It is impossible to consider scientific
innovation without thinking of laboratories. The controlled
conditions found only in such environments are crucial to the
success of scientific and technological experiments. When
efficiently designed and equipped with the appropriate tools,
laboratories can significantly facilitate groundbreaking
Suppliers of laboratorial instruments must keep up with the
fast-paced science industry and provide the necessary
equipment to support advances. Rapidly evolving
technologies, new discoveries, and novel research methods make
this task particularly challenging. Federal R&D tax
credits are available to help lab equipment suppliers fulfill
their role as enablers of innovation.
The Research &
Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and
Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13
percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and
processes. Qualified research must meet the following four
New or improved products,
processes, or software
Technological in nature
Elimination of uncertainty
Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost
of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated
with developing a patent. On January 2, 2013, President Obama
signed the bill extending the R&D Tax Credit for 2012 and
2013 tax years.
The Future of
Laboratory Instrumentation and Equipment
A recent research report by IBISWorld
pointed out that, over the next few years, demand for
laboratory equipment and supplies is expected to increase in
response to growing investments in scientific research and
development, particularly in the field of biotechnology. The
same study estimates the U.S. laboratory supply and
wholesaling industry’s annual revenue at $23 billion and its
employees at over 34 thousand people.
Improved instrumentation and equipment are important means to
enhancing research capabilities. According to the Laboratory
Equipment Magazine, more than 20 percent of the
instrumentation and equipment in the modern research
laboratory should be replaced over the next five years.
A recent survey of scientists and
engineers revealed that medical and biotechnology
applications are expected to be the top two drivers for the
development of new laboratory instruments and equipment during
the next ten years.
The same survey highlighted that ease-of-use and enhanced
accuracy are the two most anticipated performance improvements
in lab equipment. Increased flexibility, improved reliability,
and faster cycle times are also viewed as important drivers of
The following paragraphs present some of the laboratory
systems expected to undergo the most changes in the near
Data Acquisition (DAQ)
Systems are responsible for sensing physical
phenomena, translating them into electric signals readable
by an A/D board, converting such signals into a digital
format acceptable by a computer and, finally, processing,
analyzing, storing, and displaying the acquired data with
the help of software. DAQ systems can be used to measure
temperature, voltage, pressure, light, force,
displacement, among many other variants.
Improvements in semiconductor devices, electronics, and
electronic communication systems promise to enhance the
performance of DAQ systems. Critical areas include
reliability, lower costs, and ease-of-use. DAQ software is
also central for high performance operations. Data acquisition
software packages have gained increased importance as a
simplified, customizable alternative to complex programmable
Important developments in DAQ systems include easier
integration with smartphones and tablets, as well as the
possibility of remote access via web-based applications. As
software become easier to set-up, instant DAQ for basic
measurements should become increasingly common.
Parts of a DAQ System
Based in Austin, Texas, National
Instruments has recently launched a new line of low-cost DAQ
devices. With prices between $149 and $499, they constitute an
alternative for basic applications such as simple data
logging, portable measurements, and academic lab experiments.
From Seattle, Washington, Silicon Designs, Inc. is the creator
of the Model 3340 G-Logger, a three-channel, low-cost,
portable DAQ system, offering powerful FFT analysis and
display, as well as real-time acceleration and GPS data
collection and viewing. Different from traditional systems, in
which data is written to an SD card, the innovative logger
offers live streaming to a host computer.
have gained increased attention as a means to improve
accuracy, repeatability, and productivity of laboratory
operations. By taking the human out of the equation, such
systems reduce the probability of errors. Also, their
ability to work unattended for long periods of time enable
enhanced equipment utilization and increased workloads.
2013 report from MarketsandMarkets predicted that the global
lab automation market should reach $4.2 billion by 2017,
presenting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4 percent
between 2012 and 2017. While automated liquid handling
accounts for the major market share, microplate readers were
expected to grow at the highest rate during this period.
Enhancements to system
software are key to a more widespread adoption of lab
automation. Integration into third-party control systems and
ease-of-use are important areas for improvements. Also, lower
costs, increased flexibility and reliability, less maintenance
requirements, and greater speed are common concerns among
In response to such concerns, equipment manufacturers
increasingly gravitate towards the development of more
specific software systems, sold as analyzers instead of
generalist instruments. These analyzers require little or no
user programming and expertise.
Headquartered in Reno, Nevada, Hamilton
Company provides automated precision liquid handling solutions
for laboratories. The company recently launched the Vantage, a
flexible, multipurpose pipetting platform that provides simple
assay programming and detailed 3D simulations, while featuring
an expandable, space-saving design.
The system also offers a dynamic scheduler, which optimizes
runtimes even when new assays are added. It also includes a
new, state-of-the-art linear motor design and contact-free
NanoPulse pipetting technology covering a range of 100 nL to 1
mL. Other innovative features include the Contamination
Avoidance Response (CARE), Liquid Level Detection, and
Anti-Droplet Control (ADC).
Thermo Fisher’s biotechnology products and services brand,
Life Technologies, has also been at the forefront of lab
automation. One example is the Countless II FL Cell
Counter, an automated cell assay platform equipped with
state-of-the-art optics and image analysis software for rapid
assessment of cells in suspension.
Equipped with an
easy-to-use touch screen interface and a reusable counting
slide that helps reduce consumable costs, the automated
solution offers a full spectrum of fluorescence detection that
allows researchers to count cells, monitor fluorescent protein
expression, and measure cell viability. It further presents
advanced autofocusing and counting algorithms that allow for a
quick and accurate identification and count of cells within a
An important aspect of automated systems is the use of sensors
and detectors. Recent developments include the multiplication
of wireless sensors that communicate directly with host
devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones. An
interesting example is NODE, an innovative wireless sensor
platform for smart devices. Created in 2012 by
Chattanooga-based Variable, Inc., NODE was financed through a
very successful Kickstarter campaign.
Since then, it has been integrated into a growing number of
laboratories and STEM classrooms across the world. Offering an
easy-to-use, cost-effective, customizable solution for
collecting and monitoring data, NODE can be used to measure
temperature, light, relative humidity, barometric pressure,
The development of super sensitive sensors capable of
detecting nanoparticles is also an important area for
innovation. Given that the majority of biological processes
take place at the nanoscale, nanotechnology research promises
to benefit society in countless ways.
Researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis recently
announced the creation of a Raman microlaser sensor that can
detect and count nanoparticles at sizes as small as 10
nanometers, one at a time. The researchers say the sensor
could potentially detect much smaller particles, such as
viruses and small molecules.
Management Systems (LIMS)are software-based
solutions that support modern laboratories’ operations.
Key features include workflow and data tracking support,
flexible architecture, and smart data exchange interfaces.
exclusively for sample tracking, LIMS’ functionalities have
expanded far beyond their original purpose, becoming essential
resource-planning tools. Among their most common applications
are assay data management, data mining, data analysis, and
electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) integration.
LIMS have been proven instrumental in helping preserve the
balance between productivity and compliance with increasingly
strict regulation. Enhanced traceability features, such as the
ability to track aliquots and composites, finer control over
samples, and more reliable data have enabled better
decision-making and the easier fulfillment of new
Present in over 150 countries across the globe, American
multinational corporation, PerkinElmer focuses on improving
human and environmental health. The company’s software
products include LABWOKS, a LIMS portfolio that manages data,
time, resources, and risks. Designed for ultra-configurable
deployment, LABWORKS solutions can be tailored to a wide
variety of laboratory needs and workflows. Its easy-to-use,
flexible design avoids lengthy customization and
The latest version of LABWORKS WebTop combines a streamlined
user interface with zero footprint. The innovative solution
does not require any components to be installed or resident
for operation as the user’s browser-enabled device becomes a
LIMS terminal. In addition to offering enhanced portability,
WebTop eliminates many software compatibility issues and
Spectrometersare highly sensitive and
sophisticated instruments used to identify and quantify
specific molecules in complex samples. Through a process
of vaporization, ionization, and subsequent manipulation
by external electric and magnetic fields, they measure
both the masses and relative concentrations of atoms and
Very common in analytical laboratories, mass spectrometers
help identify unknown compounds and determine both the
isotopic composition of elements in molecules and the
structure of compounds by observing their fragmentation.
Pharmacokinetics, protein characterization and sequencing, and
trace gas analysis are among the potential applications of
Though an indisputably valuable and essential tool for
chemical analysis, mass spectrometers are bulky, expensive,
and time-consuming. In an effort to overcome these
deficiencies, researchers at MIT’s Microsystems Technology
Laboratories (MTL) are developing a new kind of spectrometry
technology that is cheap, fast, and small enough to fit in
The downsized mass spectrometer will feature nanoscale
components, all of which can be produced in batches, using
currently available manufacturing technologies. According to
the researchers, mass production could move the price of
spectrometers to around two hundred dollars, a massive
decrease from their present price.
Cheaper, portable mass spectrometers could go beyond the labs’
walls and become ubiquitous in offices and streets, where they
could be used for air quality analysis and for detecting the
presence of harmful chemicals or emissions.
Chromatography Systems help analyze and identify individual components by
separating them from sample mixtures. The technique
consists of moving the mixture along a stationary
material, such as gelatin, paper, or magnesia. Different
components of the mixture are caught by the material at
different rates and form isolated bands that can then be
recent report by Transparency Market Research valued the
global chromatography systems market at $6.9 billion in 2012
and predicted that it should be worth $10.4 billion by 2019,
growing at a compound annual rate of 5.2 percent between 2013
The chromatography market comprises various types of systems,
such as gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, ion
exchange chromatography, affinity chromatography, super
critical fluid chromatography, column chromatography, and thin
layer chromatography. End-users include biotechnology and
pharmaceutical industries, hospitals and research
laboratories, agriculture and food industries, among others.
Increasingly, suppliers of chromatography systems are engaged
in developing cost-effective and innovative instruments that
will enable a more widespread adoption of this technology. In
this context, Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, the American
arm of the Japanese manufacturer of precision instruments,
Shimadzu Corporation, has recently introduced the new i-Series
Integrated Liquid Chromatography System.
Designed for the lab of the future, the i-Series allows the
direct injection of highly concentrated samples without
dilution, supports high-speed multi-analyte processing with 14
second injection cycle time, and provides repeatability of 1
percent or less. Furthermore, it integrates with LabSolution
software, which allows data acquired via interactive
communication mode (ICM) to be sent to the lab’s data center
and managed uniformly by a server.
Sample Preparation is one of the
most common operations in the lab. Consuming up to 60
percent of a lab’s workload, it includes several manual,
error-prone steps and requires significant amounts of
labor and time. Technological advances in the sample
preparation market are key to simplifying the work of
researchers and making it more time-efficient.
The most common applications of advanced sample preparation
technology include genomics, proteomics, and epigenomics.
While the adoption of sample preparation instruments is on the
rise, with an expected overall CAGR of 5.9 percent between
2013 and 2018, the development of “one-size-fits-all”,
lower-cost kits remains a challenge.
Headquartered in South Easton, Massachusetts, Pressure
BioSciences, Inc. has recently announced the development of a
new Pressure Cycling Technology (PCT)-based instrument system
for sample preparation. PCT is a patented enabling technology
platform that uses alternating cycles of hydrostatic pressure
between ambient and ultra-high levels to safely and
reproducibly control bio-molecular interactions.
The new benchtop Barozyme HT48 is a first-in-class, high
throughput instrument capable of processing up to 48 samples
simultaneously using the company's new and proprietary
BaroFlex 8-well processing strips. The use of a "microplate"
format is considered a major improvement in the ergonomics of
sample handling and a key step towards the automation of
PCT-based biological sample preparation.
The Biotech Lab
Biotechnology has become the leading
component in the life sciences industry. Defined as the
exploitation of biological processes for industrial or other
purposes, biotech has increasingly driven the development of
new pharmaceuticals, agricultural products and processes,
medical techniques and procedures, environmental technologies,
and biofuel products.
The Human Genome Project, which successfully determined the
sequence of the entire human genome, opened the way for a new
line of research and the development of innovative sequencing,
analysis, software, and sample preparation technologies.
Biotech companies have thrived on the back of such
technological advances and have become major industrial
players with unprecedented corporate value.
According to a recent report by IBISWorld, the global
biotechnology market experienced an annual growth rate of 10.8
percent between 2009 and 2014. Industry growth is expected to
continue skyrocketing over the next five years due to a
worldwide surge in biotech investment.
In this context, biotechnology stands out as a major driver of
innovation in lab equipment and instrumentation. According to
a recent survey by the Laboratory Equipment Magazine, imaging
systems and microscopes are among the most used devices in a
biotech lab. Over the past years, dramatic advances in these
systems have provided researchers with novel bioscience
information and unprecedented capabilities. This is a clear
example of how lab equipment innovation supports research.
Based in Culver City, California, Sofie Bioscences combines
new PET imaging agents with innovative imaging and synthesis
systems to provide researchers and physicians with tools to
better investigate the biology of disease. In partnership with
PerkinElmer, Sofie recently launched a new translational
imaging system, which integrates PET and CT into an innovative
benchtop system that will enable preclinical workflows for
biologists, biochemists, and pharmacologists.
The G8 PET/CT Imaging System was purposely developed for small
animal imaging. With unparalleled sensitivity, it offers
advanced automatic co-registration of acquired PET and CT data
generating tomographic, whole body images with organ-level
anatomical references. Other features include ultra-fast
automatic image reconstruction, real-time respiratory
monitoring, and advanced data acquisition and analysis
The incorporation of innovative imaging systems into biotech
labs is expected to support the advancement of translational
research and accelerate the analysis, understanding, and
treatment of diseases. Impacts should be particularly
significant on biodistribution, ADME/Tox, oncology, and
Improvements in computer processing power, storage
capabilities, and software systems are also central to the
modern biotech lab. Computational applications in biotech
research involve managing and analyzing large sets of data,
which is particularly important for genomic research efforts.
According to a 2012 report by Transparency Market Research,
the global bioinformatics market is expected to reach $9.1
billion in 2018.
Over the last years, DNA sequencing equipment has been a
continuous focus of innovation. Genome-based research promises
to enable medical science to develop highly effective
diagnostic tools, to better understand the health needs of
people based on their individual genetic make-ups, and to
design new and highly effective treatments for disease.
Earlier this year, San Diego-based Illumina launched its new
sequencing machine capable of delivering up to five genomes a
day, with a cost of just under $1,000. The HiSeq X Ten is
expected to enable the analysis of complete genomic
information from massive sample populations, paving the way
for an unprecedented understanding of the genetics of human
3D bioprinting, which consists of using living cells in
additive manufacturing, is yet another promising area for
innovation. When equipped with 3D bioprinters, biotech
laboratories can create cellular tissues for drug testing and
medical training, and develop transplantable organs.
Headquartered in San Diego, California, Organovo Holdings,
which has already created 3D bioprinted, functional liver
tissue, is working with Autodesk to design a modern,
cloud-based bioprinting software. Eventually, the next
generation meta platform is expected to incorporate
mathematical formulas that account for the cellular processes
involved in bioprinting.
Different from nonliving 3D printing, which presents
unchanging design, 3D bioprinting must consider dynamic
processes such as the self-assembly of stem cells. The
creation of specific software and efficient stem cell
identification and harvesting technologies are necessary
steps in the integration of 3D bioprinting into biotech labs.
An efficient and effective lab environment
is the cornerstone of innovation. Suppliers of lab instruments
and equipment have a unique role to play in supporting and
enabling much-awaited advances in life sciences research. The
growth of the biotech industry, the increasing automation of
laboratories, along with improvements in data acquisition,
mass spectrometry, and sample preparation systems are fueling
a new wave of lab instrumentation R&D. Federal tax credits
are available to help companies equip the labs of the future.