Pittcon 2009 Meets Expectations

Expectations for Pittcon were low this year. A worldwide recession and an ailing instrument market tempered any belief that the show’s attendance would rise dramatically. However, the fact that the conference took place in Chicago provided some hope that attendance figures would improve from last year, when the show was held in New Orleans, Louisiana (see IBO 3/15/08), as Chicago is easier to reach by air and more accessible for day trips.

Preliminary numbers provided by Pittcon organizers show that the number of conferees increased 6.7% to 10,898. It is unknown how many of these conferees were students. However, total attendance, which includes exhibitors, declined 9.4% to 17,715, according to preliminary figures posted on Wednesday, March 11. Thus, one trend is clear: Pittcon’s declining attendance is in part due to exhibitors’ decreasing presence. One can surmise this is because there were less companies exhibiting and exhibitors sent fewer employees, which is not surprising considering the pressure to minimize costs in this economic climate.

However, one has to note that the estimated increase in conferees did not translate into more traffic for the exhibit. On the floor, vendors with which IBO spoke had mixed reactions to the show. Some companies commented on the ability to find distributors at the show, others noted a good flow of visitors from nearby food and pharmaceutical companies, while one exhibitor said the show was “terrible.” During certain times on Monday and Tuesday, as far as IBO could tell, the exhibit had a steady flow of visitors, but at times was light. However, on Wednesday, foot traffic decreased.

This year may well mark a turning point for Pittcon as one major instrument supplier, Varian, did not have any presence at the show (see IBO 1/31/09) and another, Bruker, confirmed that it would only be attending the show in odd years from now on. In even years, Bruker will attend Analytica, Europe’s major instrument show, which takes place every two years in Germany. Thus, while conferee attendance may be up, the presence of exhibitors as well as customers for these exhibitors was an issue. The exhibitors are an important factor in the show’s success. Pittcon relies on companies both large and small to maintain its position as the leading US analytical instrument exhibit and conference. In these tough economic times, the show might have to retool itself to give vendors a more compelling reason to have a major presence or to attend. Next year, Pittcon will face a greater challenge as it will be held in Orlando, Florida, from February 28 to March 5, while Analytica will take place just a few weeks afterward on March 23–36.

Instrument companies presented a relatively upbeat outlook in their press conferences. Companies both large and small emphasized technological progress, competitive advantages and growth opportunities, while acknowledging a tough market environment. Major products from Agilent, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Waters were on display, but not introduced, at the show, curtailing some of the excitement that use to accompany Pittcon. Themes evident from company presentations were ease of use, environmental concern and productivity. In discussing new products, companies emphasized ease of use, noting that instruments are often operated by nonexperts, necessitating a simplified interface. Also driving ease of use is the need to accommodate end-users worldwide, particularly in Asia. Environmental concerns were highlighted by discussions of superfluid critical chromatography, and LC technology for reducing solvent usage, as well as by Thermo’s new line of environmental friendly lab furniture. Productivity gains were evident in product discussions as firms emphasized improvements in speed, reproducibility and return on investment. Companies also introduced auto samplers, other automated sample preparation systems and software to increase productivity.

Graph: Pittcon Participants

Conferee Total Total Pittcon Attendance

2007 9570 21550

2008 10214 19543

2009 10898 17715

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