We Love to Get on the Road and Meet Our Customers
So it was a great treat last week to get out of the office and head down to the Gulf Coast Conference, which made its appearance for the 22nd time on Galveston Island, this time at the Moody Gardens resort. The Monday before the conference was not auspicious… Tremendous thunderstorms crashed through the Houston region on their way from the central plains to the Gulf. But by Tuesday morning, when the conference opened, the weather had cleared and endless perfect blue skies reflected the shimmering waters surrounding Galveston Island, the long barrier island situated about five miles off the Texas mainland.
Unless you follow the chemical industry, you can be forgiven for not guessing the focus of the 110th meeting of the Gulf Coast Conference, or GCC, by its name. The GCC is in fact an industry symposium and trade show dedicated to chemical analysis, which is not surprising given the close proximity to the huge petrochemical industry in Texas City and the Houston Ship Channel to the north. This industry sector is large, and it’s growing. According to the show organizers, the chemical analysis sector includes over different 2000 companies that represent a combined sales figure of over $50 billion a year.
Chris Andrews, Formaspace VP Sales and Marketing, is no stranger to this corner of the laboratory research market. This show is like old home week for Chris, as he ran into business colleagues, old friends and customers that he’s come to know over his many years in the laboratory furniture business.
Chris was joined at the Formaspace booth by Bill Lambert, Formaspace Operations Manager, and Corey Hutchins, who is the Formaspace Business Development Executive for the Houston and Louisiana regions.
Times Have Really Changed for Laboratory Analysis Equipment
As Chris walked through the hall looking at all the new laboratory equipment in the new Product Showcase area, he noted that times have really changed since the old days. And so have Formaspace’s customers’ needs for furniture. Chris explained that the analytical testing industry has experienced the same revolutionary changes brought about by computerization and miniaturization as we’ve seen in PCs and mobile computing. As we looked at some impressive new gear from the Hewlett-Packard spinoff Agilent Technologies, Chris noted that what has happened to laboratory equipment in recent years is not unlike what happened with the iPhone:
“The beauty of an iPhone is that it’s at once miniature and multifunctional — it’s a combination of a miniature computer, a miniature telephone, miniature camera. If you think about all the different things that iPhone replaced you’re on the right track when you look at some of this newest laboratory equipment.”
“Years ago, many of these testing and analysis machines were much larger, and so they required large laboratory workspaces, often with large vent hoods or wet labs and sinks. But the revolution in computing and miniaturization of test measurement equipment has led to some unbelievably small devices that — in many cases — integrate (and replace) several different types of equipment — all in one unit. There is also much more computer analysis performed by today’s devices. And there is much less need for large sample sizes compared to years past. More often than not today’s labs tend to be what we call ‘dry labs’ thanks to all these impressive new measurement technologies which can work with very small chemical samples.”
“The smaller equipment has also been particularly useful for oil and gas industry during this boom in fracking and other unconventional resource recovery operations now taking place over much of the US. Because a lot of this chemical analysis equipment can be miniaturized and ruggedized — it’s possible to take sensitive equipment out of the lab and put it right in the field for direct, on-site measurement and chemical analysis.” Chris added that’s one reason they brought one of the more compact Formaspace cabinets to show off at the Gulf Coast Conference. “It’s really the right size for a lot of new equipment that you can see here on the floor. Our furniture can go where you need to take it, whether it’s used in your main laboratory operations or out in a field location.”
Gulf Coast Conference Highlights Latest Chromatography Technology
There have been many advances in different chemical analysis techniques presented and discussed at the Gulf Coast conference over the years, including new developments in Mass Spectroscopy (MS), X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) and more. But perhaps the one category that has seen the most revolutionary changes in the recent years is Gas Chromatography (GC).
Even if you’re not a scientist, you’re probably familiar with the term chromatography. Perhaps you have a vague recollection of a high school science class experiment using chromatography, where, for example, liquid extracts from a plant were placed on special paper — producing a colorful strip of different yellows and greens indicating the different chemicals present in the sample. So taking the idea of paper-based chromatography, now imagine a series of vertical gas tubes, known as columns, which are heated up to test the chemical composition of different materials. During the gas chromatography process, different chemicals in the test sample will reveal themselves at different rates, which in turn make their identification possible. The high heat required makes this GC technique suitable for the petrochemical industry because the test samples typically don’t break down at high temperatures, unlike the more sensitive higher molecular weight bio-polymers and proteins typically found in biochemistry laboratories.
Gas chromatography equipment is a classic example of the revolution in integration and miniaturization that Chris Andrews talked about earlier. Today’s new generation of laboratory testing equipment for gas chromatography is certainly much more integrated, smaller and faster than ever before… (but probably not cheaper!) One of the most well-known industry proponents of advances in gas chromatography, John Crandall of Falcon Analytical made an extensive presentation on what he calls ‘Fast and Micro GC‘.
By dramatically shrinking the size of the capillary columns as well as miniaturizing and modularizing the ancillary test equipment, Crandall’s measurement equipment can produce useful test results in a matter of minutes, compared to what could have taken hours using earlier generations of gas chromatography equipment. And it has a much smaller footprint. This technology has matured to the point that there are two new testing standards, ASTM D2887-13 and ASTM D7798-13, which cover usage of fast gas chromatography for measuring the boiling range distribution of petroleum fractions.
Major Industry Players and Some Newcomers Brought Their A-Game to the Gulf Coast Conference
Austin-based VUV Analytics, which was spun-off from Metrosol Inc. in 2009, won the award for “Best New Analytical Instrument” for their revolutionary new VGA-100 vacuum ultraviolet observance detector, the first of its kind. According to the company, this new device can help investigators identify classes of compounds like paraffins, iso-paraffins, olefins, naphthenes and aromatics (collectively known as PIONA) as well as sulfur speciation within a background hydrocarbon sample. VUV Analytics was recipient of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund back in 2012. This past May, VUV announced it had closed a $5.8 million equity investment, led by S3 ventures.
Congratulations to VUV and the other equipment suppliers at the Gulf Coast Conference!
We’re Back on the Road Again Next Week
Right now the biannual Permian Basin International Oil Show is taking place in Midland, Texas. And we’ll be on the road again next week at The Assembly Show in Chicago. If you plan to attend this manufacturing show, we’d love to meet you in person and show you our technical furniture samples — stop by and see us at Formaspace booth number 1738.
Formaspace Technical Furniture is Your Laboratory Partner
No matter how laboratory equipment changes, Formaspace is here to help. Our American-made technical furniture solutions are flexible, reconfigurable and long-lasting. In fact our furniture guarantee is the best in the industry. It protects you for a full 12 years, even if you use it around the clock with 3 work shifts. Join the roster of satisfied Formaspace technical, manufacturing and laboratory furniture clients — including Apple Computer, Boeing, Dell, Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobile, Ford, General Electric, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Medtronic, NASA, Novartis, Stanford University, Toyota and more.
Give us a call today at 800.251.1505 to find out more about the Formaspace line of stock, semi-custom and custom-made computer workstations, industrial workbenches, laboratory furniture, lab benches and dry lab/wet labs — as well as our design / furniture consulting services.