Services for lab instruments have changed during COVID

By Ivan Gandayuwana, The Science Advisory Board contributing writer

September 30, 2021 -- The servicing of analytical and life science instrumentation is vital to maintaining instrument performance capabilities and maximizing the life of costly lab assets. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, several dynamics have emerged in equipment service, according to Strategic Directions International (SDi), a sister company of ScienceBoard.net.

Whether provided by the original instrument manufacturer or by a third-party service provider, the instrument service market includes all service contracts and any replacement parts installed during servicing. Other services, like software support and validation services, are also included in this market, both from external and internal factors.

Based on a recent SDi survey conducted on laboratory service with 248 global respondents, these are some of the current trends in the instrument service market.

Growing demand for extended warranties and preventative maintenance

As analytical instrument performance is a key factor in laboratory operation, especially for high-throughput applications, end users are more conscious of the importance of services and maintenance for their instruments.

Market demand for extended warranties and preventative maintenance/calibration are growing the fastest among all service types. End users want to protect their assets by extending product warranties and signing up for service contracts to minimize the overall cost of instrument repair.

Non-warranty instrument repair is the most extensive service segmentation in this market due to the high labor and component replacement costs. With an extended warranty, users are covered for any instrument issues and repairs beyond their initial one-year warranty.

In addition, preventative maintenance and calibration are becoming more routine to keep instruments at their top performance and prevent any downtime. This is especially true for technically complex instruments with high analytical power, such as chromatographs and mass spectrometers.

Onsite services have been halted due to the pandemic

The pandemic heavily hit the instrument service market in 2020, especially for onsite repair and maintenance visits. Lab closures, social distancing, and other safety protocols restricted access to many lab sites.

Based on the survey results, over half of the respondents indicated that the pandemic had prevented them from receiving or requesting instrument services. This was primarily due to the manufacturer's unavailability and lab safety protocols. The decreasing initial system sales in 2020 also affected their accompanying service and support demand.

Fortunately, as the world recovers from the pandemic, rebounding analytical instrument sales have pushed the need for instrument services, training, warranty, and installation. With the increasing vaccine implementation in many regions, pandemic-related safety protocols are easing up in laboratories, paving the way for more onsite services in the near future.

Increasing remote assistance demand

Due to the limited access to onsite services, remote assistance often became the preferred channel for instrument services. With remote assistance such as call centers, live chat, video conferencing, and desktop sharing, service agents can lead users to identify the problem with their instruments and guide them to perform basic services and repairs that can solve general issues.

The survey indicated that remote assistance is the No. 1 feature needed from their service providers. Remote assistance also provides more flexibility and cuts transport costs, which benefit both end users and service providers. The increasing popularity of remote assistance has made this form of service a part of the "new normal."

Laboratory asset management services

A laboratory asset management (LAM, also known as multivendor services and single source service) service is a privately managed instrument maintenance service solution for multiple vendors from a single source. These services include but are not limited to repairs, inventory management/purchasing, instrument logistics, installations, compliance, and calibration.

In contrast to contacting a third party for service on demand, a LAM service binds a laboratory/group to obtain many, if not all, maintenance-related services through a third party for a set period of time. Many big instrument manufacturers provide LAM services, which include contract services for instruments from multiple vendors. Thermo Fisher's Unity Lab, Agilent's Cross Lab, and PerkinElmer's OneSource Lab services are among the top LAM service providers.

Based on the survey results, LAM users are benefiting from these services. Many respondents are considering using this service platform, which indicates a high potential demand in the service market.

Intelligent instruments

Recent technological advancements enable a new generation of lab instruments with built-in intelligent software that allows a system to monitor and diagnose itself, automate startup preparation, and keep track of maintenance and part replacement schedules. These intelligent systems can help streamline instrument services, as they will aid in diagnosing instrument issues and keep track of consumables and maintenance schedules.

However, such smart systems are still a new technology for lab instruments. Most respondents are not currently using intelligent systems but are considering adopting them in their labs, reflecting the growth potential for these products.

SDi's latest instrumentation service market report analyzes all these trends and dynamics, presenting them in market estimates and future growth projections.

Ivan Gandayuwana is a market analyst at Strategic Directions International (SDi), the leading business intelligence firm in the highly specialized field of analytical and life science instruments.

Disclosure: ScienceBoard.net is a sister company of SDi.

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