacy. The options displayed above do not resemble customer needs obtained during consultation.  The chart does, however, allow Flow Sciences to effectively communicate to our manufacturing sector the product that best fits the customer, based on the information gathered from the customer interview.

So, if in life you don’t always get what you want, our customers always get what they need through this approach to data-gathering. Our customers are offered the luxury of getting the best product, built correctly the first time.


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