Whatever the industry, researchers and scientists in laboratories are certain to use analytical and laboratory instruments such as analyzers, balances, chillers, fume hoods, meters, mixers/stirrers and spectrometers in their work. Researchers and laboratory managers are likely to ask several questions before selecting or purchasing this equipment, however. They want to know how efficient, cost-effective, reliable and easy to use the tools on the market are. R&D Magazine recently surveyed its readers to discover the types of analytical and laboratory instruments they commonly use, whether they are satisfied with the current technology and what features or functions can be improved.
What technologies or laboratory instruments do respondents typically use? The answers and technologies varied. Topping the list were meters/monitors (86%), balances (84%), fume hoods (82%) and mixers/stirrers/shakers (81%). These are closely followed by vacuum technology (79%), chillers/freezers (79%), detectors (78%), spectrometers (75%) and analyzers (74%). These technologies emphasize the importance of safety for either technicians in laboratories or the samples they intend to use, as well as the accuracy of sample results. How much improvement is needed for the above-mentioned technologies? Many respondents cited needed improvements for current analyzers, detectors, imaging systems, meters/monitors and spectrometers. Biological safety cabinets (65%), incubators (66%) and genomics/proteomics equipment (62%), reigned as the equipment that needed no improvements according to the respondents.
Respondents cited that performance was the overall greatest improvement needed in current laboratory equipment offerings. About one-third of the respondents noted performance issues with analyzers, detectors, fume hoods, imaging systems, meter/monitors and spectrometers. About one-third of the readers cited cost issues with laboratory automation and robotics systems, imaging systems and fume hoods, adding their observation that cost drives everything in a laboratory setting. About one-third of readers cited that spectrometers on the market also face accuracy issues.
With the need for improvement highlighted, what improvements were made over the past three years to this equipment? Around one-third of the respondents claim performance enhancements were made to analyzers, detectors, imaging systems and laboratory automation and robotics, possibly showing a trend that these improvements were incremental as these technologies still suffer in this category. Very few readers, under 20%, cited cost and accuracy changes in any technology, with analyzers (22%) showing the highest increase in accuracy and laboratory automation and robotics (15%) showing the greatest cost decrease.
So where do our readers see the most growth in laboratory equipment in the next three years? Many respondents noted size as a factor, hoping to see more tabletop and portable instruments as laboratory space is valuable and more testing is done outside the laboratory. Along with this, respondents see more networked data transmission and envision the trend to eliminate stand-alone systems without data collection.
Automation is another area respondents believe will improve, with the hope to reduce or eliminate the variable of human error. This is especially true of genomics and proteomics equipment; many respondents asked for automation of protein purification and proteomics technology and next-generation genome sequencing technology with higher accuracy.
As seen in previous results, cost reduction of current technologies will continue to drive use. Less expensive systems are on the horizon that will enable novice personnel to use techniques that formerly required expensive equipment and specialized training, according to survey respondents. This was noted for x-ray analysis, spectrometers, surface analysis technology and microscopes.
Other respondents believe more microfluidics-based technology will replace the complex components in today’s chromatography and analyzer equipment.
The increasing pressure to produce more with less has today’s laboratories looking for equipment that is easy to operate on a daily basis. These solutions are expected to meet regulatory requirements and methods and meet the incoming needs of laboratory technicians. Today’s laboratories are willing to spend more money for the right automated solution. Touchscreen interfaces are replacing keypads on instruments, and more built-in automation options help tests automatically without operator involvement.
The automation that is possible with next-generation laboratory equipment enables more tests to be performed in less time, freeing up the laboratory technicians to tend to additional responsibilities. “Secure access guarantees that instrument operators will perform only those tests that are required for specific applications,” says Brookfield Engineering Laboratories, Mddleboro, Mass.
New regulatory requirements such as RoHS have added complexity for instrument design, says Cynthia Cai, Sr. Dir. of Marketing for GC, GC/MS, Agilent Technologies Inc., Santa Clara, Calif. “A company’s ability to implement application knowledge into solution design and effectively deliver this knowledge to customers challenges the complete value chain, which includes vendor’s after sales application support.”
As far as growth, Cai says there will be a continued demand for application-specific turnkey solutions, as well as laboratory informatics, to streamline the use of information. Laboratory systems will also move to the field or at least have better correlation with mobile measurement systems.