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Market profile: bench-top refractometers.

In 1869, Dr. Ernst Abbe, a resourceful physicist and inventor working as research director at Carl Zeiss optical works, built what became the precursor to the modern refractometer.

The Abbe refractometer, as his device is known today, works on the principle that light, as it moves through a transparent object, is bent. By measuring the angles that light enters and leaves a substance, and using Snell's law, the refractive index of the sample can be calculated. As this refractive index value increases, the amount that light disperses will increase as well.

The Abbe refractometers sold today operate similarly to their predecessors, using the density of a sample to determine its refraction qualities. Digital refractometers, the other major bench-top format, reflect light through a prism toward a sample and find the angle at which it refracts and reflects onto the same line.

Refractometers have been thoroughly adopted in agriculture and in food and beverage labs. In both, they are commonly used to measure sugar content in food, using what is known as the Brix scale (the concentration percentage of soluble solids in a water solution). Refractive index values can also tell researchers about the amount of salt, fats and acids in a substance. In industrial laboratories, dirt in cleaning liquids or alcohols in chemical solutions can be detected, as can the quality of glass, plastics and films.

Clinical labs, which often demand exacting standards for their instruments, use refractometers to perform in vitro diagnostics, to conduct urinalysis or to determine serum protein content.

Both Abbe and digital refractometers are produced by a number of companies, including the Japan-based firm ATAGO, Bellingham+Stanley, A. Kruss Optronic, MISCO and Reichert.

Reichert, which acquired the Ophthalmic Instruments Division and Analytical Instrument business of Leica Microsystems in 2003 (see IBO 5/15/03), stopped selling its AUTOABBE automatic refractometer last year after producing it for nearly two decades. The company, though, continues to support the model and to make other Abbe instruments.

Manufacturers of digital refractometers include Dr. Kernchen, Electron Machine Corporation, Kyoto Electronics Manufacturing, Mettler Toledo, Rudolph Research Analytical and Schmidt+Haensch.

IBO estimates the market for bench-top refractometers at approximately $13 million. However, a considerable number of suppliers also make portable units, and some produce process refractometers. Taken together, these different types of refractometers make the field more varied and significant.
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 30, 2004
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