Microfluidics is increasingly appealing to many large players, the leaders in various technology sectors. Several of them have recently decided to enter or strengthen their position in the microfluidics market, which reflects the attractiveness of this dynamic field. This is a good opportunity for these companies to find new growth areas where they can leverage their core expertise. A good example is the growing presence of SCHOTT in the domain of micro-structured devices for diagnostics and life sciences. Its recent acquisition of Minifab enables the glass manufacturer to complement its existing capabilities to serve these applications well.
Boosted by such strategic moves, the microfluidic device market is expected to grow at a 10.8% annual rate, reaching $5.8B in 2024 according to Yole Développement (Yole)’s recent report Status of the Microfluidics Industry 2019, in which the industry’s evolution is deeply analyzed. Sébastien Clerc, Technology and Market Analyst, Microfluidics and Medical Technologies at Yole, had the opportunity to interview Greg Wolters, Head of SCHOTT SBF Diagnostics and Christian Jabschinsky, Head of SCHOTT NEXTERION®, who shared interesting insights about the company’s vision of microfluidics. Here is a summary of their discussion.
Sébastien Clerc (SC): Can you provide an overview of SCHOTT’s current business, especially the Life Sciences part you’re in charge of?
Christian Jabschinsky (CJ) : SCHOTT is one of Germany’s hidden champions. Founded in 1884, we have since grown to be a global market leader for specialty glass and glass-ceramics in various application fields. The company employs more than 15,500 people across production sites and sales offices in 34 countries. SCHOTT NEXTERION® is the leading brand for cleaned and coated glass substrates for research, diagnostics and many other life science applications. We offer an extensive range of standard products including those with functional coatings for DNA, protein and cell applications. Importantly, we also develop and manufacture customized diagnostic products that need unique formats, materials, coatings and markings to meet special customer requirements. With our high-quality standards, innovation focus and high volume production capabilities, we have successfully positioned ourselves to address our customers’ growing diagnostic challenges.
SC: How long has SCHOTT been active in Life Sciences? It seems that the company’s effort towards addressing this application has increased over the past few years. Can you please explain why?
Greg Wolters (GW) : With the manufacturing of labware and optical glass for microscopes from its earliest days, SCHOTT has been active in life sciences since its founding 135 years ago. It entered the diagnostics market in 2002 with the production of SCHOTT NEXTERION® coated glass slides for microarray applications. However, as the diagnostics market has grown both in terms of size and in technological complexity since 2002, we have been expanding our capabilities to provide the solutions our customers are seeking. This has especially been the case over the last few years, in which we have expanded our capabilities portfolio by making important strategic investments in new technologies, products, and markets. Most recently, this includes acquiring the leader in polymer microfluidics, Minifab.
SC: What does SCHOTT NEXTERION® offer its customers?
CJ: Our customers are focused on developing high-performance diagnostic consumables. Often these consumables require a diagnostic-quality glass component that is customized. This customization can include special shape formats, high-performance functional coatings, or specific structures such as holes and microfluidic channeling. For these customers, SCHOTT offers a full-service single-source solution. Indeed, in our 3,000 m² production and R&D facility we have powerful capabilities to develop a custom-designed solution for our customers and then manufacture it in high volume.
SC: SCHOTT is an expert in glass, and Minifab an expert in polymer microdevices. What value does combining both add? Does it open the door to new applications for SCHOTT?
GW: Combining the capabilities of both SCHOTT NEXTERION® and Minifab actually opens up opportunities for our customers in multiple ways. First, technical integration challenges are inherent in the development and manufacturing of complex life science and diagnostic products. However, by combining our respective competencies in both glass and polymer, we create a pool of expertise that can more innovatively and efficiently resolve these challenges. Secondly, and very importantly, the synergies in know-how achieved through our combined capabilities opens pathways for the development and manufacturing of novel and potentially disruptively innovative products. Indeed, by having world-leading proficiency in both fields, we can fully leverage the functional characteristics and cost benefits of multiple materials in a single product. This will enable us to deliver unique solutions for customers in life-science and diagnostics. Lastly, because the development of a diagnostic consumable often requires the inclusion of both glass and polymer capabilities, a customer is forced to shop around for various centers of expertise. In this regard, not only can it be challenging to find the right collection of partners but it can also be frustrating to coordinate them over the course of product development and downstream manufacturing. By combining the competencies of SCHOTT NEXTERION® in glass diagnostic components with those of Minifab in design, development and manufacturing of polymer consumables, we now achieve powerful synergies as a single-source provider of diagnostic consumable manufacturing.
SC: Can you share some concrete examples of NEXTERION® /Minifab’s projects to highlight your capabilities?
CJ: Although in these early days we are not in a position to share details of current projects, we can share our vision for what our new capabilities enable. That is, SCHOTT NEXTERION® and Minifab currently work with a variety of cutting-edge diagnostic companies, both big and small, that are developing consumables that leverage the latest advances in diagnostic science. Because of the complexity of these technologies and the unknowns that exist on the path to their successful development, off-the-shelf solutions are rarely sufficient. Rather, companies developing such consumables need a long-term partner with broad materials and engineering expertise across both glass and polymer, which enables a capability of solving unforeseen development problems when they arise. The combined capabilities of SCHOTT NEXTERION® , as one of the leading suppliers of glass substrates for microarrays with Minifab, as the market leader in polymer microfluidic consumables creates such a partner.
SC: There are several microfluidic fabs out there, each with specific expertise. What were the criteria of choice for selecting Minifab as your acquisition target?
GW: Although a polymer focus was a clear criterion, what was important in selecting Minifab is their product development expertise. That is, as is evident by their position as the global market leader in polymer microfluidics consumables, Minifab is more than just a polymer diagnostics consumable manufacturer. Rather, they have built a team of world-class experts who can lead a customer from early phase design-for-manufacture planning, through iterative development to full OEM based manufacturing. As such, this provides powerful synergies to our glass components focus and enables our ability to be a single-source diagnostics consumable manufacturer.
SC: Is this reinforcement of SCHOTT’s microfluidic activities part of a more long-term strategy? What can we expect from SCHOTT in the future?
CJ: Yes, SCHOTT has placed an importance on the strategic value of life science industries for a long time. This can be seen for example with our expertise both in pharma packaging as well as advanced optics solutions for the medical device industry. Strengthening our capabilities in diagnostics is a complementary extension of this strategic focus. To be clear, we are committed to being a world leader in diagnostic consumable manufacturing. As such, we will continue to build on our capabilities to match the growing importance and complexity of this market.
SC: Minifab is not the first fab purchased by larger players since 2015. What does this restructuring of the microfluidics industry over the past few years mean? Do you think it will continue?
GW: In complex highly knowledge-intensive industries like diagnostic consumables, especially microfluidics, expertise is contained within companies spread all over the place. When such a situation is the case, opportunities can be found in pulling this expertise together. This is certainly part of what is driving recent activity and will continue to do so. However, at the same time we also believe that innovation and opportunity will be found in external collaboration and that the ability for companies to collaborate to extend their capabilities will be critical to success. As such, we are always interested in exploring opportunities with strategic partners.
SC: Anything you would like to add for our readers?
CJ: Yes. It is also important to point out how this acquisition is improving internal efficiencies at SCHOTT. As an example, SCHOTT NEXTERION® and Minifab have been structured as a unified strategic business field under the leadership of Greg Wolters, the previous President of SCHOTT North America. With this unified organizational structure, SCHOTT will enjoy important efficiencies in operations which will, among other advantages, help us to improve our customer satisfaction, innovation and market interaction.
Greg Wolters, Head of SCHOTT SBF Diagnostics & Co-Ceo, Minifab
Greg Wolters joined Minifab as Co-CEO in July 2019 after the business was acquired by SCHOTT AG. Greg has been a long-standing leader at SCHOTT with 29 years’ experience across several different business units, and most recently served as President of SCHOTT North America. During this time he has amassed a depth of knowledge across SCHOTT’s diverse range of markets including the glass based diagnostic sector, served by SCHOTT Nexterion® As Co-CEO of Minifab, he now brings this important additional dimension of experience, knowledge and leadership to the team. Greg holds a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College and an MBA from Western Michigan University.
Christian Jabschinsky, General Manager & Head of Schott NEXTERION®
Christian has been the General Manager of SCHOTT NEXTERION® since 2007. His 20 years of business and technical experience in the life science and glass industry has helped him play a leading role in developing NEXTERION® from only a concept to its current global capabilities and strong business performance. Since 2011, Christian has also held other leadership responsibilities at SCHOTT including technical managing director and production director. Christian holds a Diploma in Medical Technology from Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences in Jena, Germany.
Sébastien Clerc works as a Technology & Market Analyst, Microfluidics & Medical Technologies at Yole Développement (Yole). As part of the Life Sciences & Healthcare division, Sébastien has authored a collection of market and technology reports dedicated to topics such as microfluidics, point-of-care, MEMS for healthcare applications and connected medical devices. In parallel, he is daily involved in custom projects such as strategic marketing, technology scouting and technology evaluation to help academic and industrial players in their innovation processes. Thanks to his technology & market expertise, Sébastien has spoken in more than 10 industry conferences worldwide over the last 2 years.
Sébastien Clerc graduated from Grenoble Institute of Technology (Grenoble INP – Grenoble, France) with a Master’s degree in Biomedical Technologies. He then completed his cursus with a Master’s degree in Innovation and Technology Management in the same institute.
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