Pittcon 2008: Optimism and Opportunities

New Orleans, Louisiana, played host to the 59th annual Pittsburgh conference and exhibition (Pittcon), which was held March 1–7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Although Pittcon took place against a backdrop of escalating fears of a US recession, one would have never known it. Companies were upbeat about future business prospects and the number of product introductions was as high as usual. Just over 1,100 companies, a 2% increase from the year before, exhibited and the conference hosted 115 oral sessions, 80 poster sessions and 55 symposia. However, the show’s return to New Orleans and other factors may have hurt attendance. According to preliminary figures, total show attendance fell more than 9% to 19,543. However, the number of conferees, which includes paying attendees, corporate guests and one-day visitors, was up more than 6% to 10,217. Total nonexhibitor attendance was down only 3.9%. Thus, the steepest decline in attendance was among exhibitor personnel, which fell 15.1%. Increasing cost consciousness by companies, as well as the reallocation of monies to other marketing and sales avenues may account for the decline. In 2002, the last time Pittcon was held in New Orleans, total attendance was 23,123. This year, more so than in recent years, news was made at Pittcon. Agilent announced two acquisitions at its Monday afternoon press conference (see page 2), which was presided over by Agilent CEO Bill Sullivan, and formally introduced its Materials Science Solutions Unit (MSSU). With annual sales of $129 million, the MSSU consists of Agilent’s UV-Vis spectrometers, atomic force microscopes and new particle analysis systems (see page 11), as well as the nanoposition and precision optics OEM business, which was previously part of Agilent’s Electronic Measurement business. The company also announced the sale of 500 of its 6410 triple quadrupole MS systems in just 18 months (see IBO 1/31/06). At its press conference, Waters proudly noted the sale of “thousands” of its Acquity UPLC system and announced that, by year end, the company’s Empower chromatography data system (CDS) would be able to support all major vendors’ LC and GC systems. The company also unveiled its first LC product for outside the lab, the UPLC-based Patrol (see page 11), as well as a dedicated LC/MS system for food analysis. Waters explained that its food analysis business is focused not only on food safety, but nutritional and functional foods as well as food authenticity. Like Waters, Dionex also plans to venture outside the lab and will introduce a process analysis platform later this year. The company also shared some numbers of its own, announcing that its Chromeleon CDS now boasts more than 30,000 user licenses. In line with its global water testing initiative, Dionex introduced a dedicated system, the cost effective RFIC-ER for water testing. The environmental message was evident among many companies. PerkinElmer rolled out its EcoAnalytix Initiative, part of a new business model for the company’s analytical science business. Borrowing the approach of the company’s Genetic Screening business, EcoAnalytix solutions incorporates instruments, consumables, service and applications support. EcoAnalytix emphasizes turnkey solutions, partnerships with affiliate organizations and even other instrument providers, if a solution necessitates it, and aims to open the market to new sets of end-users. EcoAnalytix currently encompasses four markets—forensics, environmental, renewable energy, and food and beverage testing. Thermo Fisher Scientific also highlighted its contributions to product and environmental safety. The company had the largest booth and introduced a wide array of new products, including new GC/MS and LC/MS configurations and a completely new molecular spectroscopy platform (see pages 9–10). In fact, both Thermo and Bruker introduced new MS products for tissue imaging and electron transfer dissociation. At its booth, Thermo showcased complete workflow solutions for proteomics and food safety that drew upon the company’s many businesses. Thermo was just one of the many companies unveiling new molecular spectroscopy products at the show. Bruker, Horiba, JASCO, Shimadzu and several dedicated molecular spectroscopy firms unveiled new spectrometers (see pages 8–9). IR and Raman microscopy as well as handheld systems were particular prevalent, as companies seek to offer these techniques to a wider set of end-users. LC method development was also in the spotlight. Advanced Chemistry Development launched ACD/AutoChrom for Agilent and Waters’ CDS. The software both automates instrument control and data collection and transfer during method development. Phenomenex held its first press conference at Pittcon and launched the Gemini-NX C18 chromatography media, enabling pH method development. Although product trends are difficult to track due to the wide variety of techniques on the exhibit floor, it was evident that instrument size continues to shrink and that companies are increasingly employing modular platforms, which provide for easy upgrade capabilities and lower production costs. A growing range of plug-and-play and software capabilities are making instruments easier to use, more flexible and easily tailored to a particularly end-user market. Pittcon continues to make efforts to become more life science friendly, as shown by its technical program and this year’s plenary lecture by Leroy Hood, Ph.D., on systems biology. However, the show still attracts relatively few life science companies. One exception was GE Life Sciences, which has a sizable booth on the exhibit floor and also held a press conference. The company expanded its Scientific Asset Services, adding financing, facility relocation and process optimization services. Bio-Rad’s Life Sciences business also held a press conference. However, the company had a more muted presence on the exhibit floor. Pittcon continues to be an important gathering place for the instrument industry and a key business-to-business show. However, a lack of direct flights to New Orleans from several major US cities made Pittcon harder to access this year. Likewise, vendors lamented the city’s lack of proximity for one-day visitors. Neither of these concerns should be a problem next year, when Pittcon heads back to Chicago, Illinois, on March 8–13, 2009.

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