Analyzing it right

Analyzing it right

3:24 PM, 12th November 2018
Deepak Parab, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, Metrohm India Limited
Deepak Parab, CEO & Managing Director, Metrohm India Limited.

In an interview, Deepak Parab, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, Metrohm India Limited with Chemical Today magazine discusses business dynamics of analytical instruments and how Asia Pacific is becoming a market with huge growth potential.

By Shivani Mody

Global trends in the analytical instruments market.

The global analytical instrument market is witnessing a major shift towards miniaturization, hyphenated techniques and online analysis. All techniques are constantly being upgraded for better specificity and sensitivity. The shift toward online/continuous and portable instruments is constantly increasing. It is expected that 6 to 7 percent of the laboratory analytical instruments’ market revenue will shift to online instruments by 2020.

Advanced and efficient laboratory instruments are being transformed into continuous and portable instruments, driven by end-user requirement. There is an increase in demand for portable instruments to perform the trend analysis for field applications to support laboratory testing. Going forward, laser-based analyzers, liquid analyzers, ultra-high performance liquid chromatographs, and other productivity boosting analyzers will be in demand. More than 20,000 laserbased analyzers are sold each year as demand is in the peak stage.

Ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography will be in high demand, as it provides the output with reliable separations, high throughput, sensitivity and resolution. Sample preparation techniques of liquid chromatography will be accorded significance by manufacturers, as they constitute a key challenge area for customers. Real-time monitoring of quality parameters by liquid analyzers is made possible through an integrated system with digital sensors connected to transmitters.

This enables remote monitoring and realtime data collection using a Web browser, tablet and smartphone. Smart technologies will be integrated with liquid analyzers such as dissolved oxygen and pH/ORP meters. In the coming years, many liquid analyzers will be integrated with digital technology to enable real-time monitoring through a centralized network connection.

In the mass spectrometry segment, the cost and size of mass spectrometers will reduce, while the capabilities of the instrument will increase. The mass resolution of the mass spectrometer is continuously increasing and has exceeded m/?m 1,000,000.

Predictive maintenance services will impact the process analytical instrumentation market to optimize operational costs. Portable and online instruments will record higher demand than laboratory instruments. Instrument performance will improve and integrate smart functional capabilities. Technology that can reduce customer’s operational expenditure will be poised for phenomenal growth.

Market potential for Asia Pacific region.

At this moment, Asia including India is the only region which is giving doubledigit growth to this industry. Today, many manufacturers are focusing on the needs of Asia region when they are developing new models or new instruments. This growth is fueled due to shifting of manufacturing base from the US and Europe to Asia, demand for quality products and multinational manufacturers enforcing similar standard operating systems as that of the US or Europe. In Asia also, we see increasing demand for online & handheld instruments and hyphenated techniques. The market for analytical instruments in India has fared well during the last couple of years with double digit growth rates and is further anticipated to increase at a strong growth rate over the next few years. The reasons behind higher growth are stringent government regulations and rapidly booming pharmaceuticals & life science industry in the country. Apart from pharmaceuticals & life sciences, petrochemical, chemical industries, dyes & intermediates and food and beverage are also emerging as prominent sectors which are expected to fuel the market for analytical instruments in India. It is estimated that the Indian analytical instrumentation market is set to grow beyond $1.2 billion by 2018.

Growth drivers for chemical analyzers.

In the last few years, the demand for chemical process analyzers has scaled higher, thanks to their rising use across diverse industries. A process analyzer, coupled with other embedded advanced electronic components, provides a cost-effective handling process, which is the foremost factor coercing manufacturers to invest in them. High speed analysis and cost affecting handling process offered by process analyzers have increased their use in the process. As a result of the recent technological advancements, manufacturers could innovate novel product with better design and performance. Furthermore, these advanced models were more cost-effective. Considering such upgrades, the demand for process analyzers has considerably increased in the chemical industry where sample handling is tedious and critical and need is for very accurate results for example (brine industry), petrochemicals, power, mining, environmental aspects, water and wastewater treatment market. The factors driving the growth of analyzers market are a need for quick analysis during the process to control process parameters, no need for transferring samples to analytical laboratories for analysis & waiting time, integration of the instrument into the process systems, documentation of the entire process, control of the process in real time etc.

Trends in nanotechnology, miniaturisation for chemical analysis instruments

Over the past few decades, analytical instruments have shrunk in size dramatically whereas previous generations of spectrometers were large enough to fill rooms. Today, the majority of instruments have moved to the benchtop and, in some cases, into the hand. Last year one firm made an award-winning micro-ultraviolet–visible (UV–vis) spectrometer that was about the size of a fingertip. The miniaturization of analytical instruments has improved dramatically in recent years mainly because of the requirements in certain areas such as space, industrial, and environmental research. Portable laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is another important development in that direction. LIBS offers improved detection limits for light elements such as Mg, Al and Si. A LIBS instrument traveled to Mars as part of ChemCam on the Mars Science Laboratory Rover. Measurements by such devices on spacecrafts have significantly advanced cosmochemistry and helped in understanding more about outer space. The experimental results showed that LIBS is sensitive to minor compositional variations with depth and can correctly identify rock type even if the series of laser pulses does not penetrate to unweathered material. 

Research into miniaturization is primarily driven by the need to reduce the instrumental space and costs by reducing the consumption of expensive reagents and by increasing throughput and automation. Like other fields, analytical systems have also been affected by novel ideas and unprecedented advances in the microelectronics leading to miniaturization of different components in recent years.  

Potential of hand held devices in analytical instruments market  

With the focus of test equipment end users moving towards battery-operated instruments and integrated test equipment, the handheld/portable test equipment market is expected to witness technological changes and enhanced growth. Deployments across the world are expected to bolster the growth of portable/handheld test equipment. It is gaining momentum in critical applications such as military and aerospace due to their portability, ease of use, and instant results. Although the majority of the revenues are coming from field applications, portable instruments are expected to make inroads into R&D applications as a complementary product to existing benchtop instruments. Price pressure is severe in this market as the products are typically low-cost. It is even more severe in China, where there are several low-cost vendors competing with global vendors.

Metrohm AG acquired Snowy Range Instrument in USA to enter the market of Handheld Raman systems which has been further strengthened by acquisition of Innovative Photonic Solutions (IPS) and BW Tek both US based companies. IPS is the largest producer of Raman spectroscopy diode-based light components in the world supplying the majority of the OEMs in the marketplace. B&W Tek has developed into one of the worldwide leaders in handheld and compact Raman spectroscopy solutions. B&W Tek is also an industry-leading provider of LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) technology, NIR, and UV/VIS spectrometers and solutions. Now Metrohm is well poised to deliver best possible spectroscopy instruments which are either handheld or compact and can be used for analysis of various products. All these instruments can analyse the samples as and where it is rather than taking samples to Laboratory for analysis.

Hyphenated techniques impacting design & advancement of analytical instruments.

The term “hyphenation” was first adapted by Hirschfeld in 1980 to describe a possible combination of two or more instrumental analytical methods in a single run. The aim of this coupling is obviously to obtain an information-rich detection for both identification and quantification compared to that with a single analytical technique. In modern times now a days two or more than two different techniques are been combined so that better sensitivity and accuracy of test results can be obtained. For example, coupling of Liquid / Ion Chromatography with Mass Spectrometer or Liquid / Ion Chromatography with ICP – MS or a Titrator with Ion Chromatograph for complete water analysis.

While designing and developing of the new instruments / models the developing team now a days looks into few critical aspects like trying to design the instrument as miniature as possible so that it is easy to use for hyphenated techniques. The instruments should always have possibilities of interfacing with other instruments and hence the approach is towards open software, where we can integrate other make / model instruments. While designing care is taken for having inputs / output event lines for activation or accepting the command from other instruments. Virtually today all the instruments can be used in hyphenated mode which yester year would not have been possible. One of the example can be Titrator coupled with Protein estimation system where the Protein estimation system carries out the digestion and distillation and Titrator then estimates the protein content from the distilled sample. The entire workflow is carried out in one click.

For Chemical Industries due to hyphenated techniques the analysis has become much simpler. The chemists are able to get lot more analytical information, the analysis has become more sensitive, needs less time for analysis and is very specific. The chances of human errors have come down.

Digitalization shaping analytical instruments.

In the age of digitalization and Industry 4.0, scientific labs are also busily gearing up for the future. Laboratory 4.0 promises robotic systems and automation, full digitalization, a flexible, modular work environment, smart materials and functional surfaces. The growing complexity of laboratory processes, interdisciplinary collaboration and the growth of regulatory requirements are making lab scientists rethink the way they work. This applies in principle to every laboratory. The biggest time factor in the laboratory is manual labor. This is also where the majority of errors occur. Robotic systems and machines are the best tools for methodical screening, and they ensure a high degree of reproducibility. The laboratory world is changing. Against the background of increasing digitization, various processes and structures must be rethought for the laboratory of the future. Indispensable for the beginning of the new era are networked laboratory devices with intelligent and smart functions, complex holistic automation concepts and efficient interface solutions. In the age of personalization, the continuous availability of vast amounts of data places new demands on data handling and secure data storage.

Digitization has arrived in the laboratory, and with it, a paradigm shift is emerging. In the intelligent laboratory of the future, analyzers and measuring devices, sensors, processes and data are networked with each other. Automation and laboratory information management systems regulate and control this network. Such integration requires appropriate interfaces in hardware, electronics and software.

The devices must be able to communicate with one another via suitable network accesses and drivers for integrated laboratory automation systems. With the requirement of permanent availability, for example, with regard to remote control and remote maintenance, automation and needs-based networking solutions become indispensable.

Growth plans for the company.

At Metrohm India, we have a clear plan for our future growth. We have been growing double digit for the past decade and we hope to continue the same. We have realized that After Sales Support is one of the important criteria for our customers and our approach has been trying to have our offices closer to our customers so that we can serve them within 48 hours in case of any service requirements. Today, we have 12 offices all over India and another 12 home offices. Wherever possible we try to have our point of presence as a home office or full-fledged office and this becomes a necessity as soon as installation base of our instruments crosses 100 units in any city or vicinity. We plan to open a few more offices in the near future. Our Application Laboratory is exclusively used for customer support, trainings both internally and externally, feasibility studies before buying the instruments by the customer.

We plan to expand our portable and online instruments offering to the Chemical industry. All our instruments which our customers are using in their Labs can be automated or made online. We have a lot of hyphenated techniques to offer to our customers for complete automated analysis.

Metrohm AG has identified spectroscopy as one of the new areas where we will expand and already have taken over a few of the companies/products in this segment. We are sure that these new products can drive our growth and we can offer new instruments to Chemical Industries.

Thoughts on R&D and innovation for the company.

Metrohm has one-third of employees at headquarters engaged in R&D and has a great focus on development and innovation. The policy of Metrohm is not to patent any innovations so that when competitors try to introduce similar products, Metrohm will be forced to innovate. In our recent Titrator model, we have introduced many new innovations like no contact with any reagents of the chemist, monitoring of solvents, multiple titrations in one go (better efficiency) etc. The Handheld Raman instrument from Metrohm is truly handheld and weighs less than 750 gms. This allows mobility of the instrument. Metrohm has started a development center in India to specifically focus on requirements of India and Asia but where the instruments will be designed and developed for global supply and not only to India / Asia.

We have also instituted Metrohm Young Chemists Award for encouraging research in the field of Electrochemistry, Ion Chromatography and Titrations.

Collaborations with academic and research institutes

A large number of new Academic & Research Institutes like IIT’s, NIPER, IISERs, Central Universities, Private Universities and various other Institutions provide our company an ample opportunity to grow the business in this sector. Emphasis of the Government on Environmental issues also drives our business since we cater to this area with the help of instruments like Ion Chromatography, MARGA (Monitoring of Aerosols & Gases), hyphenated techniques like TitrIC (for complete water analysis), VoltIC (for Anions, Cations and Transition metals in Water and Waste Water), PILS-IC (for PM1; PM 2.5 and PM10 in aerosols). Other traditional areas and relatively new areas of research and where many Academic & Research Institutes are focused on are energy and energy storage, corrosion studies, environmental impact and climate change, non-conventional fuels etc. We cater to both basic and applied research and the segment of Academic & Research institute business contributes approximately 30 percent to our overall business and will increase in the range of 5 to 10 percent every year.

Having an edge over peers in the market.

Metrohm is always known for quality instruments which are very robust, sensitive and reliable. This is possible because Metrohm does not outsource any manufacturing activity and everything is made in-house including printed circuit boards and all the mechanical items. We have many customers who have been using our instruments for several years and many instances where instruments have worked for almost two decades. Metrohm instruments were always trendsetter and we were ahead of our competitors in terms of specifications, ease of handling and modern software. Coupled with this with our reliable after sales support, multiple offices and point of contact we have been able to maintain our major market share in India/Asia Pacific. Another aspect which we are well known is for providing spares and accessories for 7 years after products have been discontinued and new models being integrated with old models accessories. The new software can also be used along with the old models.

Challenges faced in the analytical instruments market.

Indian customers rely a lot on comfort level and personal rapport with the suppliers while procuring instruments in India. Still, it is difficult in India to have sales through alternative channels such as catalogs, mailers and websites etc. Indian customers are very demanding and during the process of procurement of instruments, look forward to receiving freebies like IQ/OQ/PQ, training, extended warranty or free service at the end of the warranty period etc.

However, in the overseas market, it is possible to have sales through these alternative channels and installation merely means to connect the instrument and run the standards to show that system functions as per expectations. All other services like IQ/OQ/PQ, training, extended warranty etc. are chargeable and the supplier makes almost 20 – 40 percent revenues through sales of these other offerings. In India, since all these are freebies have to be borne by the supplier, all the expenses eat into the profits. On top of this, the Indian customers expect high discounts on the quoted price, as a result of which at times the reputed companies either have to forego the order or work at low margins. As compared to global scenario the margins realized in India is much lower and customer expectations from supplier is quite high.

Indian customer is not only price sensitive but also demanding in terms of service requirements and after sales support.

Thus, it is important for companies plying in the Indian market to have adequate support structure to meet with the demanding requirements in Indian markets. It is important for the instrument suppliers to impart appropriate training to the customers on various aspects of supplied instruments such as, on time troubleshooting / preventive and routine service and method development etc. This requires the companies to hire and retain skilled and efficient manpower to provide, which is a challenge that most of the companies are facing presently. Hence, to achieve customer’s delight is a challenge for the Analytical Industry. Though quality is a critical aspect of manufacturing of instruments, however quality service and after sales support make the difference for the organizations to retain and regain their customers.

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