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Flexible Testing Capacities Mobile Laboratory Containers: Moving Fast When the Virus Strikes

Editor: Alexander Stark

Massive requirement for new testing capacity: The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the ability to respond rapidly is crucial in combating such exceptional situations. With its mobile laboratory containers, Waldner has developed a solution for handling demand peaks.

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Figure 1: Mobile laboratory containers in which COVID-19 tests or other analyses can be carried out.
Figure 1: Mobile laboratory containers in which COVID-19 tests or other analyses can be carried out.
(Source: Waldner/Benedikt Rothkegel)

Wangen/Germany — Laboratories are complex working environments. They contain large numbers of devices and often have demanding structural requirements, as they are supposed to provide the highest level of safety for the laboratory staff. In addition, R&D laboratories in particular are an area that should allow employees the freedom to work as creatively as possible in research, without forcing them into pre-ordained procedures. In laboratories that monitor production, on the other hand, the work is clearly defined, and it is important to process samples efficiently and in as structured a manner as possible. Examples of the latter are not limited to industry; clinical laboratories where patient samples are analyzed also belong to this type. But what happens when, as in recent months, the volume of samples increases exponentially because thousands of coronavirus samples have to be analyzed each day? The capacity of the existing laboratory infrastructure can only be increased to a limited extent. To cope with such work peaks, Waldner has developed a mobile laboratory that can be quickly put into operation to significantly increase analytical capacity. This article explains how it works.


Turnkey Test Labs Can Add Capacity Quickly

The mobile laboratory is housed in a container. This means it can be transported quickly and easily to any location in the world and set up there. All it needs is a flat surface or floor plate and connection options for electricity, (waste) water, and optionally a data connection. Everything can be connected in a few simple steps. For example, the test lab could be placed in the car park in front of a hospital without much effort.

The laboratory may be mobile but it is in no way inferior to a standard test lab: It is a fully functional microbiological and diagnostic laboratory in a very small space (36 m2). It has sufficient cooling and freezing capacity for the intermediate storage of samples, for example allowing around 4000 coronavirus tests to be carried out per day. The principles are the same whether the unit is a single coronavirus test container or a multi-million-dollar project to create a mobile research laboratory, and the new lab can be made ready for operation in a very short time.

Figure 1 shows an example of a project consisting of several containers. Waldner designed this container lab with Class 2 biological protection (BSL-2). It complies with the guidelines of the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin and the German TRBA 100 (Technical Rules for Biological Agents). This also fulfils the requirements for any necessary national certification/accreditation. The requirements of local health authorities can be implemented accordingly.

High Test Throughput In a Compact Lab Space

The Waldner experts developed the container lab within four weeks, working with one partner for laboratory container construction and another for the laboratory processes. These mobile laboratories have now been in use several times worldwide. In Luxembourg, for example, the population has been tested for coronavirus every fortnight since June 2020 in a nationwide test campaign. The background for this testing strategy was that the coronavirus had spread particularly strongly in this small country at that time, and that large-scale testing could identify asymptomatic virus carriers, allowing contacts to be traced and infection chains interrupted. Up to 20,000 tests a day were carried out in 17 mobile and fixed testing stations, one of which was the Waldner mobile laboratory.

Mobile Test Labs Are In ­Demand Worldwide

Of course, the use of mobile labs is not limited to coronavirus testing. Especially in regions where healthcare systems are not well developed, such solutions help public health experts react quickly to local disease outbreaks or ensure better overall health care for the population. That the concept is right is shown by the talks Waldner employees have had with representatives of health systems in numerous countries, the WHO, NGOs, and organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The mobile test lab is in demand. In addition to municipalities from Germany and Europe, African countries have already signed up, as have countries in Central and South America, China, India, Myanmar and the Philippines.