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April 8, 2002
Volume 80, Number 14
CENEAR 80 14 pp. 23-25
ISSN 0009-2347
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Pittsburgh Conference navigates choppy waters as the instrument industry confronts change


8014pittcon2002Does Pittcon have the blahs? Or is it the blues? Or maybe it's just a change of life? It's hard to know for sure.

But consider this: Pittcon 2002--the 53rd annual Pittsburgh Conference & Exposition on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy--lumbered into New Orleans three weeks ago and attracted only 23,319 attendees. That's down 6.6% from last year and a whopping 31.6% below the peak-attendance year of 1996, when 34,079 people crowded into the conference in Chicago. Attendance figures have fallen almost every year since 1996, and they haven't been this low since 1985.

Hidden within this year's attendance figure is another troubling trend: Slightly more than half of the attendees were exhibitors.

The number of exhibiting companies--1,144--was down 7.7% from last year and down 10.6% from 2000, when a record 1,280 companies exhibited their wares.

On the exhibition floor, Pittcon 2002 seemed to some observers to be more subdued and blander than in years past. Fewer attention-getting ploys were visible, and many of these were retreads from previous years.

Nevertheless, Rita M. Windisch, president of this year's show, was extremely upbeat about the exposition. She pointed out that the number of conferees (nonexhibitors) actually was up from last year. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, attendance at many trade shows plummeted by 20 to 50%, she told C&EN. That Pittcon came away with only a 7% decline is "remarkable," she said. "I was relieved and pleasantly surprised at how well we did."

Even so, Windisch admitted that "everybody's concerned" about the show's slumping attendance over the longer term: "It's a sign of our economy."

Indeed, a recent trade show survey of 40 companies revealed that one-third had cut their 2002 exhibition budgets by up to 35%. Only two respondents said they planned to increase their budgets.

There is a bright side, however. At this year's Pittcon, exhibitors told C&EN that, although the number of sales leads was down, the leads were of higher quality--that is, these were potential customers who were more focused, more interested in learning about a particular product, and hence more likely to buy.

On another positive note, the Pittcon technical program seems to be stronger than ever. The number of technical papers and poster presentations has been climbing for many years, and this year a record 2,547 presentations were listed in the program. That's 11% higher than last year's record. In addition to the more traditional analytical topics, technical sessions addressed combinatorial chemistry, genomics and proteomics, nanotechnology, and detection of terrorist weapons.

AS ALWAYS, exhibitors at Pittcon unveiled novel technologies; introduced new or enhanced products; celebrated company anniversaries; and announced recent partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions--and even new advertising slogans. Behind the scenes, instrument companies this year waged an unprecedented publicity blitz using e-mail, trying to entice reporters and editors to come to their booths and to numerous, sometimes overlapping press events.

Whether Pittcon is out of sorts or not, it is definitely changing, along with the greater community of analytical instrument vendors and users. This changing landscape was the focus of three talks given at the Pittsburgh Conference Breakfast, hosted by Centcom, the company that manages advertising in C&EN and other American Chemical Society publications. This being the 25th anniversary of the perennial event, Centcom President James A. Byrne put together a special program featuring one veteran Pittcon breakfast speaker and two editors whose publications have long covered Pittcon.

The veteran was K.C. Warawa, president of K.C. Associates, a market research firm specializing in high technology, particularly analytical instrumentation. In her third appearance behind the podium at a Centcom breakfast, Warawa surveyed the changing marketplace. Using data from various sources and studies, she explained how customers, information sources, and services are changing.

Warawa noted, for example, that in the pharmaceutical industry, fewer new therapeutic drugs are entering the market, and $35 billion in sales--more than 10% of the prescription drug market--is threatened by expiring patents. In 2000, generic drugs already accounted for 47% of prescription units, and that figure is expected to rise. Because of this, she said, the pharmaceutical industry needs to find faster ways to bring drugs to market. High-throughput methods and new technologies should help.

8014sci1.robotIn recent years, she noted, there has been "a dramatic change" in the number of people accessing the Internet. In a 1996 study, 22% of respondents had access to the Internet both at home and at work, while 34% had no access. A similar study earlier this year found only 2% had no access at all, while 82% could get on the Internet both at home and at work. Instrument users are finding the Internet "very useful," she noted, for locating information such as troubleshooting tips and part numbers for replacement parts, consumables, and accessories.

In the past, Warawa observed, "the reader service card was king." Today, researchers check print advertising and product catalogs, but they also have a new, more efficient option for finding information: visiting the manufacturer's website.

Services are changing as well, and they need to change, Warawa said. Sales begin to fall off during the maturity stage of the product life cycle, so vendors want to extend this stage to increase profits. They can do this, she suggested, by providing customers with more service and support.

Another breakfast speaker - James F. Ryan, editor of the ACS publications Today's Chemist At Work and Modern Drug Discovery--took his listeners on a quick tour of the history of analytical chemistry and how it has changed society. He focused on the development of analytical instruments during the past 50 years or so. During this period, Ryan observed, detection limits have steadily been driven lower and lower. In the 1950s, analysts worked at the gram and milligram levels. "In the past 10 or 15 years," he said, "we've gone down to picograms and femtograms and even, in certain kinds of analyses, to attograms [10–18 g]."

Detection of trace metals has improved from parts-per-million levels to parts-per-trillion and even parts-per-quadrillion levels, he noted. New analytical techniques have had to be developed to achieve these lower detection limits. Environmental concerns and the growth of government regulations have driven many of these advances.

Now we find ourselves in the age of genomics and proteomics, Ryan observed. With technologies such as high-performance liquid chromatography, analysts are learning how to measure proteins at the 50-attomole level--a factor of 50,000 times lower than can be routinely achieved with a two-dimensional gel.

One of the factoids that one hears, he said, is that all the therapeutic drugs on the market target only 400 proteins, while each of our cells manufactures 10,000 proteins every day. So this would suggest that there are opportunities for further investigations, "if we could just get down to the point where we could see those proteins and begin to understand what they do."

Ryan concluded his talk by making a very safe prediction that "the analytical industry will continue to provide instruments that routinely and reproducibly generate data at low detection limits with automated technologies."

PEERING INTO the future is what many Pittcon breakfast speakers traditionally have done, and this year another speaker at the event reminded everyone of that. Relying on back issues of the newsmagazine she leads, C&EN Editor-in-Chief Madeleine Jacobs surveyed some of the predictions that have taken flight at the previous Centcom-sponsored breakfasts at Pittcon. "And before you head for the doors," she said preemptively, aware that past breakfast speakers were in the audience, "let me assure you that your prognostications were amazingly on target."

Showcasing memorable quotations from industrial, academic, and other notables, Jacobs pointed out that speakers correctly predicted seven major factors that have had the biggest impact on the instrument business: the business cycle, innovation, growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, increasing regulations, automation, the genomics revolution, and globalization.

In addition, Jacobs presented data from various sources that delineate recent trends. For example, R&D spending as a percentage of sales in the chemical, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries over the past decade has been declining, she observed. "And that says a lot about innovation in companies." Capital spending as a percentage of sales also is declining, as is industrial employment in chemicals and allied products. But employment in drug manufacturing is going up slowly, she noted. "That's really just about the only good news you're going to see in these slides."

Continuing with the bad news, she showed how the chemical trade balance in the U.S. has been falling. "They're predicting now that in 2002, for the first time in memory," the balance of trade may be negative, she said.

"The really depressing slide," in Jacobs' view, was one showing how chemical industry sales (based on a group of 25 chemical firms that have long been tracked by C&EN) had declined all through 2001. Earnings in each quarter of last year also were way down compared with the year-earlier quarter.

The silver lining, though, is that a number of indicators suggest that the overall recession that started in March 2001 "may very well be over," she noted, adding that the economy should pick up in 2002, although we may not see any significant growth in the chemical industry until 2003.

Those seven factors impacting the instrument business are still in play, Jacobs said. And she harked back to what one breakfast speaker said in 1980: "These are turbulent times--times to make economists shake in their boots." That, too, still applies, Jacobs suggested.

Though it wasn't said for the first time at a Pittcon breakfast, one could conclude that the more things change, the more they remain the same.


And The Winners Of The 2002 Pittcon Editors' Awards Are ...

Hollywood studios sometimes go to great lengths and expense to promote their Oscar contenders, hoping to sway the people whose votes decide which films get the coveted Academy Awards. A touch of that kind of self-promotional mania surfaced this year at the Pittsburgh Conference with regard to the Pittcon Editors' Awards.

These awards--at the gold, silver, and bronze levels--are bestowed each year on the best new products, as judged in an informal poll of journalists and editors covering the conference. With hundreds of new products being exhibited at Pittcon every year, the Editors' Awards represent an effort to develop "a consensus view" of the most newsworthy products, says Gordon Wilkinson, a consultant editor toInstrumenta,a newsletter that covers the global analytical instrument and lab equipment industries. Wilkinson is a prime mover behind the awards.

The awards apparently have become prestigious enough that informatics vendor Thermo LabSystems took the unprecedented step of plastering the cover of its Pittcon press kit with a prominent sticker that explicitly asked the recipient to vote for eRecordManager for the Pittcon Editors' Awards.

BRAINCHILD JEOL's Jun Tamura shows off the award-winning instrument he designed, the AccuTOF mass spectrometer for LC-MS analysis.
There's no way to know for sure whether that ploy was responsible, but eRecordManager did win the Gold Award, tying for first place with a new product from Jobin Yvon, a division of Japan's Horiba Group.

Thermo LabSystems (a Thermo Electron company) touts eRecordManager as a revolutionary new approach for the archiving and management of analytical data. The system, developed jointly with Thermo Galactic, reads and stores more than 150 analytical data file formats that have been used to store all kinds of chromatographic and spectral data. It stores the original data file while also automatically converting it into XML (extensible markup language), a platform-neutral format. "Data can be retrieved with no reliance on the original data system, operating system, and hardware," the company points out.

The software thus enables organizations that generate and use analytical data to comply with new regulations mandated by the Food & Drug Administration. These regulations, known as 21 CFR Part 11, deal with the requirement for secure archiving and the ability to retrieve records in the future.

But beyond that, eRecordManager makes it easier to mine, visualize, share, and compare data from different sources, according to Thermo LabSystems. Data obtained on many older systems, including systems that ran on computers that are no longer being produced, can be given "a new lease on life" by being incorporated into eRecordManager, explains Kevin Smith, the firm's director of electronic record management.

The other new product to receive a Gold Award is a combined dispersive Raman and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) microscope called the LabRam-IR. Developed by Jobin Yvon in collaboration with SensIR Technologies, the LabRam-IR "is the first instrument to offer both Raman and FTIR microscopy in an affordable combination system," according to its developers.

The new system consists of a compact FTIR module from SensIR that can be combined with any of the Raman microscopes that Jobin Yvon offers under its LabRam brand name "without compromising the Raman performance," Jobin Yvon says. The Raman and FTIR measurements are made at the same location on the sample, "eliminating the need to transfer the sample from one system to another and then trying to relocate the measurement point," according to SensIR.

The combination of Raman and FTIR spectroscopy in one instrument allows the analyst to access essentially the full range of vibrational transitions, down to 50 cm–1 or less in the Raman. (The lower limit for FTIR usually is around 600 cm–1.)

Garnering the Silver Award was the HR-US 101 high-resolution ultrasonic spectrometer from Ultrasonic Scientific, based in Dublin, Ireland. This instrument, which is intended for the nondestructive analysis of liquids and complex colloids, uses ultrasonic waves to probe the elasticity and viscosity of samples. These characteristics are extremely sensitive to intermolecular interactions, allowing the instrument to analyze a broad range of molecular processes that are difficult or impossible to measure using other techniques, according to the company.

The spectrometer can be used to determine the concentrations of sample components, transition temperatures, enzymatic activities, sizes of particles in suspensions and emulsions, kinetics of chemical and physical processes in materials, binding stoichiometries and affinities, and other parameters. These types of measurements can be carried out in samples that are optically opaque--a boon to scientists who have been struggling with the problem of analyzing nontransparent samples, says Alan Hulme, director of business development at Ultrasonic Scientific.

Ultrasonic analysis is an established technique, but Hulme claims that the new spectrometer can achieve previously unattained levels of resolution (down to 10–5% for ultrasonic velocity). The sample size is typically 1 mL, but the instrument also can handle samples as small as 30mL.

The Bronze Award went to JEOL's AccuTOF time-of-flight mass spectrometer for liquid chromatography analyses. The company says it is the first mass spectrometer that enables one to accurately measure the mass of analytes present at both low and high concentrations. Typically, analysts have been limited to working within a narrow concentration range to obtain an accurate mass measurement. The AccuTOF's high, linear dynamic range breaks through that limitation, JEOL says, expanding the applications for mass analysis in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology sectors.

The new instrument is ideal for measuring the mass of trace components. It offers mass accuracy better than 5 ppm, a resolving power greater than 6,000, highly stable tuning and calibration, and single-peak drift correction. Furthermore, the AccuTOF's full-scan sensitivity is an order of magnitude greater than that of magnetic sector or quadrupole mass spectrometers, according to JEOL.

The four award-winning products were selected from a total of 21 valid nominations--a larger number of nominated products than last year, according to Wilkinson. That suggests that innovation continues to be a driving force in the analytical instrument industry.

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