Laboratory Lyophilizers

Lyophilization, also referred to as freeze drying, is an important sample processing and preparation tool for many laboratories. The technology is relatively simple, but because of its use in growing industries, the market for lyophilizers is continuing to demonstrate relatively robust growth.

The process of lyophilization, or freeze drying, is used to dehydrate samples in order to preserve them for transportation or future study or to prepare them for analysis. It is a two-step process whereby the sample is first frozen and then reheated under very low pressure to sublimate the water present directly into the gaseous phase. While this process can be more expensive and time consuming than other dehydration methods, it is also generally the least damaging and has the least potential to alter the physical state of the sample when compared to other dehydration methods. Another potential downside, depending on the sample, is that other volatile compounds besides water are lost in the process. Although vacuum technology has seen incremental improvements over the past decade, there have been no major advancements recently, nor would it be expected for any to occur in the near future.

Lyophilization is used for a limited number of applications, such as those that involve proteins, enzymes, microorganisms and blood plasma, all of which are heat sensitive. While most applications are for the processing and production of pharmaceuticals and biologics, lyophilization is also widely used in the lab for research. Not surprisingly, the largest users of lab lyophilization are the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, where it is often used as a late-stage procedure in bioseparations. Although it is used quite heavily in food production, such as instant coffee manufacturing, there is very little application in food labs.

The worldwide demand for laboratory lyophilizers was more than $60 million in 2007 and should continue to grow at 6% to 7% annually. Although no radical innovations in technology are expected, the strong ties to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, as well as the fairly large installed base, will support such growth.

As with most technologies that are mature, the lyophilizer market has experienced consolidation. The most significant recent acquisition was the purchase of FTS Systems by SP Industries (see IBO 11/15/06), which combined two of the largest suppliers of laboratory lyophilizers into the market leader, which holds around a third of the global market. Labconco, a diversified supplier of laboratory equipment, and German company Martin Christ are also major competitors. These two companies generally focus on smaller laboratory lyophilizers, but also participate in the market for industrial-scale systems with a number of other major competitors. The price of a lyophilizer is correlated to its size and capacity, and while most laboratory systems are under $20,000, larger systems are more expensive.

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