Molecular Spectroscopy: NMR Is Where It’s at

The molecular spectroscopy market is as consistent as any segment of the entire analytical instrument market. Overall, the molecular spectroscopy market is expected to grow 6.3% in 2008, a scant 0.1% increase over the forecast for 2007. Furthermore, with the exception of Raman spectroscopy, which is the smallest of all molecular spectroscopy segments, no other category within molecular spectroscopy is expected to diverge more than 0.2% from the forecast growth rates for 2007. At this pace, the molecular spectroscopy market will be flirting with $3.3 billion in global sales in 2008. Despite the consistent growth rates, which contributes to a lack of attention paid to the market, some segments of the market, including Raman spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, will grow by nearly 10% in 2008.

NMR is one of the highest performance analytical methods commercially available to scientists, and rivals high-end mass spectrometry in many dimensions. The demand for such high-end capabilities seems to have no end, which will help to maintain the nearly 10% growth in NMR expected once again in 2008 and this segment of the market will account for nearly $1 billion on its own. The ever-increasing strength of the superconducting magnets used in NMR, which correlate strongly with cost, is one of the key drivers in the robust growth of this market. But so too is demand for NMR probes, which can significantly improve the performance of older NMR systems, of which there is a fairly large installed base.

Demand for conventional fluorescence spectroscopy, and to a lesser extent UV-Vis spectroscopy, continues to be siphoned off by microplate readers that can perform either, or in some cases both, of these analyses on a single platform. Unlike the remainder of the fluorescence market, which consists significantly of niche products, a very large portion of the UV-Vis market consists of photometric colorimeters, which are used very heavily in water and environmental monitoring applications. There has been a significant surge in activity in these industries, which is contributing most significantly to the expected growth in the UV-Vis market, offsetting weaker areas of the market.

The market for colorimeters, which are wholly different instruments from UV-Vis spectrophotometers, is almost entirely unrelated to other molecular spectroscopy markets in terms of the vendors in the market as well as the end-users. The colorimetry market has experienced heavy consolidation, and is heavily dominated by X-Rite, which held more than 60% market share in 2007. In fact, the top three competitors in the market accounted for well over 80% of sales. Despite the expected slowing of the economy, and the likely weaker sales of colorimetry products to consumers, the laboratory and industrial side of the market, which is considered here, should be largely insulated from the general economy.

The near infrared (NIR), infrared (IR) and Raman spectroscopy markets are all experiencing significant shifts toward alternative configurations of instruments, and away from conventional laboratory benchtop systems. While there are microplate readers that can now perform these measurements, the drain on demand for conventional instruments from them is far smaller in comparison to the fluorescence market.

Another trend is the movement towards on-line instruments, particularly for NIR and Raman, as these techniques have been adapted to on-line applications. A third trend is the development of handheld Raman and NIR instruments, which are being used in applications such as security and onsite polymers analysis. Handheld instruments are included within the lab market, and are offsetting weaker growth in benchtop systems.

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