K V Venugopalan showsway ‘Make In India’ concept be successful

K V Venugopalan shows the way for ‘Make In India’ concept to be successful

11:31 AM, 16th June 2016
K V Venugopalan shows the way for ‘Make In India’ concept to be successful
K V Venugopalan, President, Waters India.

In an interview K V Venugopalan, President, Waters India with Shivani Mody, Editor, Chemical Today magazine, talks about technology, trends, instrument design innovations and future potential in the analytical industry.

How does Waters India plan to shape its growth trajectory in the future?

In the last 25 years, Waters has become one of the strongest analytical organisations in the country. We will continue to focus on ensuring customer success via two main strategies: By designing innovative products that give better and faster results, increases productivity and reduces cost. And by focusing on analytical instruments, particularly the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)- which is the most intensive support equipment in any analytical laboratory, and mass spectrometry. Being one of the emerging technologies, expertise in this area is limited. As leaders for these products globally as well as in India, we provide customers with high-level support and ensure maximum returns on their investment.

What are the trends in analytical technologies and in what ways will the dynamics of this technology change the future?

There is major potential for innovations both in liquid chromatography (LC) and mass spectrometry. Over the years, the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) systems have seen incremental improvement in performance. Making a quantum jump in this area, Waters researched and introduced the product called ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC). It is usually believed that any major technology breakthrough happens typically in 30 years. But we have managed this in a shorter time frame. Feedback and suggestions from customers helped us understand their challenges and based on their insights, we have introduced different variants since the launch of UPLC system. Recently, we introduced another version of the UPLC called the Acquity Arc system. It is a modern LC system for scientists who are looking for the versatility and robustness required to bridge the gap between HPLC and UPLC while continuing to support validated assays.  Another aspect here is that mass spectrometry is mostly used for research in academic and government institutions, and by some organisations in the pharmaceuticals and food safety industry. Waters is currently looking to bring mass spectrometry from research labs to clinical laboratories and operation theatres. Last year, Waters introduced a product called ‘intelligent knife’ or ‘i knife’- which is a mass spectrometry device for real-time diagnostics during surgery. Surgeons can

use the ‘i knife’ to make exact fine cuts during cancer surgery. We are working towards further refining the technology. It is possible that in the future, mass spectrometry will became an easy to use, more accurate, cost-effective clinical tool.

We also have huge scope for development in the area of Informatics. Every equipment produces huge amount of data which needs to be managed and converted into knowledge. This is a crucial task for organisations. We introduced Waters Empower, one of the most widely used chromatographic data system in the world. Even our competitors are using the software, as it is regulatory compliant, helps increase productivity of the lab and guarantees accurate results. We also have a new software, UNIFI, that actually integrates the chromatography, mass spectrometry as well as the scientific data management software as a single software. This will give users greater ability to control almost all major vendor instruments.

In the field of liquid chromatography,what are the trends in terms of instruments and column sizes?

In the HPLC, the column contains the chromatographic packing material that is used to effect a separation. It must withstand back pressure created both during manufacturing and in use. The result of the chromatography performance is also based on the packing materials used in the column. When Waters initially introduced HPLC, we used to have 10 microns irregular particle sizes. Over the years, the particle sizes have reduced up to 3.5 microns. This poses a big challenge because as the particle size reduces, the backpressure in the column increases and the HPLC systems were not designed to handle that kind of back pressure. We needed an altogether new design for the equipment. That is when Waters introduced columns that could support a particle size of 1.7 micron and handle high pressure, a UPLC system can go up to 18,000 psi (pressure measurement) while a typical HPLC can normally go up to 5,000 psi or 6,000 psi. We have to our credit the introduction of the first UPLC system that can go up to 18,000 PSI. Probably we have reached the optimum level of the column and particle size and the back pressure that can be commercially used in the laboratory. We also have to consider the packing materials and additional costs while planning for new equipment design. With our latest UPLC systems, we can provide best-in-class solutions to chromatographers that can give ten times faster results, while allowing nearly three times more sensitivity. As pioneers of the UPLC systems, we believe it is a major breakthrough, but five years from now, we definitely expect a new technology.  

In this age of automation, organisations seek products that are easy to use, automatic and user- friendly. How is your company meeting this demand?

Today, the number of systems used in a company has increased and they are looking for uninterrupted 24 X 7 operations, reliability and repeatability of accurate results. However, finding qualified resources to operate these systems has become a tedious task. Hence, nowadays the thrust is on having instruments that are easy to use and operate. Additionally, cost is also an important factor. For instance, a company may plan for a 30 percent growth strategy but this does not include investment in more people or instruments. This suggests that productivity of people and equipment needs to be improved - which is a challenge as well as an opportunity for automation techniques. As a solution, we came up with Alliance system, wherein an operator can load 120 samples in the evening, before leaving work and put it in an automatic mode. The next morning the operator can directly take the results, thus saving time.   The instrument does not need any supervision as long as the system is set up properly. In the UPLC systems, the number of samples loaded can go up to hundreds or more. If samples are prepared and loaded properly the entire day’s operation can be conducted automatically thereby reducing the dependency on people and expertise. Any person with fundamental understanding of chromatography and chemistry can operate the systems.

Training has become a key differentiator for manufacturers. Also manufacturers are increasingly using the e-learning tools for training sessions. How important is e-learning facility for Waters?

Training is an important factor in today’s times. Subjects, such as mass spectrometry and chromatography which is commonly used in the industry nowadays is not a part of college curriculum. As opposed to this, the industry requirement is high. For instance, Waters sells more than 4,000 systems every year and we need almost 1,000 chromatographers. But we hardly find 1,000 trained chromatographers for the job while also dealing with high level of attrition.

To overcome this challenge, we started conducting liquid chromatography sessions in colleges and even hold training sessions at our corporate office in Bangalore and other cities as well. However, while the day-to-day requirements are increasing, customers are unable to spare chemists for 2 or 3 days at a stretch. To address this concern, we introduced the e-learning facility which offers more than 100 different courses. People can take up these courses on their own time, from the convenience of their homes. On completion of the course and clearing the online test, people receive a certificate which is mandatory for operators working in regulated sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry.

In the current economic scenario, which are some of the sectors that have potential in the coming years?

We envision the pharma industry as one of the biggest growth drivers. Considering the current per capita consumption of pharmaceutical products in India compared to that of the developed countries, we have a long way to go. Apart from the domestic consumption we have a good market for exports. In fact, almost 50 percent of what we manufacture is exported and even that is on the rise. The next major opportunity is the food safety sector. While the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has brought clarity in the standards, the government too is keen to invest in this sector. We foresee large scale investments in establishing world-scale laboratories across the country as well as upgrading some of the existing laboratories.With this, the academic investments in these sectors will also see a major boost. Besides these, chemical industries, dyes, polymers and petroleum, are some of the other areas that have growth opportunity in the country.

Being present in Bengaluru – the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India, what scope does this industry offer to entrepreneurs who are into software development?

In the pharmaceutical or the food safety industry, software developers can look into product development by understanding the challenges and requirements for these industries. Both the pharma and food sectors are regulated markets so any product that they use needs to have regulatory compliance and follow certain standards. The entry barriers are higher in these cases. Similarly,our customers need many specific products to meet their challenges. Here, software developers can interact with pharmaceutical or food safety companies, understand their needs and finally create specific packages applicable for them. At Waters India software development centre, part of our work is done in-house while the rest is outsourced. We have a team of nearly 50 software developers working closely with our research facilities in the UK and the US.

As president of Indian Analytical Instruments Association (IAIA), what message would you convey to youngsters?

The analytical industry is one of the smallest segments in India- probably between $1.5 - 2 billion. But it is one of the most crucial industries. Today 95 percent of the analytical instruments are imported in India. There is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to ‘Make in India.’ Since high-level technology is needed for development, there is a necessity for entrepreneurs, government and organisations such Waters to jointly brainstorm and invest in creating the appropriate environment. The need of the hour is for all stakeholders to create an infrastructure where modern equipment are manufactured locally, making the country self-sufficient in manufacturing analytical instruments.

© Chemical Today Magazine

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