Process Mass Spectrometry

While it does not make up nearly as large a market as laboratory mass spectrometry (MS) does, process MS is an online analytical technique that is critical to certain applications. Much of the same basic technology used in laboratory mass spectrometers is applied to process instrumentation. While there have been few recent introductions of new process mass spectrometers, it is still a fairly competitive market.

Process mass spectrometers are primarily based on two types of mass analyzers: quadrupole and magnetic sector. Magnetic sector was the predecessor of other types of modern mass analyzers, but is still a useful technique for niche applications. Quadrupole mass analyzers are now the most widely used in the laboratory. The common factor between both techniques is that they are relatively simple in design, yet still provide considerable analytical power for many online applications. This simplicity makes for robust and reliable instruments, which are important in a process environment.

Petroleum refining remains the most popular application for process MS due to the need to reliably identify and quantify hydrocarbon fractions. The production of steel and other metals, in which such instrumentation serves to monitor furnace gases, is another major application for process MS. Much of the growth in demand for process MS for petroleum refining and steel production comes from overseas—particularly China—due to rapid economic growth and industrialization. There are selected applications in the pharmaceutical industry that make use of process MS, but more often than not, such sensitivity is not required and other, less expensive process monitoring and analysis techniques are used. A more specialized application for process MS is energy research, which is almost entirely the domain of government national laboratories.

Despite almost no new instrument introductions over the last two years, demand for process mass spectrometry has continued to grow in the low single digits. The more popular of Thermo Fisher’s two models and all of Analytical Instrument Technologies’ (AIT) process mass spectrometers are based on magnetic sector technology, while Thermo and several smaller competitors also offer quadrupole-based instruments. Siemens’s Energy and Automation division sells a process FT-ICR (Fourier transform ion cyclotron) MS system that utilizes a fixed magnet, which is sold primarily to the government for energy research applications.

While the process mass spectrometry market has not experienced explosive growth, it is nonetheless expected to generate consistent low-single-digit growth. Demand for replacement instruments, combined with a small spike in sales to new petroleum refineries overseas, will continue to drive growth in this market, which should approach the $40 million mark in 2007.

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