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Top instrument firms in 2017

C&EN’s ranking of scientific equipment makers reflects strong sales to a broad range of customers

by Marc S. Reisch
February 26, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 9


A photo of two technicians reviewing a scanning electron microscope image.
Credit: Zeiss Group
Technicians review brain tissue on the Zeiss MultiSEM scanning electron microscope across multiple monitors.

Last year was a good one for makers of life sciences and analytical instruments thanks to positive macroeconomic conditions, including low energy prices, a surging U.S. economy, and recovery in Europe. Overall instrument sales in 2017 for the 20 firms that C&EN tracks rose 9.5%.

Given the pace of industry consolidation during the past few years, it’s no surprise that the top five firms accounted for 54% of sales, versus 52% in 2016. Thermo Fisher Scientific, among the most aggressive industry consolidators, alone accounted for 22% of the Top 20’s instrument sales.

By the numbers

The top five companies account for
of the sales of the top 20.

The top 10 companies account for
of the sales of the top 20.

Of the top 20 firms, eight are U.S. based, seven are from Europe, and five are based in Japan.

The top 10 firms on the list were responsible for 79% of sales, up from 77% in 2016. Combined sales growth for the top 10 was up 11.5% from last year.

This year’s list reflects several changes. Water analysis expert Xylem Analytics is no longer in the ranking because parent Xylem combined its analytics division with large software and analytics acquisitions, making it impossible to break out the instrument component.

Other changes include swaps in position. Roche Diagnostics, for example, switched with Agilent Technologies to become numbers four and five, respectively, in the ranking. Mettler-Toledo International and Bruker did a similar switch to positions seven and eight.

The most notable change in position was for Nikon, which fell four places after the firm separated its microscope business into two units, allowing C&EN to separate research instrument sales from industrial equipment sales.

On average, only about 25% of overall sales for the ranked companies are of analytical and life sciences lab instruments. Many also sell industrial measuring devices and other non-research-related equipment. C&EN excludes those businesses whenever possible.

The lion’s share of most of the surveyed company’s sales come from consumables, software, and services. When companies improve detail in their financial reports, C&EN can improve the clarity of its rankings, as was the case for Nikon. We restated Bruker’s figures for similar reasons.

In addition to the ranking, C&EN provides short profiles of the top 20 companies. The profiles review key changes that affected the industry leaders during 2017 and offer a peek into where they may be headed this year.

Related: Thermo Fisher to acquire FEI

1 Thermo Fisher Scientific

2017 instrument sales: $5.65 billion

The purchase of scanning electron microscope maker FEI and genetic analysis firm Affymetrix in 2016 significantly boosted Thermo Fisher Scientific’s instrument sales in 2017 to 27% of total sales, from 24% in 2016. But in 2017, its acquisitions were outside the instrumentation space. The firm bought process systems maker Finesse Solutions early in the year and then followed with the purchase of cloud computing firm Core Informatics to beef up its scientific data management capabilities. The acquisitive instrument maker’s biggest move last year was the $7.2 billion purchase of Patheon, a contract drugmaker. The move puts Thermo Fisher into pharmaceutical services in a big way and heralds a move outside its traditional hardware and consumables space. CEO Marc Casper said the purchase “significantly enhanced our value proposition ... for pharma and biotech customers.” However, Thermo Fisher apparently does not intend to cut back on its instrumentation orientation. Late last year it acquired Phenom-World, a Dutch maker of desktop scanning electron microscopes. In addition to being the instrument sales leader, Thermo Fisher is the leader in R&D spending, having invested $888 million last year in the development of instruments, assays, and other products.

Related: Thermo Fisher wins contest for Affymetrix

2 Danaher

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $2.28 billion

Danaher transformed itself in 2016 with the spin-off of its $6 billion industrial technologies business as Fortive. The conglomerate’s focus is now on its life sciences, diagnostics, dental, environmental, and applied businesses. Reviewing the firm’s fourth-quarter results, CEO Tom Joyce reported strong performance in the Beckman Coulter Life Sciences flow cytometry and particle counting business. The Leica Microsystems microscope business saw good growth in medical and research markets in Western Europe and China. And for mass spectrometry subsidiary Sciex, Danaher reported strength in the food, environmental, and pharmaceutical markets. In October 2017, Danaher completed the purchase of IDBS, a U.K.-based life sciences informatics firm. Joyce said IDBS will help users of its instruments make better and faster scientific decisions.

3 Shimadzu

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $2.04 billion

Shimadzu’s instrument sales rose more than 5% in 2017. The Japanese firm attributed the growth to the strong economy in China, the ongoing recovery in North America, and a moderate recovery in the European Union. In its analytical and measuring instruments unit, Shimadzu reported strong mass spectrometer sales to North American government and chemical industry customers. Sales of liquid chromatography equipment to the drug industry were healthy. Sales in China were strong across the board for mass spectrometers, liquid chromatographs, gas chromatographs, and environmental measurement equipment. The firm says it plans to invest in advanced health care and to employ artificial intelligence and internet of things technologies to be more competitive.

4 Roche Diagnostics

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $1.95 billion

Sales of molecular diagnostic instruments and tests by the Swiss drug and diagnostics firm grew more than 4% in 2017. Most of the growth came from the gene sequencing area. In November, the diagnostic business bulked up its analytics capability with Roche’s purchase of U.S.-based Viewics. Roche says Viewics’s software will enable labs to make faster data-driven decisions. In January, Roche formed a pact with GE Healthcare to develop digital clinical records management and support. The pair will initially focus on improving management of personalized treatments for people with cancer or in need of critical care.

Related: Agilent acquires Raman spectroscopy firm

5 Agilent Technologies

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $1.94 billion

In 2017, Agilent Technologies’ sales increased about 6% to nearly $4.5 billion. About $1.9 billion, or 43% of sales, came from instruments, and sales of instruments alone rose almost 3% for the year. Demand from China was strong, CEO Mike McMullen told investors during the firm’s fourth-quarter conference call. Demand from pharmaceutical customers was also strong, and demand from Europe and the chemical and energy markets exceeded expectations, he said. In July, Agilent expanded its instrumentation arsenal with the acquisition of Cobalt Light Systems for $52 million. The England-based firm took Agilent into the Raman spectroscopy market with a line of benchtop and portable instruments that allow users to identify materials without opening containers.

Top 20

With few exceptions, instrument makers increased sales in 2017.

1 1 Thermo Fisher Scientific $5,648 28.8% 27.1% U.S.
2 2 Danaher 2,284 7.7 12.5 U.S.
3 3 Shimadzua 2,044 5.1 61.1 Japan
4 5 Roche Diagnosticsb 1,951 4.1 15.9 Switzerland
5 4 Agilent Technologiesc 1,942 2.7 43.4 U.S.
6 6 Zeiss Groupd 1,738 4.9 28.8 Germany
7 8 Mettler-Toledo International 1,363 10.9 50.0 Switzerland
8 7 Bruker 1,325 9.7 75.0 U.S.
9 9 Waters Corp. 1,180 5.8 51.1 U.S.
10 12 Eppendorfe 773 5.1 100.0 Germany
11 11 Bio-Rad Laboratoriese 764 4.5 35.4 U.S.
12 10 PerkinElmer 700 –5.5 31.0 U.S.
13 14 JEOLa 645 1.9 68.9 Japan
14 15 Spectris 599 11.0 30.5 England
15 16 Hitachi High- Technologiesa 596 20.6 9.7 Japan
16 17 Illumina 515 9.6 18.7 U.S.
17 13 Nikona,f 508 –25.0 7.9 Japan
18 18 Sartorius 445 21.2 28.0 Germany
19 19 Olympusa 346 3.7 4.9 Japan
20 20 Tecane 338 6.1 62.0 Switzerland

Note: Results are for the calendar year unless otherwise stated. Some figures were converted at relevant average exchange rates for 2017. a Company estimates for fiscal year ending March 31, 2018. b Results for instrumentation sales in this division alone. c Fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2017. d Fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2017. e Estimate based on company outlook. f Reporting segments changed for fiscal year ending March 31, 2018. Sources: C&EN, company data


6 Zeiss Group

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $1.74 billion

Germany’s Zeiss Group boasted more than $6 billion in overall 2017 sales of equipment used in the medical, semiconductor, and vision care sectors. C&EN reports the sales in Zeiss’s Research & Quality Technology segment, which manufactures microscopes as well as industrial measurement systems. The firm said the microscopy business was stable during the year, mostly because of demand from industrial customers. The industrial measurement side of the business benefited from developments in the automotive market. The firm also acknowledged growing competitive pressure.

7 Mettler-Toledo International

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $1.36 billion

Laboratory instruments accounted for about half of Mettler-Toledo’s total revenues in 2017. The firm sells a mix of instruments, including balances, pipettes, titrators, and physical and thermal analyzers used for sample preparation, benchtop work, and materials characterization. The firm also offers lab software, process analytical instruments, and automated chemical synthesis systems. Mettler-Toledo hesitated to forecast future demand in its most recent financial report, noting that “economic uncertainty remains in certain regions of the world.”

8 Bruker

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $1.33 billion

Bruker had a decent 2017. Overall revenues increased almost 10% to about $1.8 billion. The firm serves a variety of customers in areas such as the life sciences, drug discovery, chemicals, metals, and material sciences. Its instruments include mass spectrometers, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, fluorescence microscopes, and molecular diagnostic tools. Bruker CEO Frank Laukien reported to investors that the firm’s core scientific instrument business had “low-single-digit year-over-year organic revenue growth.” He expects a better 2018. The situation is reversed for the firm’s superconducting-wire segment, which had mid-teen revenue growth in 2017 but is expected to have low-single-digit growth in 2018. Consumables, software, and accessories accounted for 25% of 2017 revenues, according to the firm.

Credit: Marc S. Reisch/C&EN
Ionization source of Waters’s Vion ion mobility spectrometry/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer.
Ionization source of Waters’ Vion ion mobility spectrometry/quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometer.
Credit: Marc S. Reisch/C&EN
Ionization source of Waters’s Vion ion mobility spectrometry/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer.

9 Waters Corp.

 2017 instrument sales: $1.18 billion

Sales were up 7% overall for Waters Corp. in 2017, marking a solid year for the chromatography and mass spectrometry expert. Sales of instruments, which make up a little more than half of the firm’s revenue, rose nearly 6%. Service and consumables sales increased 7% and 8%, respectively. Sales growth for pharmaceutical customers slipped from 10% in 2016 to 7% in 2017, CEO Chris O’Connell told investors during Waters’s fourth-quarter conference call. The firm’s strategy, he added, is to “emphasize the vast opportunities in our pharmaceutical business.” During the year, Waters, which often goes it alone, signed a comarketing agreement with Wyatt Technology that couples Wyatt’s multiangle light-scattering detector with Waters’s ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography system.

10 Eppendorf

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $773 million

A private German company, Eppendorf develops and sells instruments, consumables, and services for handling liquids, cells, and samples in the lab. Because Eppendorf does not break out its instrumentation sales, its place in C&EN’s ranking is based on total sales. And even those sales are an estimate, based on projections from mid-2017. In April, CEO Thomas Bachmann estimated that Eppendorf’s sales would grow 5% in 2017, or “slightly above the industry average.” The firm also reported good progress in connecting with customers’ electronic procurement systems. By doing so with major customers, especially in the U.S., the firm said it nearly doubled sales through those systems.

11 Bio-Rad Laboratories

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $764 million

Bio-Rad Laboratories provides a range of life sciences research and clinical diagnostic products. The company did not report full-year results before this ranking was published, so C&EN derived its figures from estimates in the firm’s third-quarter report. In February 2017, Bio-Rad completed the $87 million acquisition of RainDance Technologies, which develops methods to study biological reactions in droplets. Bio-Rad says the purchase will extend its offerings in next-generation sequencing and DNA amplification.

12 PerkinElmer

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $700 million

Overall sales at PerkinElmer rose nearly 7% in 2017, but instrument sales slipped 6%. The firm, whose instruments can be used in environmental, food, and metal analysis, has been emphasizing diagnostics and drug discovery. Early in the year, it completed the sale of its medical imaging business to Varex Imaging. Soon after, it announced the acquisition of Euroimmun Medical Laboratory Diagnostics for $1.3 billion. The deal brought PerkinElmer a $310 million-per-year business that uses immunohistochemical and biochemical methods to diagnose disease. In January, the firm bought Tulip Diagnostics, an Indian maker of reagents, kits, and instruments for malaria, HIV, and hepatitis diagnosis. Looking to 2018, PerkinElmer CEO Rob Friel told investors that he sees a favorable macroeconomic environment. Sales growth in China could be in the low double digits, he said.


▸ 2017 instrument sales: $645 million

In addition to scientific and metrology instruments, JEOL sells semiconductor, industrial, and medical equipment. The instrument business C&EN tracks accounts for nearly 70% of the firm’s sales. In a late-September forecast, JEOL said it expects sales to rise nearly 2% in the fiscal year ending March 2018. JEOL and Bruker have been the only makers of large nuclear magnetic resonance instruments since Agilent withdrew from the business in 2014. In addition to NMR instruments, JEOL offers replacement NMR consoles and NMR probes. Last year, it introduced the Royal HFX, a probe intended to ease analysis of the large number of fluorine-containing drugs on the market.

R&D spending

All instrument makers ramped up investment in 2017.

Thermo Fisher Scientific 888 4.2% 17.6%
Illumina 546 19.8 8.3
Agilent Technologies 339 7.6 3.0
Bruker 163 9.2 9.4
PerkinElmer 139 6.2 12.1
Spectris 135 6.9 6.3
Waters Corp. 133 5.8 6.4
Mettler-Toledo International 129 4.7 7.5
Tecan 51 9.3 1.6

Source: Company data


14 Spectris

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $599 million


Sales increased 11% for the materials analysis instrument segment of England-based Spectris in 2017. The segment includes Particle Measuring Systems and Malvern Panalytical, consisting of the former Malvern Instruments and PANalytical, which Spectris decided to combine into one unit at the end of 2016. Asia accounted for the bulk of the sales boost, Spectris said in its year-end report. Sales to academia were weak across all regions, it added, and will continue to be muted in 2018, except in China. In January 2018, Spectris acquired Concept Life Sciences, a contract research organization serving pharmaceutical, agrochemical, and environmental customers, for more than $200 million. Like Thermo Fisher Scientific, which bought contract drugmaker Patheon in 2017, Spectris sees growth potential in the services sector. Spectris plans to incorporate Concept Life Sciences into the materials analysis segment.

15 Hitachi High-Technologies

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $596 million

Credit: "Nanoart" by Hitachi High-Technologies
Three technicians at Hitachi High-Technologies made this image of a volcanic rock. Called "the flower in rhyolite," the image uses cathodoluminescence microscopy to show cristobalite and plagioclase crystals.
Closeup of a volcanic rock through a microscope. Cathodoluminescence makes crystal structures appear to form a flower.
Credit: "Nanoart" by Hitachi High-Technologies
Three technicians at Hitachi High-Technologies made this image of a volcanic rock. Called "the flower in rhyolite," the image uses cathodoluminescence microscopy to show cristobalite and plagioclase crystals.

Hitachi High-Technologies is organized into four businesses. Three focus on industrial and electronic equipment. The fourth, which is tracked by C&EN, is a science and medical systems business that accounts for almost 10% of the firm’s annual revenues. Its portfolio includes analytical instruments such as liquid chromatographs, mass spectrometers, and spectrophotometers. The business also makes electron, focused beam, and atomic force microscopes. A third area of focus is clinical analyzers and lab automation systems. For its fiscal year ending in March 2018, Hitachi says strong demand for electron microscopes and analytical systems should increase sales more than 20%. Demand is strong in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., Hitachi says, but stagnant in its home market of Japan.

16 Illumina

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $515 million

After a drop in 2016, Illumina’s instrument sales, which make up about 19% of total revenue, rose almost 10% in 2017. The leader in the gene sequencing market, Illumina expects to start shipping a new desktop sequencing unit shortly at a cost, it says, that will be affordable to any lab. The firm is increasing its emphasis on clinical-grade instruments and reagents, CEO Francis deSouza told investors at the end of January. In August, the firm said it would establish a new company, Verogen, with San Francisco-based venture capital firm Telegraph Hill Partners to provide Illumina’s sequencing technology to companies doing forensic casework. Among the instrument makers C&EN follows, Illumina devotes the highest percentage of its sales, nearly 20%, to research. In absolute terms, its $546 million in 2017 research spending is the second largest, coming after Thermo Fisher.

17 Nikon

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $508 million

As part of a restructuring effort, Nikon has cut more than 1,000 jobs and shifted its business segments. The reorganization refocused the firm on semiconductor lithography as sales of digital cameras decline. The restructuring also places Nikon’s research microscope business into a new health care segment. Formerly those microscopes were part of an instrument business that included industrial metrology tools. The shift drops Nikon’s place in C&EN’s ranking to number 17 from number 13 last year. The health care segment expects to report $508 million in sales for the fiscal year ending March 2018, accounting for nearly 8% of the Japanese firm’s overall sales.

18 Sartorius

 2017 instrument sales: $445 million

Sartorius, a bioprocessing and lab equipment firm, had a good 2017. The lab products and services division that C&EN tracks recorded sales growth of more than 21%. According to Sartorius, 14% of that growth came from recent acquisitions. The division itself accounted for 28% of Sartorius’s overall sales in 2017, up from 25% in 2016. The most significant acquisition in 2017 was of U.S.-based Essen BioScience, a maker of cell-based assays and instruments used for drug discovery and basic research. The $320 million purchase added about $60 million in revenues. For 2018, Sartorius predicts that lab products division sales will grow between 12 and 15%.

19 Olympus

 2017 instrument sales: $445 million

Olympus markets a variety of equipment for industrial and health-related markets. Its products include industrial microscopes and videoscopes, nondestructive test equipment, and X-ray fluorescence analyzers. The Olympus business that C&EN tracks is biological microscopes, which are intended to advance drug discovery and clinical pathology. The firm expects its biological microscopes business will contribute nearly 5% to its overall sales for the fiscal year ending in March 2018.

20 Tecan

▸ 2017 instrument sales: $338 million

Tecan has been growing through acquisitions. In March 2017, it acquired Pulssar Technologies, a maker of piston pumps used for pipetting tasks in the life sciences. In late 2015 it acquired Sias, a supplier of lab automation systems for liquid handling. Tecan classifies 62% of its sales as instruments. The remainder are in consumables, services, and spare parts, according to a presentation Tecan made at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last month.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on April 2, 2018, to correct the description of a photo. The photo, a close-up, depicts the ionization source in Waters’s Vion ion mobility spectrometry/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer, not a Thermo Fisher purge valve.


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