When a life sciences or biotech company is just starting out, typically its gas supply requirements are minimal. However, if a lab or research facility makes an important discovery or gets an influx of capital investment, or both, the business can grow rapidly, and its gas needs will expand right along with it. It’s important to monitor your gas usage as it increases and take note of critical milestones that can indicate when it’s time to expand your gas system to the next level of supply.
If your company started off like most life sciences and biotech companies, your initial requirements for carbon dioxide, nitrogen, argon, or other specialty gases was probably limited. Often, in their initial growth stages, start-ups can support their gas needs with as few as one or two gas cylinders every month.
Gas cylinders come in a range of sizes, from small and easily transportable lecture bottles that hold approximately 2 cubic feet of gas to the largest containers that hold approximately 330 cubic feet of gas. So, depending on the pace of your business growth, gas cylinders can be a sufficient gas supply system for a while.
However, once a lab’s weekly gas usage increases to more than two large cylinders, the lab tech or facility manager should speak with their gas professional about a more efficient and potentially more economical gas supply system. This could mean either switching to dewars or adding more cylinders to the manifold system that is already installed. Which one of these two directions a lab decides to move in typically depends on its space constraints.
Dewars can accommodate up to 5,000 cubic feet of gas, and transitioning to this gas delivery system can be relatively quick and easy. However, if a lab has limited space and cannot accommodate these large, round, stainless-steel containers, continuing to use cylinders may be the better option.
Cylinders can be added to a manifold in many different configurations, but typically it makes sense to balance out each side of the manifold with the same number of cylinders. For example, if a lab is currently using a 1X1 configuration—meaning one large cylinder on each side of the manifold—the optimal progression may be to move to a 2X2, 3X3, or 4X4 configuration.
Managing the gas supply can start to feel like a full-time job when a company starts churning through one to two dewars per week or multiple cylinders every couple of days. If a lab tech or facility manager has this important responsibility, it can become their main source of stress. Whether it’s during the workday, in the evening, or over the weekend or a holiday, they must constantly monitor the gas levels in the company’s cylinders or dewars, making sure the gas never runs out. Plus, this person is often regularly handling highly pressurized gases and bulky equipment. Being preoccupied with the gas supply may mean other vital lab work they could be focusing on is not getting the attention it needs.
If a company’s gas usage has accelerated to this level, it’s time to look into the potential benefits that transitioning to a MicroBulk or Bulk gas storage tank system generally provides. These tanks are available in a variety of sizes, so a lab using as little as 500 liters of gas or as much as 5,500 liters (or 1,500 gallons) on a monthly basis can benefit from switching to a MicroBulk tank. When monthly usage is above 5,500 liters, a Bulk tank should be able to easily meet this level of demand. And, if you are transitioning from MicroBulk to Bulk, it is typically a relatively seamless transition.
Both MicroBulk and Bulk systems use wireless telemetry, which enables the gas supplier to remotely monitor a lab’s gas supply and know almost precisely how much gas or liquid remains in a tank.
For example, at Middlesex, we receive twice-a-day readings of our customers’ MicroBulk and Bulk tanks along with a graph showing daily usage levels, which enables us to anticipate when they might need a refill and to make sure they are on our delivery route if needed.
While customers can opt into gas supply alerts, having a MicroBulk or Bulk system eliminates the need for them to monitor, order, and handle portable gas vessels ever again. It is truly a worry-free gas experience.
If your company’s goal is to double, triple, or quadruple its business in the next few years, it’s important to keep in mind that your gas requirements are going to grow at virtually the same rate. Not having enough space for the transition to a larger gas system when you need it could negatively impact your business.
As soon as possible, even if you are just in the early stages of building out your lab, you should work closely with your gas professional to identify a spot that would accommodate a MicroBulk or Bulk tank when you need it. Often, a small room or a corner of the loading dock is sufficient, as long as the surface is flat. Ideally, this space will be highly accessible to your gas professional when the tank needs to be refilled.
Once you have a designated space for your future gas system, you and your gas professional should partner to carefully monitor your monthly gas consumption. It is crucial to have an accurate forecast for when you might need to transition to a larger vessel, particularly if you are upsizing to MicroBulk or Bulk. In general, installation of these systems might take only a couple of months. But, if the tank, vaporizer, piping, regulation, or other necessary equipment is not in stock—which does occur more regularly in today’s marketplace due to supply chain issues—lead times may be much longer.
When you work hand in hand with your gas professional, you should be able to get a thorough understanding of your lab’s gas usage over time and how rapidly it is increasing. Together, you can determine when you should consider transitioning to a larger system to accommodate your growing gas requirements and the potential time, labor, and cost savings of making the move to MicroBulk or Bulk.