Working within our broader life science team, I feel lucky to be specialising in the lab equipment space. There seems to be a constant deluge of information, new technology and activity all over the world. The combination of technological advances, new markets, exciting products and brilliant people all combine to create a market that’s advancing faster than most.
So fast is the pace of change that it’s tough to make any sort of accurate predictions about what the future holds. So, in my quest to find out, I approached 3 leaders in the lab equipment market to see what they thought the future held. As luck would have it, they all messaged back!
Here’s what I found out.
Cannabis & Connectivity
Ryan Titmas is VP Sales – Americas for lab equipment manufacturer Gilson. He is excited about what the future holds, mentioning that scientists today are embracing more progressive technologies more than ever. He mentioned that scientists are beginning to leave their notebooks and pencils behind, in favour of IOT-enabled devices and cloud-based data management, with even simple lab instruments, like pipettes, becoming more connected.
Covering the Americas, one market he has seen, and continues to see, explosive growth in is the cannabis market. Regulations are changing across the US and more businesses are exploring the potential of this market, especially CBD. That means more action in labs and more demand for equipment as the green gold rush continues. The growth is accelerated by the fact that cannabis isn’t yet subjected to stringent Federal regulations, meaning more and more companies are “starting-up” to produce cannabinoid based products, with little resistance. (State specific of course) That means the demand for laboratory testing instrumentation, consumables, and services will continue to dynamically develop over the next years.
As demand for more robust tests on cannabinoids grows, such as purity and analysis of contaminates, tests are becoming more automated and easier to use, which means higher quality end products and higher speeds to market
Dirk Frese, VP Sales for Julabo USA, said that their growth in the US has been so rapid, it’s taken everyone by surprise, something he’s excited to see continue. Like Ryan, he referenced the cannabis market as one reason for this. The amount of companies clamouring to include CBND in their products means that there’s more interest than ever in the lab equipment needed to extract the chemical from the plants themselves.
That growth has also come within a restricted market. As cannabis is extremely limited by which state borders it can be transported across, things are far slower than they could be. When the shackles come off and legalisation becomes more widespread, the boom is only going to continue.
Dirk didn’t just attribute this market growth to cannabis though. He also spoke about how, with the advent of social media and platforms like Youtube, scientific knowledge has been democratised. This means that more people, and crucially businesses, have more of an interest in scientific processes, including in non-traditional settings.
As more and more people are realising the commercial value of the data provided by lab equipment, demand is only going to continue increasing. It could also see a rise in automation, as the equipment itself should be more accessible to those without traditional scientific expertise.
A Challenging Landscape
I received another take on the market from Debbie Segl. She’s VP Sales & Marketing for Scientific Industries Inc and spoke about the challenges that US companies are facing as a result of the booming international markets. For example, US businesses incur regulatory costs that European and Asian companies don’t which means margins are becoming tighter.
Add to this the fact that Asian products tend have cheaper labour and product costs and the global lab equipment space is set to become more competitive than ever. However, whilst price point is obviously a differentiator, Debbie also mentioned how important service quality was, and will continue to be.
That’s because, in a market where manufacturers are turning to channel sales and distributors on a more regular basis for increasingly complex products, communication is critical. As instruments become more precise and complex, manufacturers must be able to communicate to end users (i.e. researchers) exactly what their product will do, so as to avoid confusion. Whilst the distributor model is effective and often cost effective, effective communication of information is essential to stop disgruntled consumers. Tackling this will be a significant hurdle to overcome for some businesses.
To try and sum up, cannabis seems to be the topic on everyone’s lips. It’s a really interesting phenomenon in that it’s a product whose properties are exciting so many people outside the traditional scientific community, leading to an increased demand for testing equipment as the world tries to unlock it’s potential.
The feeling is that the world is currently in the starting blocks, itching for the gun to sound as it has in a few US states. When it does, the ensuing race and resultant demand is sure to be captivating to watch.
I was quite surprised that, whilst technology in this area is accelerating, everyone I spoke to seemed to think that we’re still a long way away from fully embracing digitalisation in the lab. Despite increasing technological capability, the consensus seems to be that the likes of AR and VR-enabled tech won’t be hitting the mainstream anytime soon.
Whilst the future can never be totally certain, what we can be sure of is the excitement that’s present in the market. Even the challenges of a more competitive global landscape add to this and it’s going to be interesting to see if there’s a continued ascendance by Asian businesses, or if the US market can stay competitive on price.
Pressures on labs have never been greater with problems including an ageing population, increased industry demand and higher global healthcare expenditure.