As its close customer relationships continue to reap rewards, Servomex tells Specialty Gas Report about two emerging trends in process gas analysis.

Margins are tight. Downward pricing pressures are squeezing these ever tighter. Everyone wants - and needs - to save money wherever they can. For the gas companies this means being able to produce as much gas as possible, at the highest quality and at the lowest cost. For the instrumentation companies, that means innovating with solutions and increasing your service offering.

At least that’s what Servomex is hearing. The company recently told Specialty Gas Report that in terms of analyser technologies, there’s now less of a drive on getting lower and lower detection limits and more of a focus on reducing the cost of ownership. Further still, the trend appears to be for less and less people operating plants in the future and for a greater service and solutions offering from the instrumentation providers to accommodate this change.

Servomex has been an innovator in gas analysis technologies for more than 50 years. In fact, 2012 marks the company’s 60th anniversary. Based in Crowborough, UK, the company has established a strong global reputation for process gas analysis and its acquisition of Boston, MA-based Delta-F in 2010 only strengthened this presence further, particularly in the market for industrial gases.

At the heart of this reputation is a customer intimacy that has kept Servomex at the forefront of trends in instrumentation. The company strives to be located as close to its customers as possible and has invested in the right geographical locations to meet that requirement. Servomex also holds User Advisory groups, often which its service engineers will attend themselves to understand both the customer’s needs and the challenging environments that their technology has to be deployed in.

It’s from these groups that the company has learned of the emerging trends in the industry. Chris Cottrell, managing director of Servomex, explains, “The User Advisory group really helps us to make sure that what we give to the customer is exactly what the customer is looking for.”

“I think we’ve made some big steps forward because we’ve had a User Advisory in the Middle East and one in Asia, we’ve always had one in the US, we’ve had another one in Europe, and that User Advisor is really now starting to press out beyond the UK and the US.”

There’s a lot of interest at the moment in lasers and laser associated spectroscopy

“What’s quite interesting is, of the current technologies, which of these might be replaced by new technologies that are easier for the customer to use. I think there’s less of a drive now on getting lower and lower detection limits and greater performance, I mean that’s clearly still important, but there’s more of a drive on reducing the cost of ownership of some of the technologies that are currently in place - which means that might result in a new technology.”

“There’s a lot of interest at the moment in lasers and laser associated spectroscopy technologies, these could replace some of the technologies that are currently out there. And that’s where our approach with User Advisories work well.”

“Depending on the technology,” he adds, “we can develop it ourselves, we can work with technology partners, or we could even work with our customers, particularly if that’s an increasing opportunity; where you go to a particular customer and say ‘here’s some ideas, we appear to be like-minded and we’ve got the opportunity to work together on a new technology’. That helps us, and it’s key for us to be able to stay ahead in new technology.”

Cottrell explains that part of the key for the instrumentation companies now is to better understand the working environments of the technology they are producing, and evolve the solution to meet these demands. It shouldn’t be technology for technology’s sake, he affirms.

“That’s the key, taking that technology and putting it into a format where it’ll work in the demanding conditions. If it’s just technology for technology’s sake, you lose all sight of the original objective of the exercise. It wasn’t just to build a better mousetrap, it was to build a better mousetrap that actually could work in any environment and really provide a real benefit to the customer, a real benefit to what they are facing, rather than just another option. It’s an expertise-led offer from Servomex.”

Future trend
Cost of ownership might be something that’s particularly topical right now, but another trend appears to be emerging in the future - less people, and more service and support.

“In the future this theme of there being fewer people onsite at industrial plants is going to continue,” Cottrell says. “Our job is to provide a solution which they
can rely on us to deliver and support. This means they can concentrate on manufacturing and be less concerned about supporting the gas analysis package themselves.”
“That’s going to be our focus for the future, to continue to drive that, to listen very hard to the customers and to some extent even second-guess them, because when you talk to them it is today’s problem and you have to progress it forward. We’ll continue to work with and alongside our customers.”

Not only will Servomex continue to work with its customers and best understand their requirements, but the company is also planning major investment in Houston, TX to support the demand.

The company has invested significantly in recent years, both in technology and in building its geographical footprint through new service centers and regional offices. But it looks as though it’s next investment will be in addressing a Houston facility that it has outgrown in recent years.

“One thing we are doing is looking at having a new building in Houston, because we’ve outgrown where we are - and we’re right in the middle of that decision-making process at the moment. We’re going to present a world-class technical and customer solution to the US.”

“We’ve grown dramatically, very quickly, in the last few years and we expect to continue to do that in the future,” Cottrell concludes.