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Market profile: analytical ultracentrifuges.

Although analytical ultracentrifugation has not been a beneficiary of breakthrough technology in recent years, the instrument has recently received increased attention from suppliers and end-users. The distinguishing element of ultracentrifuges from other centrifuges is the revolutions per minute (rpm) generated by the rotor. Any instrument that operates at 35,000-100,000 rpm is an ultracentrifuge.

Interest in proteomics by the biotech and pharmaceutical industries has resulted in a rise in popularity for ultracentrifugation. The analytical ultracentrifuge's ability to determine macromolecular thermodynamic properties and geometric properties, such as size, shape and density, within solutions a is valuable tool in the study of proteins. Other methods to attain such information are cheaper and easier, such as polyacrylamide gel electrophoesis and gel permeation chromatography, but the ultracentrifuge provides more accurate results.

Two companies dominate the ultracentrifugation market, Beckman Coulter and Kendro Laboratory Products. Kendro, which instrumentation giant Thermo Electron plans to acquire (see IBO 1/31/05), developed a customer base with its Sorvall line of ultracentrifuge offerings and willingness to allow users to use competitors' rotors in its own systems as well as use its rotors in competitors' systems. Beckman Coulter only allows the use of its rotors with its ultracentrifuges. Other ultracentrifuge developers include Hitachi, Hettich and Eppendorf.

Ultracentrifuges are offered as stand-alone and bench-top units. Kendro's Sorvall Discovery 100SE Ultracentrifuge is typical of standalone offerings. It features a LCD display, one-touch stop or run capabilities, real-time monitoring, 108 ml sample capacity and a max rotor speed of 100,000 rpm.

An important aspect of ultracentrifuge operations is rotor replacement. Worn down from rotating at fast speeds, a rotor can cause great damage to the centrifuge and laboratory if operated at a sub-par level. As a result, aftermarket upkeep of rotors has become an important segment of the ultracentrifuge market.

Beckman Coulter's Optima MAX bench-top model has the capacity to operate at 130,000 rpm, faster than many floor models and fits on most countertop spaces. Bench-top models continue to be more popular and their sales are growing at a faster rate than standalone models.

The majority of demand for ultracentrifuges stems from the public sector, however, interest by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries and the accuracy of ultracentrifuges has positively impacted the sales of ultracentrifuges despite the instrument's mature state of technology. IBO estimates that ultracentrifuges currently make up a fifth of the centrifuge market and that sales of ultracentrifuges will grow 4.8% over the next two years.

Ultracentrifuges at a Glance:

Leading Suppliers

* Beckman Coulter

* Kendro

* Hitachi

Largest Markets

* Academia/Government

* Hosp./Clinical

* Pharmaceutical

Instrument Cost

* $40,000-$250,000
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Date:Feb 28, 2005
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