Technology Forum: Pittcon Trends

March 4, 2009

Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, Ocean Optics; Ian L. Shuttler, PerkinElmer Life and Analytical Sciences; Mark Grey, SPECTRO Analytical Instruments Inc; and Andrew Whitley, HORIBA Jobin Yvon, Inc.

The economic factors that may or may not affect Pittcon this year have been discussed at length and then discussed some more. So many may be asking: What about the science? Here, Spectroscopy examines what is at the core of Pittcon and looks at the trends that may emerge in the field of materials analysis.

Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, Ocean Optics; Ian L. Shuttler, PerkinElmer Life and Analytical Sciences; Mark Grey, SPECTRO Analytical Instruments Inc; and Andrew Whitley, HORIBA Jobin Yvon, Inc.

What type of instrumentation do you anticipate seeing at the show?

Morris: There are always a handful of new twists on familiar ideas that one can anticipate at Pittcon, but it would be a pleasant surprise to see a true breakthrough – something momentous. That said, we look forward to seeing novel approaches to laser-based systems and continued miniaturization of spectroscopy techniques other than UV-Vis. Also, I think you’ll see lots of attention given to the value proposition of products – i.e., less about what we call “speeds and feeds” – specifications – and more about the product as part of an overall application solution.

Shuttler: It is difficult to predict trends ahead of the meeting, we would be happier discussing what we think the trends are after the show! Then we have data, before all we have is a crystal ball gazing! Following on closely from the European Winter Plasma Conference, gives one a good indication of possible trends, especially with respect to the types of papers that might be presented. Currently, there appears to be little further development in optical design, detectors, or ion optics. However, we would expect to see increasing sample introduction and sample handling techniques presented. Most modern systems are very fast, the bottleneck today is the sample handling process.

Grey: The biggest trend in XRF over the past few years has been the rapid deployment of handheld systems. Initially, this market was primarily driven by the European Union's RoHS (Regulation of Hazardous Substances) regulations limiting metals such as Pb, Cd, Br, Cr, and Hg in consumer goods. More recently, we have seen several states and the CPSC take definitive action on lowering limits on hazardous substances in a wide variety of consumer goods. This regulatory pressure has driven manufacturers to produce XRF systems with lower levels of detection, and wider elemental coverage. My company has adopted a high performance silicon drift detector in it's new range of handhelds, and we expect to see other manufacturers do the same. This brings performance typically reserved for larger laboratory based XRF systems to the field.

In addition to the handheld XRF's improved performance, we expect to see growth in the area of small spot XRF systems. Like handheld, this area is growing due to RoHS (Regulation of Hazardous Substances) and WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directives. Using these tools, a customer can produce an elemental surface map of a circuit board, or do forensic determinations on small components. Small spot XRF is increasingly used in manufacturing quality control and final product inspections.

Whitley: For Raman along with XRF we expect to see a continued growth in handheld devices along with a general miniaturization of systems. This miniaturization includes microscopes both in terms of size and cost! Raman like FT-IR is moving out of the laboratory and in to the field and on to process lines. The exciting new area of transmission Raman is showing some real promise for applications like content uniformity in the pharmaceutical industry. This is not to say that Raman and FT-IR microscopy will not have a strong place in the laboratory on the contrary, especially for Raman on the back of very fast Raman mapping, the role of these techniques is increasing.

Also, lower cost and smaller devices like handheld units and smaller easier to use Raman microscopes. An increase in hyphenated Raman systems like Raman/AFM and Raman/SEM.

What trends do you think will be discussed in the sessions?

Morris: A quick glance at the preliminary program doesn’t reveal too many surprises, although you would expect to see more emphasis on research supporting in-the-headlines initiatives such as clean energy, alternative energy sources, and food safety. Also, I think folks are mindful that the U.S. government’s recent economic stimulus plan could yield new opportunities for the sciences.

Shuttler: We think there will be continued coverage of subjects such as speciation and in particular the application of LC and GC coupled with ICP-MS in the metallomics/proteomics world. This is an area of increasing activity. The area of femtosecond laser ablation coupled mainly with ICP-MS shows no signs of abating as a research topic.

Whitley: Transmission Raman will see increasing use because it ruggedizes the repeatibility of Raman measurements for process and quality control. Obviously there will be a lot of talk about Raman with respect to the proposed increase in research money for energy due its great applicability in the research of biofuel production, PV material development, and QC and catalysis research.

Do you expect to see a reduced turnout because of the global recession?

Morris: Historically, Chicago has been a good city for Pittcon, so this show will be a good test of the business climate in chemistry and spectroscopy in particular. My guess is that most folks who intended to go to the show will still make the trip, but that exhibitors will cut back on staff and drop-in visitor numbers could be affected as well. Even with the global recession, there are still many exciting and diverse opportunities in R and D and the industries it supports.

Shuttler: In the current economic situation, many companies will potentially be sending fewer people, or even not attending at all. However, in these challenging times my company remains focused on the continued investments in new product innovations, partnerships, and application development and Pittcon will see an array of new products and initiatives from us. While we recognize and appreciate the challenging current economic conditions, Pittcon is an important and well respected event in our industry and we find it useful to both launch new products, ensure media attention, and engage in many business-to-business discussions all in one week.

Grey:We do expect smaller crowds in Chicago, but we also believe the professionals attending the exhibits will be there to do serious fact finding. With smaller crowds, our technical experts will be able to do more in depth discussions and present more targeted solutions to interested parties. There may be lower attendance numbers, but we expect to stay busy throughout the conference.

Whitley:Absolutely, but the convenience of the internet in getting information is as large a factor as the recession in reducing turnout. Unfortunately, the impact of the stimulus money will probably be to late to increase turnout by a significant factor.

What do you think?

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