Issue Date: April 2, 2012
Chilly Outlook For Instruments
Visitors to Orlando last month at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy, Pittcon 2012, were treated to some summerlike weather. But executives assessing the scientific instruments business found the outlook a bit chillier.
Many scientific instrument makers had a fairly strong year in 2011, but they now expect a somewhat slower 2012. At Pittcon, Thermo Fisher Scientific Chief Executive Officer Marc N. Casper suggested that world economic uncertainty would restrain government budgets, and along with them academic spending.
Alan J. Malus, executive vice president of Thermo, told C&EN that the world market for instruments continues to be spotty. Asia, which accounts for 15% of Thermo’s annual sales, continues to be strong. But he noted only “pockets of strength” in North America and Europe.
Frank H. Laukien, CEO of Bruker, made similar comments, suggesting that Northern European governments would be in a better position to support academic research than their Southern European counterparts. He, like Casper, said he expects that government restraints would hold back U.S. academic spending.
Arthur G. Caputo, executive vice president of Waters Corp., explained that with the economy still soft, more companies are looking for ways to be sure employees are engaged in “high value” activities. The company launched a line of analytical standards and reagents at Pittcon to help customers enhance data comparability and make them more productive. The new products are an extension of the Environmental Resource Associates pharmaceutical reference and laboratory proficiency testing business Waters acquired in 2006.
Christopher P. Gaylor, vice president of North American sales for Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, said, “We have a fairly strong feeling that 2012 is going to be a soft year mainly because of National Institutes of Health budget cuts, which we’re beginning to see already.” He characterized the industrial market as slow but steady.
Given the economic uncertainties ahead and the cost of participating in the trade show, many of the largest instrument makers are continuing to question the usefulness of Pittcon as a showcase for their products and services. PerkinElmer was absent for the second year in a row, preferring instead to connect one-on-one with customers. Agilent had a booth, but it was empty (C&EN, March 19, page 3).
Jon N. Peace, Pittcon president, noted that for many of the smaller instrument makers “Pittcon is their main show. They need the annual opportunity to connect with current and new customers.” Bigger companies, however, have other options.
Linda Roettger, a senior director in Agilent’s chemical analysis group, told C&EN that the firm decided to hold an online symposium as an experiment and is now holding local meetings with customers in 16 North American and six South American cities. She was at Pittcon only to assess the show. “We’re seeing if it is more appropriate to travel to the customer than have the customer travel to us,” she said. “We’re not anti-Pittcon. We’re just trying to find new ways to connect with customers.”
Nick Roelofs, president of Agilent’s life sciences group, was not at the show. But in an e-mail message to C&EN, he noted that the show “may be good for smaller companies, which do not have market reach.” Although he commented that more large companies are likely to drop out of Pittcon in the future, he did not say Agilent had decided against being at the show in Philadelphia in 2013.
“We see Pittcon as an educational event,” said Rohit Khanna, Waters’ vice president of worldwide marketing. “That’s why Waters has been coming back for 53 years.” Caputo added, “No other event can compare to Pittcon in terms of the scale of innovation one sees on the exposition floor and in terms of the opportunity to interact with customers and educate new generations of scientists.” A Waters spokesman said the firm intended to be back next year. Shimadzu’s Gaylor saw the absence of competitors such as Agilent as a marketing opportunity for his firm.
Other big firms seemed to straddle the line. Together with column maker Phenomenex, AB Sciex showed up in force at Pittcon, both in the exposition and outdoors. Using their equipment and columns, the two firms have jointly outfitted a trailer, which they parked in a lot adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. They plan to take the trailer to 30 North American cities and use it as a venue to meet with current and potential customers. Experts on board the trailer will offer separation science seminars and sample-preparation demonstrations.
A notable trend at Pittcon was the continued development of smaller-sized and easier-to-use versions of previously large instruments. Thermo, for instance, introduced a handheld Raman spectrometer it calls the TruNarc to give law enforcement officers in the field a tool that the company says can definitively identify narcotics on the spot. And expansion of lab-based instruments into the clinician’s office was a recurrent theme among the large instrument makers. For instance, Shimadzu executives foresee greater use of mass spectrometry for pain management.
But whether an instrument is intended for a clinician’s office or an analytical lab, users want to get the most they can from their investment. And especially in a tougher economic environment, Thermo’s Malus sees a “heightened interest by customers in productivity” during the remainder of this year.
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