A laboratory oven is, as the name suggests, an oven used not for preparing foodstuffs, but for a variety of applications in the laboratory or industrial research and development environment where the thermal convection provided by these ovens are necessary. These applications include sterilizing, drying, annealing, baking polyimides and many others. A lab oven may vary greatly in size as well as maximum temperatures, from benchtop models with capacities of a single cubic foot (the equivalent of just over 28 liters of liquid volume) to 32 cubic feet and above and temperatures as high as 340 Celsius / 650 Fahrenheit.
Some of the many common styles of laboratory oven include horizontal airflow, forced or natural convection and pass-through ovens. In the medical sector, ovens are especially common as a method of drying and sterilizing laboratory glassware; although there are quite a few other purposes for which a lab oven is used in both medical and research laboratory settings.
Due to the relatively low temperatures at which they operate (at least compared to kilns, incinerators and other industrial ovens), most ovens in use in the laboratory do not feature refractory insulation. However, this insulation is included in some higher temperature models of laboratory oven in order to provide the user with a safer operating environment.
The type of heat produced by lab ovens is something which can affect their pattern of usage. Common heat sources and / or thermal transfer include induction, propane, electric, dielectric, microwave, oil, natural gas or radio frequency. Each type of lab oven is better suited to a specific set of applications, with laboratories, clinics and other facilities choosing this important piece of equipment based on their heating or drying needs.
Other than the smaller benchtop and cabinet ovens which are despite the most commonly seen varieties of laboratory oven, there are other configurations available including continuous ovens for batch heating or drying and tube ovens which use indirect heating; a refractory container containing the material to be heated is warmed from the outside with these ovens.
Vertical ovens (with the name referring to the shape of the oven rather than the air flow) are a space-saving option for laboratories where space is at a premium. For especially high volume environments or for applications where extremely large samples or materials need to be heated or dried, there are even walk-in (and truck-in) styles of lab oven.
A laboratory oven may be controlled through a set point system or as is now increasingly common, feature programmable controls. Programmable controls allow the operator a much greater degree of flexibility, since a temperature may be set along with a specific length of time; Generally, these controls support multiple programs for one-touch operation once routines have been programmed.
Many different types of accessories and optional components are available either as integrated features or as adjuncts for these ovens, including alarms, cooling systems, air purification systems and logging and reporting features. There are also a wide variety of different types of shelving and sample holders on the market for use with virtually any laboratory oven as well as other optional accessories which are designed to streamline the workflow of specific heating or drying applications in the laboratory.