Atomic Spectroscopy: Suffering from Metal Malaise

The total market for atomic spectroscopy reached $3.6 billion in 2014, and the category as a whole is forecast to experience growth of 3% in 2015, slightly less than the growth achieved in 2014. Environmental applications, which commonly focus on specific elements, are significant for these instruments, which are generally used to determine elemental composition or detect trace amounts of certain elements. While environmental applications continue to support growth, other industrial segments, such as oil and gas, are likely to be weaker in the coming year, shaving a few tenths of a percent off the forecast growth.

X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) is the largest individual market, by a considerable margin, making up more than 28% of the total demand for atomic spectroscopy. XRF has broad industrial and environmental applications, and demand should increase on par with the overall average for atomic spectroscopy. PANalytical (Spectris) and Thermo Fisher Scientific are the leaders in XRF. While PANalytical provides benchtop and floor-standing units, Thermo Scientific also offers handheld XRF, a market in which it has long held the leading position.

X-ray diffraction spectroscopy (XRD) is the second-largest segment and is forecast to have the highest growth among atomic spectroscopy technologies. Unlike most of the other market segments, XRD has significant life science applications relating to pharmaceutical analysis and protein crystallography. With significant and broad demand from academic, government, pharmaceutical and industrial laboratories, XRD sales are expected to post growth of 4.6% this year. Bruker and Rigaku are the top vendors in XRD, and both also compete in XRF.

There are two varieties of instruments based on inductively coupled plasma (ICP). ICP–optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) uses plasma to heat samples so that they emit light that can be used for optical spectroscopy, while ICP–mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) uses a mass analyzer to identify atoms in a sample by their atomic mass. Generally speaking, ICP-MS is the most sensitive of the atomic spectroscopy techniques and is typically used for trace analysis in environmental, research and industrial applications. Because these markets are becoming more fixated on lower detection limits, the market for ICP-MS is experiencing stronger growth than the overall atomic spectroscopy market. Agilent is the leading company in ICP-MS, followed by PerkinElmer.

PerkinElmer leads the markets for ICP-OES and atomic absorbance spectrometers (AA). Both techniques have strong environmental applications, but the ICP-OES market has the greater growth potential primarily because of the advantages it offers in speed of analysis, combined with the fact that AA is a long-established technology and has penetrated the market to a greater degree, making opportunities for expanding the market more difficult.

Thermo Scientific has the largest vendor share in atomic spectroscopy by a significant margin, accounting for 14% of total sales. The top six vendors account for 57% of the total market share and include all of the previously mentioned vendors that lead particular segments.

Other top vendors include those that are prominent in some of the smaller technology segments, such as Spectro Analytical (AMETEK), which is significant in the arc/spark spectrometry, XRF and ICP markets, and has now also entered the ICP-MS market. LECO dominates the picture for dedicated elemental analyzers, while HORIBA has a significant position in the inorganic elemental-analyzer portion of the market. The total organic carbon (TOC) market, which has better-than-average growth prospects, is led by Shimadzu and GE Analytical.

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