General Lab Instrumentation: Slow and Steady

Although the previous categories discussed cover a large portion of the techniques provided by the analytical and life science industry, there are a number of techniques that do not easily aggregate into a single category. These include lab balances, pH meters and electrodes. Likewise, instruments used for specimen preparation, such as centrifuges and extraction and digestion technologies, are too important not to mention. These techniques along with those measuring radioactivity have therefore been grouped into a category we call general analytical techniques. Combined, these techniques accounted for about $2.8 billion in sales in 2007, and are forecasted to grow 3.5% collectively in 2008. This is less than the almost 4% expansion in 2007, but takes into account the projected global slowdown many will see in 2008.

Electrochemistry is the largest technology group and made up about 27% of the general analytical technology market in 2007. This segment includes a broad range of wet chemistry and electrochemistry tools, with the largest component being standard pH meters and electrodes, as well as a variety of ion selective electrode instruments. Automated titration is the next most significant portion of this market, while other techniques such as dissolved oxygen (DO) and conductivity instruments account for the remainder. Of these, DO instruments continue to offer the highest growth potential. DO instruments assess biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), which is especially important in environmental applications, primarily the analysis of wastewater.

The lab balance group is the second largest segment and accounted for 25% of this market in 2007. However, lab balances have a long useful life, so growth is a function of replacements and new lab installations in emerging economies. Precision balances, generally top-loading scales used for weighing higher weight ranges, offer strong growth because of lower prices and widespread applications in academia and industries such as food and beverage. In that same regard, specialty balances for moisture analysis that measure weight loss on drying for food and feed applications continue to expand at two to three times the overall growth for lab balances.

Centrifuges accounted for more than $700 million in revenue in 2007. Benchtop systems—both refrigerated and otherwise—including consumables and service, offer marginally higher growth and accounted for about 60% of the centrifuge market. However, floor-standing or high-speed centrifuges offer higher margins and represent a major portion of R&D expenditures by manufacturers. The aftermarket, at 40% of the overall market, is also an attractive business, especially for tubes and rotors.

Extraction and digestion systems are important sample preparation techniques required for analytical determinations on other instruments. These include solid-phase, liquid-phase and supercritical fluid extraction (SFC), as well as acid digestion, and microwave digestion and extraction. Growth for these techniques is estimated at 6.5% in 2008, although sales of microwave-assisted chemistry tools will likely expand much faster.

Although radioactivity instrumentation is more frequently used for monitoring outside the lab, it still represented a sizable market in 2007 of about $280 million. Liquid scintillation detection is a key modality, especially for pharmaceutical applications in which molecules are radioactively tagged for metabolism measurement. While radiation paranoia would seem to limit such applications, especially when it comes to waste disposal, the technique is highly reliable and accurate, so the market is stable.

The varied composition of the general analytical market presents a confusing competitive picture, because most suppliers have limited market involvement. The top five companies accounted for 43% of the market in 2007. Naturally, most of the top players are involved in the larger markets. Chromatography suppliers are important players in the extraction market.

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