Advanced technology coupled with a determination to give customers the highest level of performance has given one Wisconsin company the lead in a worldwide marketplace. Lorie Russo explains how.
It is a company that asks the same questions its customers ask themselves. Maybe that’s why Thermo Nicolet has achieved worldwide recognition as the architect behind some of the most noted scientific instrumentation on the market.
Thermo Nicolet was originally founded to develop new ways of processing electrical signals and to build high-end scientific computers. From there, the company took a logical step into the development and production of analytical instrumentation. Since the market’s acceptance of Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy in the early 1970s, Thermo Nicolet has been a leader in the evolution and enhancement of this technology. Today, Thermo Nicolet is the undisputed leader in the fields of FT-IR and microspectroscopy. Innovations in optical and mechanical design, electronic components, software capabilities, applications and customer support allow Thermo Nicolet to offer the highest quality and widest range of IR systems on the market.
New Name, Ambitious Technology
Founded in 1967, Thermo Nicolet borrowed its original name from the French explorer who originally explored the area that is now Wisconsin, where the company’s headquarters are based. In 1992, the company was purchased by Massachusetts-based Thermo Electron Corporation, whose $2.2 billion annual sales make it the largest instrumentation company in the world. As part of a global identity strategy, Thermo Nicolet added the prefix “Thermo” to its name, to go along with all 80 of the current businesses in the Thermo family. Beginning in 2001, customers will see the same ambitious technology and quality products coming from Thermo Nicolet.
Thermo Nicolet’s instrumentation serves a wide range of markets including pharmaceutical, polymer, chemical manufacturing, biotechnology, semiconductor, forensic laboratories, petrochemical, biochemical, food and government research facilities. “Just about any manufacturer uses some form of chemicals to produce their end products. It may be plastics, papers, oils or more specialized chemicals. Our systems analyze these chemicals and products,” says Dr. Chris Petty, vice president of marketing at Thermo Nicolet.
Instruments of Service
How Thermo Nicolet develops its instrumentation to better serve its customers is the way in which the company continually sets itself a part from the competition. “We are always trying to provide our customers with complete solutions to their problems,” Petty says.
To do this, Thermo Nicolet knows that its instruments must answer three questions, the same questions that would be asked by its customers. The first question is: What am I looking at? “Our customers need to identify the samples they are looking at,” Petty says. The second question is: How much of a particular substance is present? “Our customers need to know the concentration levels present in the chemicals they analyze,” Petty adds. The third and final question addresses quality control: “Is what I’m looking at correct (or what it’s supposed to be)?” For example, in a forensics lab, police scientists can use FT-IR systems to confirm, in seconds, that a suspect white powder is cocaine. In a semiconductor fabrication lab, FT-IR systems quickly identify tiny impurities in silicon, preventing manufacturing disasters. At a polymer plant, FT-IR systems monitor the concentrations of plastics as they are blended.
Thermo Nicolet manufactures spectroscopy systems that are based on several techniques, including FT-IR, Near-Infrared (NIR) and Raman. All of these techniques work by shining light on a sample. The way the light interacts with the sample can determine its exact chemical makeup. The driving force behind all Thermo Nicolet FT-IR and Raman spectrometers is its unique Enhanced Synchronization Protocol (E.S.P.) technology. E.S.P. technology enables Thermo Nicolet’s smart systems to synchronize the setup, testing and operation of the spectrometer, the software, the sampling accessories and the spectral information – leaving the customers free to focus on their experiment or analysis. A Thermo Nicolet smart system recognizes and automatically sets up the spectrometer the way customers want it for a particular experiment.
Thermo Nicolet offers the most extensive product line in the industry, ranging from the low-cost Avatar® FT-IR spectrometer to the high-performance, research-grade Nexus® FT-IR spectrometer. The Nexus® spectrometer family provides superior performance to meet the most demanding infrared sampling requirements. The Nexus® FT-IR series features Thermo Nicolet’s exclusive patented smart-system approach, including the company’s patented Smart Accessories™, so performing even advanced experiments is a breeze. The Nexus® platform also has the advantages of flexibility and upgradeability because all of the optical components are pinned in place.
The real power and intelligence of Thermo Nicolet’s FT-IR spectrometers is evident when they are joined with Smart Accessories™. The accessories snap in place for immediate sampling. A Smart Accessory™ is always in perfect alignment, so there is no need for tweaking or adjusting. Plus, Smart Accessories™ are recognized by Thermo Nicolet spectrometers, which can then customize and optimize the system for the measurement technique that best suits the sample type or problem. Thermo Nicolet now offers more than 18 Smart Accessories™ with its FT-IR spectrometers.
Thermo Nicolet also manufactures IR microscopes. “IR microscopes meet the needs of every laboratory environment and budget,” Petty adds. The foundation of the Continuµm™ IR microscope, manufactured by Thermo Nicolet and Thermo Spectra-Tech, is a unique and patented infinity-corrected optical design that ensures the collection of the highest-quality spectral information. Through Thermo Nicolet’s unique dual-aperturing technology, which apertures before and after the sample, better sample definition is achieved.
The Continuµm™ provides crisp, visual images and exceptional signal-to-noise. All controls, from routine sample setup to advanced ATR mapping and sample imaging, can be run automatically through a simple software interface. The Continuµm™ offers a continuous optical-quality view of the sample, even during data collection, and enables the use of a wide variety of IR and visible optics to enhance IR microsampling. It is the industry’s first upgradeable IR microscope, providing options from the basic microscope to a fully automated system with chemical imaging.
While offering state-of-the-art instrumentation, Thermo Nicolet has kept mindful of trends within the industries it serves and how to best meet customers’ demands. One of the major needs within the marketplace today is for easy-to-use, reliable instruments. Today, Petty explains, Thermo Nicolet has far fewer customers that employ special, Ph.D.-staffed spectroscopy groups within their companies. “Now the trend is toward smaller groups closer to the product that analyze the chemical,” he says. “They tend to be experts in what they do but not in spectroscopy. We benefit by building instrumentation that requires less expertise on the part of the user.” For example, Thermo Nicolet’s Continuµm™ microscope is a high-performance infrared microscope system that can identify samples as small as 10 microns (by comparison, a strand of hair is 50 microns). “The Continuµm™ is used in the most demanding applications, yet it is very easy to use because the microspectroscopist does not want to have to play around with the instrumentation,” says Petty.
“What we’ve done strategically in the last four years is cement our position in the infrared marketplace by developing new products that provide solutions to our customers’ problems,” Petty says. “Now we’re looking at where we can apply our strengths to related areas and expand the range of product offerings.” To achieve this in 2000, Thermo Nicolet introduced the Almega™, its first offering for Raman microscopy; and Antaris™, a new FT-NIR analyzer. “These new areas are exciting because there is tremendous potential for growth. Our intent is to quickly build the market-leading position we enjoy with FT-IR,” says Petty.
The Almega™ dispersive Raman spectrometer extends the Thermo Nicolet tradition of excellence by providing the highest sensitivity, spatial resolution and confocal microscopy in a fully automated package. The system features uncompromised flexibility for measurements with multiple laser wavelengths using either the truly confocal Raman microscope or an integrated Raman sample compartment. “It’s a very high-performance system,” says Petty, “and it allows you to look at smaller samples. Raman is a relatively new technique used by high-tech manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies driven by the need to see smaller particles.”
The Almega™ is the only dispersive Raman spectrometer to fully integrate:
• Confocal Raman microscopy
• Multiple on-board lasers of different wavelength
• Complete automation of laser selection and selection of associate optics
• Multiple gratings for optimum resolution and throughput
• Automated or user-optimized optical alignment
• Automated system calibration
• Polarization optics
• A fully safety-interlocked Class I laser product
It is clear that the Almega™ represents a big step forward over other available systems.
Thermo Nicolet’s other new area, NIR spectroscopy, should also provide future growth for the company. NIR spectroscopy takes the technique from the realm of complicated academic, research-oriented instruments, to one that is focused on industrial solutions and productivity. NIR analyzers lend themselves well to industrial uses due to their ease of operation and fast analysis time. In addition, NIR systems can sample through glass or packaging materials, eliminating sample preparation. It is particularly useful to pharmaceutical companies to check incoming chemical drums.
“Near-infrared analysis,” says Petty, “is a procedure whereby a fiber-optic probe dipped into an incoming chemical drum will show a loading dock technician the chemical properties of the drum’s contents, and whether those contents pass a chemical composition test. This technology has grown by about 20 percent a year, especially in the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry.”
In March 2000, Thermo Nicolet introduced a new brand, Thermo Nicolet Industrial Solutions, to address the demanding requirements of at-line and near-line process applications. The creation of this new brand enables Thermo Nicolet to build on its strong leadership position in the FT-IR and Raman markets, while allowing Thermo Nicolet to differentiate its core products from its new industrial instrument platform.
For its first analyzer platform, Thermo Nicolet Industrial Solutions focused its efforts on developing a near-infrared instrument. The Antaris™ is a revolutionary combination of NIR analyzer, software, instrument qualification and global applications support.
The Antaris™ FT-NIR analyzer was specifically designed for use in the industrial environments of the pharmaceutical, chemical and polymer industries. Unlike other FT-NIR systems that are laboratory instruments adopted for industrial use, Antaris™ was specifically developed for process applications.
Antaris™ is the first fully integrated system to offer system-to-system repeatability, easy software setup, regulatory and validation compliance, and complete worldwide support programs. The operation of the Antaris™ analyzer is further simplified with its software and qualification packages.
Thermo Nicolet’s commitment to its customers extends beyond its headquarters in Madison, Wis. Its sales and support network spans around the world – from its East Coast and West Coast offices in the United States to its international subsidiary offices in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Japan, Australia and China.
As a leading contender in the advancement of spectroscopy technology, Thermo Nicolet always encourages feedback from customers. This way, the company can continually evaluate what it manufactures to ensure the utmost in innovative and reliable products. With the largest and most experienced staff of spectroscopists and application chemists in the industry, Thermo Nicolet, now and well into the future, can provide its customers with the highest level of worldwide support.