What is the Lifespan of High-Tech Laboratory Equipment?
Lead Product Manager
of Nienschanz-ScienTific Llc.
There are several objective reasons for replacing or upgrading the research equipment:
•the emergence of new research methods;
•the entry of new models of devices into the market;
•the changes in the old standards or emergence of new one;
•the moral or physical obsolescence of equipment.
I think the first factor in upgrading instruments is the emergence of new research methods and modification of known ones, which will be implemented in serial devices in the future. But the advanced research methods do not emerge by themselves, they develop in one or more research schools or institutions, and as soon as a critical (in a positive sense) level is reached, they can be sold in the research equipment market as individual instruments or instrument systems serial-produced. If a new research method is introduced in an institute or a laboratory, then a device to implements the method will be created too. Usually the laboratory, which is the author of a device, is its first owner but as a rule it is far from the serial implementation. Only a few years later, when the method gains recognition of the worldwide research community and its quality is confirmed by theory and practice, there will be a demand for serial devices which is satisfied by the manufacturers of the equipment.
Another factor related to upgrading laboratories is closely linked to technological advances in the fields of electronics, optics and instrumentation. Based on the experience of the leading manufacturers of equipment, it can be noted that the update of devices or release of new versions, the operating principles of which is preserved, occur approximately every 5-7 years. However no one will buy any new equipment until the old one becomes morally or physically obsolete. In this regard, the replacement of equipment in laboratories usually occurs every other generation, that is, if there is a first-generation device, it is advisable not to change it before the appearance of the third generation by jumping over one step which is also about 10 years. An example is the development of a nanoindentation device (nano-durometer), the first generation of which appeared in the mid-1990s, and currently there is the third generation comprising all the features of modern software, electronics and micromechanics.
The third reason for the replacement of equipment can be the revision of old research standards or emerging new ones. This is especially important for quality control laboratories or main laboratories in the production sector. When standards are changed, there is a need to check compliance of the existing equipment therewith and, if necessary, plan the acquisition of new equipment. But since the change of global and domestic standards, as a rule, are due to the appearance of new research methods, then the associated modernisation of devices is needed at the intervals of 10-20 years.
The factor, which is most typical of the post-Soviet states, is associated with the availability or lack of funding for the modernisation of instruments. These reasons are the most subjective, and it is not possible to specify the time frame.
Based on the above reasons, we can say that the optimal timing for replacement of devices is 7-10 years. That is a kind of an average lifetime of the equipment, after which it is not yet outdated in terms of the method, but is not quite up-to-date in terms of technical progress.
CEO of the NT-MDT Co.,
President of the Nanotechnological
Society of Russia,
Chairman of the Russian Scanning Probe
The lifetime of equipment strongly depends on the type, purpose and application as well as the requirements of users, their claims concerning the level of work performed.
The modern analytical and process equipment are different from that in the last century with the intellectual component, which previously was not so significant. The focus of the latter was initially on computers, controllers, and more recently on a networked environment too. Equipment is integrated into the local, corporate or departmental and even global networks. At the same time, its aging occurs almost simultaneously with computer aging, network progress, and of course the development of the element and component base (ECB) of the rapidly developing nanoelectronics against the backdrop of a 2- or 3-year delay relative to the emergence of a new ECB.
For such equipment as scanning probe microscopes, new controllers are developed every 2-3 years. In parallel, the software is being modified. For example, the devices purchased 5 years ago cannot be considered as meeting the modern requirements, and 8-year-old devices are considered simply outdated. Virtually all modern devices and process equipment have remote access options that provide high-quality services. In this they differ very much from the 10-year-old instruments or even 5-year-old ones.
With the further ECB development, when instead of the usual programmable logic integrated circuits will appear their neuromorphic analogues, which are capable of adapting to the user, its objectives and largely substitute a specialist, moral ageing will first decrease and may start to increase in the future. The latter is due to the potential effective upgrade of software, memory, and perhaps the intellectual component in the form of adaptable electronic units.
Although relatively rarely, fundamentally new developments do take place sometimes, e.g. the ultrafast scanning spectroscopy option called HD mode, or sensor heads (cartridges) that replace conventional cantilevers thus significantly reducing the user requirements.
Using the latest generation of devices allows you to perform research and implement ideas that until recently have seemed to be fantastic and unattainable. In any case, instruments are not yet able to create new ideas but only prompt people how to generate them and gain new knowledge.
Head of the Application Laboratory
of the SemiTEq JSC,
Today, the term ‘nanolaboratory’ refers primarily to a multifunctional laboratory, focused on a wide range of tasks. Creation in recent years of quite a large number of laboratories and research centres equipped with good measurement instruments undoubtedly contributed to the development of nanotechnology and nanomaterial industry as a whole.
It is no secret that the life cycle of simple instruments can be more than 10 years depending on their class. These devices do not differ much from generation to generation, and generally do not age over time. The sophisticated and expensive equipment, for example the transmission or scanning electron and atomic-force microscopes can be used up to 5-7 years on average without compromising the quality of the results. Such equipment is constantly upgraded with the introduction of additional options and features leading to the rapid obsolescence of the previous generations. Using of the latest instrumentation is most reasonable during the breakthrough R&D activities when accuracy is not just important but is an integral part of the research.
These days, it should be more reasonable to create several leading shared use centres and periodically update the equipment and access to all stakeholders. The equipment, which is relatively outdated but still quite operable and sophisticated, can be and should be taken to other research laboratories across the country. Their funding is often dependent on government subsidies or grants, so scientists have to choose between upgrading an existing devices, increasing the number of equipment or even purchasing some new equipment for the expansion of the research spectrum. However in order to develop of the nanotechnology and nanomaterial industry, we should not forget that any research centre should be based on the process equipment and not measurement devices which basically only complements it. From this perspective, the major investments should be directed to the creation and expansion of the base of process equipment and the simple measuring equipment, as well as updating the sophisticated and expensive instrumentation for the advanced nanomaterial researches.
The application laboratory of SemiTEq JSC is equipped with all the process equipment SemiTEq which undergoes comprehensive testing here. The lab also has the relatively inexpensive measuring devices, e.g. optical microscopes, profilometers etc. used for a rapid analysis of the materials obtained. In case of need for any more complicated and expensive equipment, we use the resources of our partner companies and research centres which already have it. This approach allows for quick testing the process equipment that we develop, creating basic and new processes as well as evaluating the efficiency of our investment in new products and technologies.
Expert of the Technological Department
of the ElTech SPb Co.
The measurement equipment is a fairly broad class of devices, and you should not generally talk about the whole spectrum. Currently in many laboratories and manufacturing facilities the issues of non-destructive testing and surface topology analysis have become of greater significance. In order to address the issues, microscopes are often widely used due to the well-developed microscopy technologies.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the microscopy growth rate was quite high. An increase in the resolution and scaling capabilities, introduction of the advanced software and automation of devices led to the need for constant equipment upgrading. Currently the progress in microscopy has slowed, and it is understandable. When photon is used as an impacting particle, the maximum resolution will be given by its wavelength (resolution can be up to 200 nm by using different modes). When switching to other particles, such as electrons, the observability of individual atoms achieved (the resolution of transmission electron microscopes is 0.05 nm). In the atomic-force microscopy limits are determined by the radius of curvature of the tip of the probe. In other words, the physical limits of microscopy techniques are achieved, and further improvement in this area does not make sense thus leading to a change in the direction of developments.
Today the microscopy trend is increasingly promoted by increasing the functionality of devices and not improving the resolution. Functionality is improved through the development of additional modules to go beyond addressing the issues of the classical microscopy. For that reason, the devices for microscopy have become more flexible in terms of adaptation to the research objectives and the ability to solve non-standard problems. The examples are fluorescent modules which provide advantages in the study of biological items.
In the absence of a qualitative expansion of the range of works or diversification, there is no need for modern laboratories to buy any new equipment because the existing devices technically it is not obsolete, also when used in the nanomaterial and nanotechnology developments. Exactly the development of new functions ensures a modern paradigm of development of the microscopy equipment.
Thus, we can say that the potential of the latest generation of microscopy devices greatly expanded thanks to the flexibility to adapt to specific tasks. Whether this broad functionality is needed for a laboratory depends, first of all, on the range of research challenges faced by the laboratory, and the possibilities of their future diversification, secondly, how these problems are solved with the existing range of equipment. ElTech SPb Co. choose equipment taking into account these preconditions.