Gus Salem said smaller instruments for specific analysis could allow the testing to come to the sample rather than the other way around.
“Today, a lot of the instrumentation that is developed, is developed as a large format instrument, it is on a bench, it requires a highly sophisticated user and that central laboratory philosophy where samples are collected in a field and then sent to a lab has been well served by that,” he told FoodQualityNews at Analytica 2016.
“We see an evolutionary perspective where you are going to need to have smaller instruments very dedicated to specific analytical questions, perhaps allowing you to bring them into the field and the testing at the point of the sample, rather than conversely.
“The microfluidics technologies that allow you to do multiple steps of a chemical reaction traditionally done in multiple instruments in one device, in one small microfluidic card, something the size of an iPhone, is critical to the evolution of that.”
Three industry drivers
IDEX Health & Science showed its expanded portfolio of fluidic and optical technologies; driven by the integration of Semrock and Melles Griot, and acquisition of CIDRA Precision Services last year.
The group is a result of a series of acquisitions by Idex Corporation of brands and component technologies that are used in analytical instrumentation.
“The other component is that everything that is being done today in either RNA, DNA or protein or genetic analysis for a lot of these food applications requires fluorescence detection,” said Salem.
“So the fact that our group has both the microfluidics technology and all of the elements of optical system development around fluorescence allows us to design and bring these technologies together.”
Salem said there are three dimensions which continually change, rarely all at the same time.
“One is throughput, so one of the major demands is how can I get more out of a single sample or how can I get more samples out of a single instrument or user,” he said.
“The second has been sensitivity, how do I see more and more so that I can start to identify problems earlier in the evolution of the problem and the third is in form factor, size, this conversation of miniaturization.
“As one advances you want the other two to follow, so you get higher throughput at the current scale and then you want smaller. You get smaller then you want higher throughput at that scale and then you want more sensitive and then you want higher throughput at that sensitivity, so they catalyse each other.”
Instrument design process ‘must be shorter’
Salem said cutting the time it takes to design and develop an instrument will be next in line for companies.
”The old days of doing things in three to five year cycles to develop an instrument has to come down. We have to start looking more and more like software companies who develop technology in six months to a year or in their cases three to six weeks,” he said.
“We have to get to the point where we can start designing and developing these technologies faster and a lot of our work is enabling customers to be able to do that. That is probably the other trigger because otherwise it will cost too much and take too long and we’ll never see these things get into adoption.”
When asked about the time being linked to customer trials, Salem said: “Right now if it takes three years going from the design to the first customer to test it and it is another year or two of the customer testing it before it gets to the marketplace you end up in that three to five year window.
“If we can get that conversation down to a year of design and development and six months to a year of customer testing to get it validated and put it in the market in two years, you’ve really changed the way technology gets accessed in the marketplace. It is absolutely possible but it needs to be an area of focus in our own product development.”
Salem said it is the critical technology inside somebody else’s instrument, enabling end user customers – such as manufacturers of instruments used in food science labs - to better develop technologies.
“Our entire business is built on partnerships. The fact of the matter is we don’t build instruments that are sold into the end user market,” he said.
“We specialise in developing the core and critical technologies that enable those instruments to work, the large instrument players in mass spectrometry, they don’t build optical and fluidics systems themselves, they build mass specs but they buy all those component technologies from somebody.
“So our partnerships with them is very close to make sure we are developing the technologies that we know they are going to need to design into their instrumentation and that is how these things will ultimately get to market.”