Wavelength Tech Forum: FT-IR/NIR

September 11, 2008

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of FT-IR/NIR and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Alan Rein, Vice President, Business Development, from A2 Technologies; Paul A. Wilks, President, from Wilks Enterprise, Inc.; and Dr. Simon Nunn, Director of Marketing, Molecular & Microanalysis, from Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The techniques of FT-IR/NIR - and consequently, the market surrounding them - continue to grow by leaps and bounds. As new applications are discovered and existing applications are perfected and made more accessible, the future of these techniques is brighter than ever.

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of FT-IR/NIR and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Alan Rein, Vice President, Business Development, from A2 Technologies; Paul A. Wilks, President, from Wilks Enterprise, Inc.; and Dr. Simon Nunn, Director of Marketing, Molecular and Microanalysis, from Thermo Fisher Scientific.

How would you describe the state of FT-IR/NIR technology right now? Is it growing into more application areas? Contracting?

Rein: a. In traditional applications (qa/qc, analytical, research) FT-IR is growing at a slow, steady pace.

b. In applications that bring FT-IR technology to new markets and to a new type of user, growth is more significant.

c. So-called "low-end" FT-IR (from a pricing perspective) will show good growth because it opens the technology to new users.

Wilks: It is relatively stable with most of the new applications for IR analysis being filled by infrared filtometers.

Nunn: FT-IR technology was widely considered mature but the last few years have seen new directions in spectroscopic hardware and software technology. Some have more immediately obvious benefits than others to either manufacturer or user - this seems to be based on whether they are pulled by an application or pushed by a technology. Whereas technology advances once were driven by the research end of molecular spectroscopy, the past ten years has seen the rise of the practical and routine age of FT-IR. The most meaningful have been those that package a solution to a particular application or in those in which we take a hard look at the old way of doing an analysis and innovating around a better way. One of our recent examples is replacing the tedious manual process of identifying unknown mixture components with an intelligent software engine that does the work for you. This innovation benefits a majority of the analytical FT-IR market by replacing an old approach with a new one; it also increases the value of spectral databases dramatically for these users.

In the case of NIR technology, much of the growth is coming in the out-of-the lab arena where testing is moving closer to where the data is actually needed. The concept of lab-to-line is real and now can be actually described as lab-to-line-to-field. While advances in sampling hardware and NIR "Engines" continues, NIR's role in process understanding and control is also paramount.

Many new FT-IR instruments were introduced at Pittcon this year, several of which are handheld. What impact are devices such as these having on homeland security applications?

Rein: There were three hand-held FT-IR's introduced at Pittcon. Two of them are aimed at homeland defense. How the hand-held FT-IRs are positioned, how they perform, how easy they are to use in a challenging environment and their overall ability to provide information will define their level of acceptance by the Homeland Defense community.

Wilks: Homeland security is one of the best for FT-IR because it is best suited for unknown materials identification.

Nunn:Handheld technology is now available for multiple molecular techniques as well as for many of the analytical chemistry techniques today - this is an exciting development with a lot of promise for analysis outside of the laboratory. Robust portable FT-IR has been available for homeland security applications for a number of years complete with appropriate spectral databases. The technique saw explosive growth in the years following 9/11 in many U.S. government agencies planning for emergency response and threat assessment.

What are some of the advantages of using FT-IR?

Rein: Speed, reliability, capability to tackle a wide range of applications, the ability to analyze a broad range of materials, and the ability to identify specific fundamental bonds are some advantages of using FT-IR.

Wilks: FT-IR advantages are versatility and ease of sampling.

Nunn: FT-IR's advantages come from its excellent ability to fingerprint organic materials at the molecular level and the broad availability of spectral databases. While it can verify and quantify materials, FT-IR is principally used to identify small amounts of unknown materials in the lab, the plant, or the field. Sampling accessories have evolved to the point where a great many materials are run without preparation and software has facilitated use by non-chemists.

What is the FT-IR/NIR application that you see growing the fastest? Why?

Rein: a. Production analysis and monitoring, incoming raw material inspection, etc.

b. Anytime technology works, is priced correctly and can be tied to rapid return on investment, growth usually follows.

Wilks: The fastest growing application for infrared in general is related to biofuels but this market is being mostly filled by infrared filtometers.

Nunn: There are a number of areas that are seeing growth based on economic trends and global issues. Energy and green initiatives, product counterfeiting and safety, and manufacturing process and yield optimization are all examples of impact areas today with many FT-IR and NIR applications within them. We are seeing new applications and working to provide new solutions that are generating new growth of both FT-IR and NIR market spaces.

What are the prospects for FT-IR/NIR for biomedical applications?

Rein: Don't know - the time and efforts of a fair number of very bright people have been spent trying to get FT-IR/NIR into biomedical applications, but I'm not sure that there has been commensurate acceptance, to date. A work in progress, I'd say.

Wilks: The market for all types of infrared instruments in the biomedical field will grow steadily. Other key markets for infrared in general are food processing, enviromental analysis i.e. polutants in soil, and air and process monitering.

Nunn: The speed of sampling and ability to differentiate between most organic compounds without the need for preparation or work-up that have made FT-IR and NIR indispensable lab techniques have driven significant interest in their potential for biomedical applications. Early cancer detection and non-invasive blood glucose monitoring are two key examples. However, these examples demonstrate that the inherent complexity of biological systems limits the deployment of either FT-IR or NIR as diagnostic tools. Thus, most biomedical applications are very much of interest, but as yet unrealized.

What do you think?

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