B&W Tek: Modular Systems

From its beginnings as a manufacturer of modular laser devices, to its branching out into custom molecular spectroscopy products, to providing Original Equipment Design (OED) and OEM products, B&W Tek has been evolving from the outset. The company manufactures UV-Vis, NIR and Raman systems for laboratory and process applications.

Sean Wang, PhD, B&W Tek’s CEO, spoke to IBO about B&W Tek’s growth and direction since the company’s formation in 1997. The company’s main customers are manufacturers of biomedical instrumentation. The company also designs products for manufacturers in other industries, as well as sells products to end-users in process control, academia and research. Dr. Wang stated that the “life science industry makes up three-fourths of the company’s business.” B&W Tek takes a varied approach to selling its products, in that most of its instrumentation is highly modular and customized for clients. Dr. Wang explained the implications of this: “The modules themselves can be sold as end-user products, but at this time, most of the business is not in selling modular products themselves. A combination of certain modules and certain custom works turns them into very specific devices for companies.” B&W Tek generates between $10 million and $25 million in annual sales, which fluctuate based on how well OEM sales go for a given year.

Owned by Summit Partners, B&W Tek currently has 130 employees. “The company was established without any key patents and key technologies, so . . . we saw an opportunity in [the] laser area, where you not only supply the laser, but you supply the component accessory that will help people deliver the beam of the laser to the point of application,” said Dr. Wang. When speaking of the transition to spectroscopy, he outlined the company’s desire to provide complete tools in the photonics sector, stating: “The photonics sector has to do with generating the light, manipulating the light and detecting the light. So with the laser as the light source and with the spectrometer on the detection side, when we build a system for a specific application . . . you can [come close to] a complete platform for a system in the biphotonics field, which is a nice niche market for various different application areas such as biomedical, industrial and commercial.”

The company’s entrance into the Raman field was, according to Dr. Wang, “not by design, but by opportunity.” Approached by a nutraceutical company to manufacture a custom Raman system that was smaller and more cost effective than current systems, B&W Tek was able to produce a $10,000 device in a six-month period to do what would have required $250,000 laboratory Raman system. The company has since manufactured approximately 8,500 Raman systems.

The company also conducts research funded by both private and federal sources. “The company at this time is mainly still a commercial venture, so most of our revenue is from selling units,“ Mr. Wang told IBO. “At the same time, we have a strong engineering and research team of about 40 people, so we perform research in areas such as narcotics, chemistry identification and measurements. Since Raman is a powerful tool it is only a matter of time before its widespread use grows.”

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