C &EN’s Review of Pittcon 2010 begins on page 27. Complementing the coverage, I report here excerpts of the discussion during a luncheon organized by C&EN’s Sales & Marketing group.
The analytical challenges of the 21st century are myriad and complex, but the world can be confident that they will be met as the instrumentation/analytics community continues to advance the field. That is the gist of the luncheon presentations by Gregory J. Herrema, senior vice president and president of analytical instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Frank Witney, president and chief executive officer of Dionex.
In recent years, “routine analysis has become anything but routine,” Herrema said. “Sample complexity has increased, and regulation is progressively demanding more useful information from each sample at lower levels of detection,” he explained. “Analytical performance that at one time was thought only necessary for high-end research applications is now becoming a basic requirement for many routine applications.”
Witney framed the discussion from the angle of water. A major challenge with water analysis, which makes up 45% of Dionex’ sales, is the broad range of compounds that need to be measured, from inorganic ions to polyaromatic hydrocarbons, Witney said. And because most compounds are present in trace amounts, “we often have to find a needle in a haystack,” he continued.
Another challenge is regulatory approval. “We’re dealing with regulatory agencies that are in different countries and have different requirements,” Witney said. “It can take several years to have a new technology and application approved by a particular regulatory agency.”
Dionex keeps its fingers on the pulse of water’s analytical and regulatory challenges by working with regulatory agencies, Witney said. That the company has people on environmental regulation teams throughout the world, he explained, facilitates validation of methods in various jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, global trends are making water an even more critical resource. “Population increases and global warming are some of the reasons that water resources are becoming more scarce,” Witney said. The human impact on water quality is also expanding, he added. Concern is growing over so-called emerging contaminants from human activity such as pharmaceuticals (see page 23) and personal care products that survive treatment plants and end up in the environment. These trends can only mean an increasing need for new methods and instruments for water analysis.
Other global trends are driving the need for new methods and instruments for many other types of analyses, Herrema noted. “We continue to see the impact of new regulatory requirements in health care reform across the world, with the insatiable demand for improved, less invasive testing technologies and point-of-care service capabilities,” he said. “Transportation security agencies around the world continue to explore new technologies to safeguard air travel. Consumers are more concerned than ever with the safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the goods we buy.” These conditions, Herrema said, put a premium on methods and workflows that simplify sample preparation and can isolate contaminants from the matrix in the most cost- and time-effective way.
Herrema and Witney underscored how their companies are meeting analytical challenges with examples of recently developed or improved instruments. What was even more reassuring to this observer is both companies’ commitment to R&D.
“What you do in R&D is the crown jewel of the company,” Witney said. “People are outsourcing what’s not core to them. I don’t see any trend that way. From a Dionex perspective, we control our R&D pretty carefully,” he replied to a query about outsourcing of instrumentation R&D.
“We spent $250 million on R&D in 2009, almost the same level as in 2008,” Herrema said. “In the context of the most difficult economic year since the Great Depression, our number one priority is to protect the R&D dollars we spend.”
“Exactly,” Witney concurred. “We didn’t pull back on any key initiative on R&D or on the commercial side on product launches.”