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COMMENTARY

Pittcon 2017 – Will changes to format ahead be too little, too late?

The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) – the largest trade show for analytical instrumentation and laboratory equipment in North America – was this year again hosted by the City of Chicago – normally a safe hand when it comes to attendance – and still had to report some disappointments.

While the total number of attendees the conference and exhibition was with roughly 14,200 above that for Atlanta last year (below 13,000), it was, however, unable to beat New Orleans (2015; 14,300) and was 2,000 short of the event’s last visit to Chicago (2014; 16,300). The percentage of foreign visitors – a feature stressed by organisers as indication of the international status of the event – also diminished to 22% of the total, probably not helped by the uncertainties about the newly-installed US administration’s travel ban nor by the unpredictable March weather on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Those who came, arrived from 89 different countries.  The ratio had been 28% in New Orleans and 24% last year in Atlanta.

The total of exhibiting companies reached with 787 (2016, 847; 2014, 935) a nadir for the last 30 years of the show’s history, while occupied booths shrank to an equal record low of 1,404.  In addition, and as if admitting seeing some sense, the organising committee decided to move exhibition to a smaller hall.  Evidently, the organisers realised that an ever-diminishing numbers of booths on a floor space that stays the same shows up the decline even more clearly.

What is startling is the reduced numbers of new instrument and product launches over the years.  This is not based on stringent polling, but it feels that launches of bigger instruments, such as for high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and mass spectrometry (MS), may have been postponed for specialised shows later in the year.  The Pittcon exhibition was never the ideal arena for some instrument categories, famously nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry, and shows such as ASMS and HPLC can be seen as the more natural launch pads for the technologies that lend their names.  However, it would be a troubling sign if this perceived trend would take hold.

Talking to exhibitors, no coherent picture emerges regarding the exhibitions success or failure.  There were those who had seen good traffic and interest, even a few serious sales leads, but also those who were not really at Pittcon for selling products, but for nurturing and increasing their professional network of possible business partners or R&D collaborators.  For the distributors, the specialist technology suppliers and the first-time companies the format of the show works and has done so for many years.  However, there were also those, who complained about low attendance even on day one or two, and who are considering their future bookings.

This is not new, of course.  And considering that this discussion about Pittcon and what needs changing has been raging for over a decade, the surprise is, how many companies still pay the booth fees and keep the conference going.  Some companies have stopped including some of the top 50 companies, such as Agilent, Mettler-Toledo and PerkinElmer.  While PerkinElmer has returned after a five-year Pittcon vacation for reasons of visibility – a small success – and Bruker continues to have a token booth, the size of stands is getting smaller even for the biggest manufacturers, so it is a matter of time until the economics of the show is seriously endangered.

While the holy cow of the annual recurrence of the show is not open for discussion (and hasn’t been for over 60 years), it seems, the organisers have accepted some of the exhibitors’ complaints and will as a first in 2018 in Orlando, FL reduce the numbers of exhibition days to three.  In addition, the exhibition will start on a Tuesday, so that no Sunday overtime payments for technicians’ and workers’ would be due.  Furthermore, the president-elect for Orlando, Dr Adrian Michael, openly discussed the possibility to move to venues on the West Coast, so far a thought that has been repeatedly dismissed since no venues of adequate size for exhibition and conference was available outside the five veteran host cities.

While the problem of size seems to have solved itself, the move has to be welcomed.  As venues are booked for years ahead, we might have to wait for California as host state a little longer.  It can only be hoped that these concessions are not too little, too late.

Exchange rates affect Leaderboard rankings

At first, this year’s Instrument News Leaderboard, listing over 500 companies by their revenues in the analytical instrument industry for calendar 2015, does not look much changed. The first two leading companies, Thermo Fisher Scientific (TFS) and Danaher are still in position one and two, respectively, as they have been for almost a decade (Danaher moved into this place for 2008), although this hides the fact that TFS has now almost double the sales into the industry than Danaher.

In the early years, their rivalry looked more neck and neck, but it turned out that TFS’ appetite for acquisitions was more voracious than that of the runner up; and while both companies made their forays into diagnostics and clinical markets, Danaher strayed further from its analytical instrument base, simply because unlike TFS it did not really have one at first.

Now that Danaher is integrating Pall – a company, whose sales are for our purposes mostly outside the remit of analytical instruments – and TFS is gearing up for two more top 40 purchases, that of microarray pioneer Affymetrix and electron microscopy specialist FEI, it seems that only a drastic Danaher-style spin-off could ever topple TFS from its pole position.

With Life Technologies now well and truly part of TFS, Agilent and VWR simply moved up a notch, not necessarily through the brilliance of their top line performance, as both companies had a tough year and were fighting currency headwinds.

Exchange rates colour a lot of this year’s listing, as the rapid devaluation of the Yen and the Euro against the US Dollar over the last 24 months posed a whole range of challenges to many companies. As the guiding currency of Instrument News is the Dollar, the conversion might have resulted in their Dollar turnovers not reflecting their reporting currency’s increases in the top line.

But then a topsy-turvy part of the listing begins, with Illumina, through its exceptional performance in the next-generation sequencing market, going up three rows, while Bruker’s difficulties in gaining customer favour sees it moving down by two. Shimadzu, despite having a good year went down one notch, caused entirely by the conversion rate. Waters and PerkinElmer both stayed in last year’s position, but due to more detailed insights into the inner workings of Merck Millipore (still without the full effect of the Sigma Aldrich addition) and GE Healthcare, the latter two rallied to a surprising extent.

Upwardly mobile during calendar 2015 were Bio-Techne (up 4 revenue brackets), mainly by adding ProteinSimple as its protein platform division in 2014, Peak Scientific and Freeman (up by 2), while many companies are down a notch or two either through our re-evaluation of their reach into the analytical instrument industry, their reducing sales or their battles with exchange rates.

A large group of companies have been lost to the Leaderboard this year as their foot print becomes undistinguishable in that of its parent: Danaher, for example does not separately report revenues from X-Rite, Molecular Devices or Beckman Coulter; and the financial traces of Gatan, ForteBio, DASGIP, Caliper, Labtronics, Nonlinear and Till Photonics are lost as they get immersed in the larger entity they are now part of.

However, the spin-off of Cole Parmer from TFS, the management buyouts of sample preparation expert Specac from Smiths Group and in-line NIR company Axsun from Volcano/Siemens, and the joint-venture between Oxford Instruments and Scienta Scientific, Scienta Omicron, have also given us new entities, who will enliven the competition in the market for years to come. Also new in our listing are: LGC, Greiner Bio-One and Physik Instrumente.

As ever, it’s the closer look at the middle and the bottom of the Leaderboard that shows the future of our industry, while the top reflects the depth of pocket more than true innovation.

Pittcon 2016 – when will the show start to fight decline

The number of attendees for Pittcon, 2016 taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, has fallen consistently over the last two decades, so to see the figure dip below 13,000 – down from 14,300 in New Orleans last year – was probably no surprise, considering the relative cultural sparsity of the city.  At 847, the number of exhibiting companies had decreased by 8% (75 businesses) since last year

It is difficult to explain why visitor numbers are so far below the last time the event was held in Atlanta, in 2011, which attracted over 17,000 attendees.  That’s almost 5,000 visitors lost in five years, during a period of relative growth in the US and global economy.

Having attended Pittcon for the last 15 years, it feels all too much like a slow-motion car crash, with all parties unable to avert their eyes or do what is necessary to change the outcome. It probably needs only one or two more large companies to decide to withdraw their support to finally tip the balance, and then the event, for many decades the shop window of the industry, will dwindle into insignificance.

JASIS 2015 – still dominated by Japanese visitors

Japan Analytical & Scientific Instruments Show (JASIS), organised by Japan Analytical Instruments Manufacturer’s Association (JAIMA) and Japan Scientific Instruments Association (JSIA), has been taking place annually for the last 24 years in the International Exhibition and Conference Halls at Makuhari Messe – about 15 km from the centre of Tokyo – during the first week of September.  Japan is the 10th most populous country on the globe, and the third largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP), trumped only by the US and its own neighbour, China.

Japan’s own analytical instrument industry by current estimate produces between $7-$10 billion worth of analytical instruments and laboratory equipment. This represents roughly 10% of the global market. Of these products, $3.5 billion, went into export markets in calendar 2014. International imports into Japan, however, are only worth $1.33 billion (see IN 7 (5) 18). While figures for JASIS 2015 (or JAIMA, as it was known until 2013) were not available yet, the statistics of the last three years indicate that it is unlikely to change much for 2015, despite last year representing a peak year in the event’s history.

The final report for last year’s 52nd event shows the exhibition hosting 466 companies and organisation in 1,399 booths, which was the highest number of entities and booths in the event’s history.   Since 2012, the trade fair and conference has been attracting consistently over 23,000 visitors annually, distributed relatively evenly over the three days of the event, again with 2014 figures being higher than they have been since the economic crisis in 2009. Many of these were end-users, according to a visitor survey. Of these visitors, only around 500 visitors were from outside Japan, and less than 100 from beyond East Asia.

Takeshi Kawamoto, the chairman of JAIMA’s international affairs committee, told Instrument News: “JASIS has always been targeting mainly visitors from Japan and the rest of Asia. However, we also attract companies from further afield that want to get into the Japanese market, as approximately 15% of exhibiting companies are headquartered outside Japan.” He refutes allegations that Japan is actively preventing imports, but points at regulations and approval processes, business customs and, topping the list, the language barrier, that make it difficult for foreign business to establish themselves in the Japanese market.

However, as in many foreign countries, these unofficial obstacles are enough to make it easier creating a Japanese foothold with a local partner, even if there might not have been laws – wholly contrary to World Trade Association’s rules – to prevent foreign foundations within the country.

Most of the booths, even from oversea manufacturers, are populated by Japanese employees, and for a foreign visitor it is very difficult to strike up a conversation with any of the exhibiting businesses, without an interpreter by one’s side. Kawamoto put this down to a country-innate shyness, as he believes that the percentage of Japanese managers and scientists, being able to read and understand English, has risen rapidly over the last 20 years.

To overcome the language barrier, the international affairs committee has introduced a webcast service for foreign manufacturers. For a fee, importing companies can present their company and product portfolio, which is adapted with subtitles and made available on the JASIS website. “Unfortunately, we have not had much interest for this service yet”, Kawamoto said.

What is the reason for the Pittcon Editors’ Award?

Consider the challenge: An exhibition hall covered with exhibition booths large and small, accommodating the technologies of over 1000 different companies, stakeholders in the global analytical instrument market, estimated at over $60 billion annual revenues.

A large number of the exhibiting businesses will be developers and manufacturers of analytical instruments, and inventors and suppliers of technologies and parts essential for the production and running of analytical instruments. As every technology market, the analytical instrument market lives from the ingenuity of scientists and engineers to develop new technologies, which make the analytical experiments more precise, by achieving lower detection thresholds or increase reproducibility of repeated experimental runs, or to reduce the price and the environmental impact of single analytical procedures.

All these innovative teams presenting at Pittcon are vying for the attention of an audience to improve the practice of analytical chemistry to make this world we live in a better and safer place. Not only is the number of new technologies launched year after year staggering, but even more overwhelming are the many different applications, where these instruments and technologies might be used: from life science research, drug discovery and clinical diagnostics, to routine monitoring of the quality of manufactured goods or the continuous measurement of air and water quality.

A single attendee, trying to find the three best instruments or new technologies at a Pittcon exhibition will find it impossible to visit each and every booth, discuss in-depth the merits of the new developments and then make up his or her mind. Very likely, they will have to limit themselves to a certain group of technologies or focus on a small slice of applications. This, however, does not really reflect the overall impact of Pittcon for the markets of analytical instruments.

This is why over the last seventeen years all technology journalists accredited at Pittcon have been invited to select their three top choices from the new instrument launches at the annual exhibition. From this large number of nominations, an independent and self-assembled group of industry and technology observers picked the overall three winning instruments and technologies, after having discussed the novelty of approach or the possible market impact.

Over the years these top choices have included new developments of established technologies, particularly in the field of mass spectrometry and its coupling with other separation methods, a leading growth driver of the analytical instrument market over the last 20 years. However, they have also featured new concepts for the measurement challenges, for examples new particle analysers, such as the Affinity Biosensor from Archimedes or the IG-1000 from Shimadzu, or a Raman spectrometer that is able to also establish the topography of the area the spectrum was taken (WITec).

However, winners did not have to be fully-fledged analytical instruments. A number of elected developments were in the field of consumable handling, such as the Meltfit column connector (Nlisis) or a method to part-automate filtration and sample preparation, the Samplicity from Merck Millipore.

It is this overview of the analytical instrument industry that is the aim of these independent awards. They might hint at technology trends, but most important of all they show the industry at its most creative and inventive, give a snapshot of what the ingenuity of the engineering brains in its constituent businesses can produce.

Welcome to Pittcon 2013

Without the competition of generalist exhibitions such as Analytica and ACHEMA – as in 2012 – and having chosen Philadelphia as a conference location, Pittcon 2013 has all the vestiges of an audience success. Only the final tally will show, whether this hope has been fulfilled, even without the exhibition presence of Agilent and PerkinElmer. Watch the April issue for the answers …

The Instrument News team is starting our IN Leaderboard survey, which aims of listing over 500 companies by revenues for financial 2012. Please visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XTDHDDN so that your company can be in the IN Leaderboard in our July issue. If you would like to voice your opinion about any subject relevant to the analytical instrument industry and want it published in Instrument News, please contact me on Stefan@instrumentnews.co.uk.

ACHEMA 2012 – where manufacturing and laboratory meet

ACHEMA 2012 is here, and one of the leading events for the process industries is once more also a global meeting point for the analytical instruments industry. About 680 exhibitors out of the total 3,800 show laboratory and analytical technologies in Hall 4 of the Messe Centre in Frankfurt during the 17th and 22nd June.

“ACHEMA offers the chance to see current state-of-the-art technologies in a breadth and depth you won’t find anywhere else in the world,” Thomas Scheuring, CEO of DECHEMA Ausstellungs-GmbH, commented. “There is no other platform worldwide where a decision maker in our industry has a better chance to meet the one single supplier who has the perfect solution for his specific problem. That’s one reason why we see 175,000 people every three years here in Frankfurt”. Addressing the whole supply chain, ACHEMA is no longer just the focus of European engineers, but in addition to the traditionally strong contingent from Japan, the show is seeing a strong increase of exhibitors from China and India as well as from South Korea and Turkey.

“The process industries may have had a hard time in 2008 and 2009, but in 2010 and 2011 many of our exhibitors recorded the best financial results ever. Even if there are some uncertainties in the current economic outlook, overall the industry has emerged stronger than before, and we believe ACHEMA 2012 will equally see very positive progress,” explained Scheuring.

In contrast to more specialised events, ACHEMA covers the whole value chain of the process industry – from research and innovation via the laboratory and process development right through to plant engineering and packaging. This offers the unique opportunity to discuss your challenges with all stakeholders in one place – if you are aiming at integrating a special component in your automation concept, you can go right from the component supplier to the automation specialist.

The dialogue between process engineers and laboratory specialists becomes essential with regard to the latest trends in the laboratory industry strongly driven by increased automation and miniaturisation. Automation aims at better reproducibility, less outside influence, higher throughput and certified conditions. At the same time, sample volumes are becoming ever smaller, culminating in lab-on-a-chip solutions where not only capillary forces are used to move samples through the microfluidic architecture, but increasingly also electrical voltage.

A major trend in the process industry, of course, is the adoption of process analytical technologies (PAT) leading to an automation of analytical processes accompanying the manufacturing workflow. Innovative techniques allow for the real-time measurement of specific parameter within the process, used for immediate process optimization and quality management. Not only do they lead to reduced laboratory costs in the process industry, but they can save millions, especially in high-value products or regulated processes, where small variations in parameters can make a whole batch worthless.

Especially in the field of integrated inline and online analytical technologies, the laboratory and analytics industry sees a large potential. But the success of these developments depends on the close cooperation between lab equipment specialists and process engineers. The congress accompanying the exhibition opens the panel to researchers and scientists who report on their latest close-to-market findings that might make their way into new products over the next couple of years.

Mathis Kuchejda, Chairman of the Association for Analytics, Bio- and Laboratory Technology of the German industry association SPECTARIS, said at ACHEMA’s economic press conference: “With its international approach, ACHEMA is the “showcase to the world” for the analytics, biotech and laboratory industry. Exhibitors do not only meet customers and salespeople from all over the world, the industry also shows its newest trends. ACHEMA functions as a lead event that makes long term trends visible. The extensive congress programme with the exchange between experts supports this leading character. Many exhibitors organise their international sales meetings around this fair, and new international contacts are made. The location at Frankfurt with its industrial surroundings offers at the same time the perfect opportunity to meet customers from the regional chemical industry.”

Welcome to Conference Season 2012

Many a conference centre will be bustling with business over the next six months, with the triad of Pittcon, Analytica and Achema taking place in close succession. After the roller coaster ride of the last few years, which started with the banking crash followed by the global slump, and the Earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan last year, its again time to check the pulse of the industry. Pittcon and Analytica in particular will be comparing exhibitor lists and visitor demographics, since various larger companies have decided not be present in its usual grandeur at one or the other. And by the end of June we will be thoroughly conferenced out, unless you need a conference a month (or possibly two?).

Instrument News is planning two initiatives over the next few months, which should be of interest to all of our readers. First of all, with annual reports and balance sheets for 2011 having been completed, we are starting work on our IN Leaderboard, with the aim of listing 450 companies by revenues for the calendar year 2011. In order that your company can be included in the IN Leaderboard in the July issue of Instrument News, click here to take the Instrument News Leaderboard survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XTDHDDN
The survey should not take more than 30 seconds of your time, and you input is highly valued and much appreciated.

Furthermore, if you would like to voice your opinion about any subject relevant to the analytical instrument industry and want it published in Instrument News, please contact me on Stefan@instrumentnews.co.uk.

Roche might be in for a long battle…

After the board of director of Illumina rejected the unsolicited takeover offer from Roche on the 7th February, describing the bid as undervaluing Illumina’s “leadership position and future growth prospects”, Roche restated that it’s $5.7 billion price for Illumina was “full and fair and provides a unique opportunity for Illumina’s shareholders”. It might, however, be in for a long takeover battle, as Illumina can with some right claim that its 10-year history showed that the share slump it experienced in July last year – and which might well have precipitated Roche’s bid – was a temporary aberration.

Illumina’s annual filings, however, slightly delayed by the bid on the 25th January, indicate that while for the calendar year revenues increased by 17% to $1.06 billion, net income fell in the same period by 31% to $86.1 million.

And Roche is anything if not a determined bidder, if its takeovers of Genentech and Ventana are anything to go by. The latter acquisition in 2007/08 was a long drawn out affair, with Roche wrestling Ventana’s board into submission in almost nine months, and the management only ceding ground after a 20% rise on the initial bid. Such determination on Roche’s part, however, might let other potential interested parties think twice before throwing their hats – and money – into the ring.

Japan’s blight and the aftermath

With our thoughts going to the victims of the earthquake and Tsunami that hit a 400km stretch of coastline just North of Tokyo on the 11th March, and our attentions being drawn to the continuing instability of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the potential wider implications for the world economy, and particularly the analytical instrument industry, are being considered.

Over the last two decades, Japan already had to cope with a stagnant economy, a deflationary currency and an aging population. Despite this, the county has held on to its position under the top three economies of the world, built during the miraculous years of its rise out of the ashes of World War II, and remained not only a leading manufacturer of complete analytical instruments, but also a leading supplier of optical parts, lasers systems and detectors for our industry.

With the Japan now challenged by energy insecurity, the spectre of a reducing industrial output and the impact on its economy and that of the wider world takes shape. How many analytical instrument companies will be affected by shortages in vital components? Can other economies step into the fold? And if Japan looses some of its markets in the short term, will it necessarily regain them after the first difficulties have been overcome?