Industry Trends Exhibited at Pittcon

Routine Becomes Commonplace Although advancing technology remains an important aspect of instrument companies’ product development and reputation, companies are putting greater emphasis on instrumentation for so-called routine applications, such as quality analysis and quality control testing, or other nonresearch applications. Many of the fastest growing markets, including food and beverage and metals testing, do not require top-of-the-line instrumentation but rather easy to use, flexible and cost-effective systems. In addition, such instrumentation is more attractive to emerging countries where routine applications are among the fastest growing markets. Finally, in a period of unpredictable pharmaceutical and academic spending, diversified instrument companies must have a broad product line to serve all market segments. At Pittcon this year, this trend was borne out by product introductions, product positioning and company presentations. Bruker BioSciences, a company long associated with technically advanced instrumentation, introduced the ALPHA (see page 9), its first FT-IR system for routine applications. Thermo Scientific debuted the K-Alpha x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy system (see page 7), positioning what was once a highly specialized technique for more mainstream applications in the materials characterization market. Agilent highlighted its strategy of taking what were once exclusively high-end techniques, most notably triple quadrupole MS and Q-TOF MS, and making them more reliable, robust and accessible for a wider market. At PerkinElmer’s press conference, Richard F. Begley, the new vice president and general manager of PerkinElmer’s Analytical Sciences business, stated that product development does not start with the latest technical features, but rather with an application-based approach grounded in a specific customer need. “Solutions Marketing” Catches On The solutions-based approach of most larger, diversified instrument companies is certainly not novel and was not new to Pittcon this year. It has guided product development, marketing and strategy of instrument companies for many years. This year’s Pittcon further emphasized the success and evolution of such an approach. It was the first Pittcon for Thermo Fisher Scientific, which endeavors to offer integrated instrument and aftermarket products to multiple markets. At the show, the company highlighted not only its instrumentation, but lab equipment offerings and Pierce life science reagents. Companies such as Agilent, Dionex and Waters introduced new software and columns and stated at their press conferences the strategic importance of such product lines to the companies’ futures. Waters’s announcement of the new integration capabilities of its Empower2 chromatography software with software from Shimadzu and Hitachi (see IBO 2/28/07) further emphasized software’s strategic import. In their press conferences, Agilent and Dionex highlighted the importance of their consumables businesses. Agilent reiterated its goal of becoming the number one provider of LC consumables within three years, while Dionex stated that its consumables business was booming and launched a slew of new columns. Varian released new software and its Polymer Laboratories unit introduced a number of new consumables products. The role of service offerings for a solutions provider was also evident. Beckman Coulter introduced the SiteMAX Asset Management Solution maintenance and service program, and Thermo Scientific announced the new 3D Model integrated services solution. Clearly many suppliers think of their “solutions” approach not just as a catch phrase, but rather as a way for the customer to solve analytical challenges with products and services provided by a single vendor in an integrated package. This is more than “one-stop shopping”; it is a very profitable concept as well. “Ease of Use” Moves Up a Notch Not a new trend, but one that was particularly evident in the product introductions, “ease of use” was an oft-heard term at this year’s Pittcon. Due to advancements in software, instrument design and manufacturing, significant strides continue to be made in creating instruments that are easier to use. From highly sophisticated systems to more standard laboratory instruments, multiple aspects of instrument set-up, operation and maintenance have been simplified. In some cases, the user interface has been reduced to simple push-button or “one-click” operation. Other features making life easier for experts and nonexperts alike include preset methods, software-guided operation, and automated adjustments and optimization for columns, light sources and detectors. Although software has been the dominant facilitator of ease of use, instrument design and manufacturing have also contributed. Modularity, automation, integration capabilities and portability have made instruments easier to install, operate, upgrade and maintain. New products on display at Pittcon embodying ease of use included Bio-Rad’s Profina protein purification system (see page 6), Horiba Jobin Yvon’s Activa M ICP (see page 6) and Metrohm’s 850 Professional IC ion chromatograph (see page 6). Ease of use leads to labor savings as well as faster analysis times, resulting in lower costs, a key selling point. In the past, ease of use simply meant that some complexity was removed from instrument operation, but it still required significant decision making on the part of the operator (scientist or technician) and a fair amount of knowledge about how the instrument worked. Today, “one-click” operation has gone far beyond those initial improvements and has opened up the instrument market to a host of new users who need an answer and are not particularly interested in becoming instrument experts.

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