Business Diagnostics

This is the third in a series of articles about the business of industrial diagnostics as used in industries including food, beverage, pharmaceutical, personal care products and water – the majority being microbiology tests, more than 90 percent. The first article, “Big Business in Little Bugs,” [Food Quality April/May 2004, pg. 22] reviewed the size of the 2003 industrial microbiology market. The second, “Industrial Diagnostics Duke-Out,” [Food Quality Aug/Sep 2004, pg. 28], discussed the consolidation occurring among diagnostics manufacturers.

In this article, we will drill down a little deeper into the industrial diagnostics market to explore the accelerating conversion from traditional microbiology methods–some dating back to Louis Pasteur’s time –to newer, alternative methods.

One thing is clear regarding industrial microbiology testing, most people want and need faster results. In most cases, waiting the hours and days to get actionable results after the sample is collected is both frustrating and unacceptable. In fact, a long time to result is the most common gripe amongst plant and QC managers. Driven by economics and risks, processing companies need to get their microbiology results more quickly.

Three-Pronged Pressures

Processing companies are being pressured to change their micro testing practices in the following ways:

Proactive measures: Companies are adopting comprehensive testing regimens as part of due diligence to guarantee that the factory is under control, that product being shipped meets label claims and protects the company’s brand name and image.

Reactive measures: When/if issues do occur or if customers (retailers generally) require end-product validation, companies adopt testing measures to meet these imposed requirements.

Regulatory: Driven by increasing governmental oversight, companies are adopting testing practices to comply with regulatory mandates.

As a result, the amount of micro testing performed at industrial processing plants and associated laboratories are increasing. In addition, there are very sizable economic issues at play in the plant, which are directly affected by micro testing. The carrying costs associated with the ability to release inventory one day or even hours sooner because of faster actionable micro results represents an obvious economic savings. But this is by no means the only plant cost potentially impacted. Reduction in waste and/or the potential down stream value-added unnecessarily to out of spec product, labor reductions and production turnaround times are other considerations.

Beyond this is the immeasurable, but significant, cost to the company’s image/brand name and the related impact on the company’s future revenues/profits/share price should a problem occur.

All these changes and pressures are driving diagnostic manufacturers to develop products that yield faster actionable results. In today’s world we’re spoiled by the increase in instant information and access. Global positioning systems (GPS) that cost $100 can tell you where you are within 2 to 3 feet. However, it still takes days to get microbiology results. In a perfect world, we should have a microbiology testing platform the size of a GPS that can tell us instantly how many bacteria are present and what type. But, we’re a long way from there.

In interviews Strategic Consulting, Inc. (SCI) has carried out for our market research reports, we asked hundreds of QC managers at processing plants worldwide what their biggest need is when it comes to industrial microbiology testing. Faster time to actionable results leads the wish list, followed by ease of use (see Figure 1).

Having said this, diagnostics companies have been listening, and over the past decade, there has been excellent progress in test methods. In several instances, when using some of the newer pathogen methods/technologies, days have been taken out of the time required for actionable results.

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