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Instrument Executives At Pittcon See A Spotty Outlook

Caution is the watchword among scientific toolmakers at the Philadelphia meeting

by Marc S. Reisch
March 25, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 12

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
More than 17,000 people attended the Pittcon exhibition and conference in Philadelphia.
Photo taken at Pittcon 2013, held in Philadelphia in March
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
More than 17,000 people attended the Pittcon exhibition and conference in Philadelphia.

Government spending restraints in the U.S. and Europe cast a shadow over the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon), held last week in Philadelphia. Instrumentation sales executives attending the meeting were cautious about the outlook for 2013.

In the U.S., the month-old sequestration of federal funds hasn’t yet had a direct effect on the buying behavior of government-backed researchers, Marc N. Casper, CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific, told C&EN. However, if the program continues through the year, it could have a half-percent impact on sales. “That’s not huge, but it is material,” he said.

Executives with small instrument makers, such as Douglas W. Later, president of Torion Technologies, are also concerned about federal budget cuts. About half of Torion’s sales of its portable gas chromatography/mass spectrometry instruments are through Smiths Detection, which provides them to the U.S. government for detection of chemical warfare agents and illicit drugs, Later said.

Business is “choppy” both in North America and in Europe, where the sovereign debt crisis has pinched instrument makers, acknowledged Rainer Blair, president of mass spectrometry specialist AB Sciex. But sales in China, where the government recently initiated a five-year program to improve health care, continue to be strong, he said.

“We have some phenomenal products, but people don’t have the money,” said Rohit Khanna, vice president of marketing for Waters Corp. Still, he expects researchers to pony up for the firm’s new Acquity Advanced Polymer Chromatography System, developed with Dow Chemical to improve molecular weight analysis of polymers. The system replaces the widely used gel permeation chromatography that Waters developed with Dow 50 years ago.

Bruker revealed at Pittcon that it has installed the world’s highest frequency dynamic nuclear polarization-nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, developed with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Scientists will use the sensitive instrument to study complex biomolecules.

But economic uncertainty has held back wider adoption of the new instrument, said Bruker CEO Frank Laukien. Because of “the political situation,” Laukien said, “there has been little uptake of the technology so far in the U.S., though it is a U.S. outgrowth.”



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