The calibration gases market is arguably now moving faster than ever. New applications continue emerge every day that require specialty gases in the process. Instrument analysis is required more and more to optimize performance, improve final product quality, and ensure personnel safety in the workplace.

New regulations and product specifications continue to appear, each having their unique precision and accuracy requirements. Limits on impurities in pure gases continue to get smaller and smaller, down to parts-per-trillion levels. Accuracy requirements get tighter and tighter with total allowable error in reported certificate values at less than 1% relative to minor component concentration.

It’s clear this is a sector all about intricacy. With this, to ensure the market is as safe and successful as it can be lab investigations must be supported by propagation of error models that account for all recognized sources of error affecting the values reported. This niche within a niche is a complex one, so to further explore exactly what calibration gases are, how they are used and current trends in the North American market, gasworld sat down with industry experts Raymond Borzio, founder and Managing Partner of Global Calibration Gases, and Lindsey Rosenbery, Specialty Gas Program Director at ILMO Products, to get a first-hand view of the market.

To kick things off, gasworld, asked exactly what calibrations are. As mentioned in the above, calibration gases are vital and demand is only continuing to grow, but here we take it back to the basics. Borizo, who founded his calibration-focused business in March 2009, spotlighted the sector, stating “Calibration is the process of configuring an instrument to provide a result for a sample within an acceptable range. The calibration process generally involves using the instrument to test samples of one or more known values called ‘standards or calibrators.’ The results are used to establish a relationship between the measurement technique used by the instrument and the known values. The process in essence ‘teaches’ the instrument to produce results that are more accurate than those that would occur otherwise.”

“The instrument can then provide more accurate results when samples of unknown values are tested in the normal usage of the product. Calibration refers to an instrument’s measuring accuracy relative to a known traceable concentration of test gas. The monitoring instrument compares its sensor response to the known concentration of the traceable test gas. The instrument’s response reading can then be adjusted to match the concentration of the traceable test gas.”

”Raw materials costs have increased dramatically, especially with the rare gases and their associated mixtures.”

Highlighting Illinois-based ILMO Products’ take on the mixtures, Nelson continued, “ILMO’s calibration gases are NIST traceable (National Institute of Standards and Technology), the most reputable industry standard for gas analysis. Instrument testing, calibration, bump testing, any way you say it, you need a calibration gas to make it happen. High-quality calibration gases enable you to calibrate your instruments and precisely set zero readings. High-purity gases enable your instruments to run at peak performance.”

“Safety, reliability, and consistency can be at risk without accurate calibration gases. Whether calibrating a CEMS (Continuous Emissions Monitoring System) analyzer, a medical device, or a portable gas monitor, calibration gases ensure that equipment runs the way it should. Calibration gases that are traceable to standards essentially train instruments to read correctly by introducing the instruments to the known values. Without them, instruments and devices that demand accuracy will be in question.”

Supply chain strains

As like many industry sectors, both in the US and globally, the calibration gases market space is being hit by supply chain issues. These issues have been affecting companies for quite some time now, with more than 60% of gasworld’s Q4 2021 Baird Survey respondents highlighting significant supply chain disruption. The most common response called out was wage inflation headwinds, followed by insufficient workers to effectively run the business. Nearly 70% of respondents expect labor shortages to support automation demand with 17% anticipating a significant contribution to 2022 demand.

Speaking on the struggles caused by supply chain issues, Borzio continued, “At Global Calibration Gases we have been experiencing the same difficulties as all other high-tech suppliers. Supply chain delays in raw materials including cylinders and valves have plagued us. Raw materials costs have increased dramatically, especially with the rare gases and their associated mixtures.”

“Manpower shortages have occurred partially from the virus pandemic but more because of the lack of talent to fill our positions. The extended time necessary to properly educate new inexperienced employees has caused production delays and extended lead times. Through it all, our distributor customers have been understanding as we work through our backlogs. We are very grateful for their loyalty.”

ILMO is also in the same boat, as Nelson explained, “With supply chain issues, ever-changing government and environmental regulations, including tighter mixture tolerance requirements and a higher level of analytical accuracy, ILMO has had to learn to adapt and overcome these adjustments. ILMO has had to adjust the inventory of cylinders, valves, and other supplies.  We have made internal changes over the last couple of years that ensure we can service our customers in a way that meets or exceeds their expectations. We’ve had to adjust mixtures for customers as needs have changed, which shows our commitment to providing customers with what they need when they need it.”

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Calibration in North America

Of course, calibration gases are a worldwide need, however, as gasworld was speaking to two well established players in the North American market, we asked then what it was like to be placed in the US calibration space.

Speaking on Global Calibration’s Role in the region, Borzio enthused, “Our primary purpose is to produce only the highest quality calibration gas standards, at a wholesale price, that allows the independent distributor to compete effectively in his marketplace. Our business model has no retail marketing at any level. We will never compete with the independent distributor in his marketplace.”

“In addition, our role is to assist the distributor in understanding the special attributes of these calibration gas standards through continued education of the distributor sales force.”

“Global Calibration Gases is in the measurement business. The accuracy of our measurement depends on the accuracy of our instruments, the accuracy of the gas standards we use for calibration, and the precision of our calibration process. As we only specialize in one segment of the calibration gas market, I could not begin to estimate the total value of the market.”

“However, to take a snapshot of the energy sector, consider this. There are approximately 3,500 power plants in the US with all but 200 or so burn coal, oil, gas, or biomass. In these power plants there are approximately 13,000 analytical labs that monitor the stack emissions. These labs are referred to as Continuous Emission Monitoring systems (CEMs Units). On average, each CEMs unit is supported by at least 30 calibration gas cylinders.”

Speaking from ILMO Products’ perspective, Nelson added, “As one of the very few ISO/IEC 17025:2017 laboratories in the US, ILMO Products is a major producer of calibration gases.  We serve coal mines, refineries, R&D laboratories, power generation facilities, air quality monitoring, medical facilities, natural gas pipelines, food processing facilities, law enforcement (BrAC), and many more.”

“It’s difficult to put a value on the US calibration gases market. It is constantly changing and would be a moving target to assess. As a small independent distributor, ILMO’s market share in this market continues to grow and expand as our capabilities evolve. The size of our company allows us to give customers the attention they need and deserve.  Furthermore, our ability to quickly adjust to market trends and demands enables us to service customers more efficiently.”