Atomic Spectroscopy: Steady as It Goes

Valued at more than $2.5 billion in 2007, the atomic spectroscopy market is forecast to grow at 4.7% in 2008. The individual technologies have quite different future prospects, ranging from flat to high single-digit growth. In particular, the past few years have experienced a time of tremendous growth for the two X-ray technologies, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Combined, these two techniques represented more than $1 billion in 2007 revenues. XRF continues to benefit from hazardous substance regulations and related analyses. This regulatory climate has stimulated the meteoric rise of handheld XRF instruments, which have moved far beyond traditional XRF applications in metals analysis into the broader area of consumer product testing, driven by concerns, for example, about lead in toys. In contrast with XRF, XRD remains largely a laboratory technique. Growth has come mainly from product innovation combined with a shift in applications from primarily materials science to life science. XRD is crucial to life science research because of its use in studying protein structures, as well as crystalline forms of drugs and other biological molecules of interest. Through the introduction of advanced X-ray sources and detectors, the capabilities of XRD instruments are expanding: they can perform more sophisticated analyses in a shorter amount of time. This increase of productivity naturally comes with an increased price tag, so XRD has the fastest growth among atomic spectroscopy techniques.

Apart from the X-ray techniques, the greatest growth, about 7% for 2008, will be in inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Environmental concerns are the main driver of growth in this area. ICP-MS is the most sensitive atomic spectroscopy technique, allowing analyses at the part-per-billion and even part-per-trillion level. Changes in environmental regulations have typically been increasingly restrictive of allowable levels of particular elements such as arsenic. Many countries’ regulations are now so stringent for particular elements that ICP-MS is the only practical method of analysis. Similarly, elemental analyzers—those instruments that quantify a small number of specific elements—are also benefiting from environmental regulation. Because these instruments are highly specialized, they cater to a wide variety of specific applications in many industries. Total organic carbon analysis is one of the most important of these techniques and is used in pharmaceutical and semiconductor laboratories and facilities.

The market for atomic absorbance instruments (AA) is expected to remain flat this year. This actually represents an improvement over last year, when the market experienced a modest decline. China, India and other industrializing nations continue to be a source of growth for the AA market, while the traditional regional markets continue to be problematic. The situation is slightly better for other varieties of optical emissions spectroscopy: arc-spark and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) systems. Both of these techniques should experience low single-digit growth in 2008.

With historically strong positions and broad product offerings, Thermo Fisher Scientific and PerkinElmer remain safely in the top two positions in overall market share. The increasing importance of the X-ray techniques has filled the next three ranks with companies primarily involved in XRF and XRD, namely, PANalytical (Spectris), Bruker BioSciences and Rigaku. Although Varian retains an important position in AA, ICP and ICP-MS, the slower growth of these techniques has resulted in Varian’s demotion to sixth place in the overall market. With a few exceptions, the aforementioned companies dominate in all of the atomic spectroscopy techniques. One main exception is Spectro Analytical (AMETEK), which continues to lead in arc-spark.

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