Why Vibration Modeling Matters in Hospital Construction

Noise and vibration can be annoying and inconvenient for residents and businesses. But what is merely unpleasant for many people can be downright dangerous for a medical facility, to the point of being life threatening. The operation of a healthcare facility relies on a stable, vibration free environment, not only for the steadying of surgical procedures and patient care, but particularly for certain types of sensitive diagnostic machinery and instruments. Vibration modeling plays a critical role in the safety of patients and their successful diagnosis and treatment.

MRI scanners, CAT scanners, and other related equipment typically have an allowable vibration threshold that is well below what humans can perceive. These imperceptible vibrations can easily alter lab results, rendering them inaccurate and useless. Although human hands might not be affected by these minute vibrations, robotically assisted surgeries, commonly used since the mid-1980s, would potentially put patients at risk if their vibration threshold were exceeded. Digital operating microscopes might be rendered ineffective under these conditions as well. The construction of a safe, vibration-free environment for these healthcare technologies must rely on the expert implementation of vibration measurement services.

In the past, the most common method of reducing vibration in the critical areas of hospitals was to construct diagnostic labs and operating rooms as “slab-on-grade.” This means the concrete foundation is poured at ground level, rather than underground, allowing the natural dampening characteristics of the earth to soak up some of the vibration. The operating rooms and labs would then be located at ground level. Modern practical realities often demand that medical facilities locate their operating and diagnostic rooms on higher floors, as typical urban settings require a building to have a smaller at-grade footprint, and expand upward.

Noise and vibration consultants have determined that, despite efforts to redesign hospital layouts vertically, there are compromises. While new cutting-edge structural engineering and building reinforcements allow for labs and operating rooms to be located above grade, modern flexible floor systems and lighter weight reinforcing methods make these facilities more likely to be structurally destabilized.

During the design phase of a new medical facility, vibration modeling can be used to accurately simulate future disturbances. Fundamental resonant frequencies, modal vibration characteristics, and dampening factors are used to create specific structural recommendations and use of particular building materials. These results are applied with reference to established criteria for maximum allowable vibration thresholds in operating rooms and diagnostic labs. Mitigation of mechanical systems’ vibration can be effectively addressed at the source, and vibration from human activity can be addressed through structural design elements.

By incorporating vibration modeling into the final design of a project, a facility’s optimal vibration mitigation can be achieved in the construction phase. Collaboration and consultation with project designers, architects, and engineers ensures the minimizing of vibration, and in turn, enhances staff effectiveness and patient outcome.

For information on how Valcoustics can help your next project, contact us to schedule a consultation.