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An Instrumentally Better Market On Display At Analytica

Optimism reigned at Europe’s largest lab instrumentation expo, where positive market expectations outweighed competition concerns

by Alex Scott
April 28, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 17

Credit: Analytica
Some small instrumentation firms are concerned that they are being outmuscled by a few dominant players in the sector.
A scene from the show floor at the Analytica instrumentation conference, held in April 2014 in Munich, Germany.
Credit: Analytica
Some small instrumentation firms are concerned that they are being outmuscled by a few dominant players in the sector.

Lab instrumentation executives exhibiting at Analytica, a huge trade show held earlier this month in Munich, had a spring in their steps. The exhibition halls were busy and the technical sessions well attended, despite the sunshine outside. Most said demand for their products is on the rise. Even with a strike at the German airline Lufthansa, 34,400 visitors made it to the show, a 13% rise over the last Analytica, held in 2012.

The largest instrument makers in attendance exhibited an avalanche of new products for analyzing faster and better everything from foods to polymers. Notably present were new instruments for studying nanomaterials and “omics” fields such as proteomics and genomics. But not everyone at Analytica was smiling: A couple of small firms voiced concerns that, after a spate of acquisitions, the biggest players are now so large that independent companies could be squeezed out of the market (see page 10).

The 2014 forecast for the European lab instrumentation market as a whole is “very good,” said Mathis Kuchejda, chairman of Germany’s Technical Society for Analysis, Biotechnology & Laboratory Technology. It’s a stark contrast to the conditions of two years ago, when European sales for many instrument companies were flat. “We expect the market to pick up because of pent-up demand,” Kuchejda told journalists at Analytica.

The improved forecast was reflected in the number of firms exhibiting at the event: 1,142, up 11.3% compared with the 2012 show. The big instrument makers Agilent Technologies and PerkinElmer—which have chosen not to exhibit in recent years at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy, or Pittcon, in the U.S.—made sure they were high-profile exhibitors at Analytica.

“For the past six months, the European Union market has been quite good,” said Bruker’s chief executive officer, Frank H. Laukien. “It’s not boom time, but it is getting better.” After a flat period, sales have been particularly strong in the U.K. Still, although major economies in Europe, such as France, continue to be steady spenders on instruments, “demand is rather better in the U.S. and Asia,” Laukien said.

Bruker unveiled six new machines at the show. They included a compact spectrometer for atmospheric measurements and a unique large-format micro-X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that could be used for applications such as art conservation.

Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
The European instrumentation market is on the up, Kuchejda said.
Mathis Kuchejda, chairman of the Technical Society for Analysis Biotechnology and Laboratory Technology
Credit: Alex Scott/C&EN
The European instrumentation market is on the up, Kuchejda said.

Laukien’s comments about the European market were echoed by a string of lab instrument makers at Analytica. Danilo Caz­zola, vice president and general manager for Europe and parts of Asia at Agilent, also said Europe’s demand for lab instrumentation is picking up. He speculated that it’s partly a result of pent-up demand after constrained spending in recent years.

Jon DiVincenzo, president of Perkin­Elmer’s environmental health business, said he is “looking forward to strong EU and global demand.” At Analytica, Perkin­Elmer rolled out several novel products, including the NexION 350 ICP-MS, its newest atomic spectroscopy product. The machine accurately characterizes nanoparticles with a data acquisition rate 10 times that of any other inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer on the market, according to DiVincenzo. “Nanotechnology analysis is a very large opportunity for us,” he said.

Thermo Fisher Scientific executives at Analytica were bullish about the firm’s ability to develop the lab technology that scientists really need. The firm spends $700 million annually on R&D. “That’s 40% more than any of our competition,” said Kornelia Weidemann, head of the firm’s operations in Germany.

A good slice of the spending is being funneled into the development of machines for proteomics and other “omics” activities. “There are probably hundreds of Thermo Fisher employees involved in developing instruments for this kind of chemistry,” said Dan Shine, president of chromatography and mass spectrometry.

The firm is keen to provide scientists with bespoke solutions from its raft of products. “We can put it together like a Lego kit,” said Klaus Lindpaintner, Thermo Fisher’s chief scientific officer. Another key area for the firm “is the whole ‘big data’ challenge,” Lindpaintner said. “Informatics will become an increasing thrust for the company.”

Thermo Fisher released new software for liquid and ion chromatography control as well as for gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. Specialist instrumentation software developers, including U.S.-based ACD/Labs, also were present at Analytica, offering products designed to store and manage the increasingly large data sets that scientists generate.

Waters Corp. likewise is responding to the explosion of data coming out of modern research labs. The big U.S. firm brought new machines and software to Analytica including instruments for “omics” research such as its Acquity UPLC M-Class System, which it introduced commercially in January.

Waters’ flagship application in this field is in association with the U.K.’s National Phenome Centre (NPC) at Imperial College London, where it provides a series of ultraperformance liquid chromatography-MS instruments. Ballooning data generation is an issue for NPC. The center handles 365,000 MS assays per year as well as 100,000 NMR samples and may generate about 1.6 quadrillion bytes of data over five years, equivalent to the memory held in about 256,000 Apple iPads.

Less happy about the advances trumpeted by major lab instrument makers was Jaroslav Klima, CEO of Tescan Orsay, a Czech instrument company with annual sales of about $55 million, mostly in the area of charged-particle optics. In a briefing to journalists at Analytica, Klima berated regulatory agencies, including the European Commission, for allowing the biggest instrument makers to keep merging, outmuscling smaller competitors in the process.

“We expect the lab instrumentation market to be controlled by several multinational groups,” he warned, claiming that the “most aggressive” are U.S. companies such as Thermo Fisher and Agilent. If smaller firms are to survive, they need to partner up, Klima said.

As if to prove Klima’s point, at Analytica, Tescan Orsay and Germany-based WITec unveiled a jointly developed Raman imaging and scanning electron microscope. The firms say it is the first microscope to provide both ultrastructural and chemical images of nanostructures.

To compete against the major firms, Spain’s Polymer Char, which has fewer than 30 employees, has chosen to specialize in the narrow field of instruments for analyzing polypropylene. The firm’s latest product is Crystex QC, a machine that can measure the soluble fraction in polypropylene in just two hours, compared with the six hours it takes using standard methods, according to Aleyda G. Monzón, the company’s marketing and communications manager.

Polymer Char’s response to the rise of the mega instrumentation firms is to be innovative and provide high-quality service, Monzón said. “In many cases it is also true that being bigger takes away flexibility when needing to make decisions, slowing down the response rate to changes in customers’ needs,” she added.

For now, smaller instrument makers such as Polymer Char and Tescan Orsay are anticipating sales growth. The real test for them—as well as for the major companies they compete against—will come when the market slows once again.  


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