We surveyed more than 300 engineers and business managers in the life sciences instrument industry and followed up the survey with individual interviews. The key takeaways from that investigation identify the pressures on the industry and point to future directions for instrument makers, users and partners.
Takeaway #1: Cost is king.
Both technical and business decision-makers are keenly concerned with the bill of materials cost of their instruments and will continue to use component cost as a key decision-making factor. However, there is also a growing recognition that getting products to market more quickly is of great value and partners that can take on subsystem-level engineering to assist both the internal and outsourced engineering teams bring value. Finally, being able to shorten the quality and regulatory segments of projects can have even greater impact than the design cycle.
Takeaway #2: Automation is a critical element for the future of all in vitro diagnostics.
The adoption and optimization of automation will continue to expand. In addition to all of the cost-focused reasons driving automation in the life sciences market, we picked up on some other key values from the survey results and some follow-on interviews:
- Sample integrity - In end user interviews, this value consistently provided the most emotionally charged responses.
- Process consistency - This value is consistent with other industries, due to variations that human interaction can introduce.
- Technician safety - By separating the technician from the samples and reagents, automation enhances technician safety, which is arguably the most critical aspect of any instrument.
Takeaway #3: Disruptive technologies are shaking things up.
Disruptive technologies can either be scary or exciting, depending on how the disruption is going to drive your business. Both lab-on-a-chip and nanopore technologies reduce the need for robotics, but they increase the technical demands on micro-fluidics. The Internet of Things (IoT) and on-instrument Big Data engines are areas of concern for both instrument users and developers. The most commonly expressed concerns had to do with device security and patient data security.
Takeaway #4 - Instrument buyers are demanding higher performance.
Although the life sciences instruments market continues to be very cost-sensitive, there are growing opportunities to provide value because of the demand for enhanced performance. For example, higher accuracy is particularly important to some applications in microscopy and spectroscopy. In many applications that are not constrained by biological processing times, speed is a real driver for reduced costs. Other applications demand the ability to handle changes in loading and a motion system that can react to these changes without missing steps or going into resonance. Finally, there is a growing desire for visibility into the status of samples at all times in the process, which requires a growing level of intelligence.
Takeaway #5: Engineering resources are under tremendous conflicting pressures.
The number of engineers available to work on new projects and the desired time to market for new products are both shrinking. At the same time, the number of instruments required is growing, as are the compliance requirements to get an instrument to market. These conflicting pressures put greater stress on the resources and teams working to get instruments to market. Although these teams are being supplemented by outside design and manufacturing resources, communication is a challenge, which can add to the pressure to get everything done.
View survey takeaways as a webinar:
Article contributed by Brian Handerhan, Business Development Manager for Electromechanical Division North America, Automation Group, Parker Hannifin Corporation.