Insights by Sébastien Clerc, Technology & Market Analyst, Microfluidics & Medical Technologies at Yole Développement (Yole) – The recent announcement by the German company Schott AG that it is acquiring Minifab, based in Australia, should come as no surprise. It follows a trend seen in recent years of companies in the microfluidics business both moving up the value chain as well as diversifying, offering customers a one-stop microfluidics shop.
Schott is a large, international technology leader in the fields of specialty glass and glass ceramic, with an annual turnover of €2B and about 15000 employees. It has been supplying glass substrates for microarrays and microfluidic components for more than 15 years.
Minifab is much smaller, with only 150 employees compared to Schott’s 15000. What Minifab does bring, though, is expertise in polymer micro-engineered products, providing design, development and manufacturing of polymeric microfluidic solutions, particularly for medical and life sciences applications.
Polymeric materials are in general much cheaper than glass, especially when used in mass production processes. Therefore, glass is only used when it has a significant added value or specific property, such as chemical inertness, high-end optical property or nanometer-scale structure. Yole estimated that in 2016, 65% of all microfluidic devices contained polymer and only 30% contained glass, though it must be understood that most components within the 30% are not solely glass but contain at least some glass for a reason mentioned above.
Through the acquisition, therefore, Schott gains access to a greatly enlarged market which includes polymer components, including potentially large volume products, but especially the ability to combine polymer and glass parts in a single product. Minifab also brings its own customer base, with its expertise in biology, surface functionalization, microfluidic product development from design to mass production, fluid control (valves, pumps, etc.) and integration of sensing elements.
Schott’s acquisition of Minifab has followed the trend of similar strategic moves in the past few years, where companies have merged or formed partnerships to offer customers more complete solutions.
IDEX Health & Science has followed a similar strategy, acquiring two microfluidic foundries in the past four years. Prior to 2015, IDEX was focused on providing fluidic and optical components and subsystems. In 2015 they acquired CiDRA Precision Services, which brought complementary glass consumables capabilities to their portfolio, while in 2017 they acquired thinXXS which expanded their capabilities in polymer consumables manufacturing while adding new markets in point-of-care (POC) and veterinary.
Similarly, in 2016, Micronit, the Dutch Lab-on-a-chip vendor, acquired iX-factory of Germany, a foundry service provider for MEMS and silicon microfluidic products. Through this acquisition Micronit enlarged its capabilities from glass components to include silicon components, enabling the integration of sensing elements (electrodes, etc.) in the products they deliver to their customers. Then in 2018, Micronit formed an alliance with Helvoet and Axxicon, the Flow Alliance, which added injection molding capabilities to their portfolio. The three companies have diverse expertise in polymer micro-components , and the combination of all three makes the Flow Alliance a one-stop shop for polymer microfluidic consumables, from design and prototyping to high-volume manufacturing.
Other recent acquisitions of microfluidic device manufacturers include Stratec BioMedical acquiring Sony DADC Biosciences, Zoetis acquiring Scandinavian Micro Biodevices (SMB) and Corning acquiring Invenios. Stratec’s acquisition enlarged its capabilities by combining macro- and micro-fluidic solutions as well as instrument development and manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to provide complete diagnostic solutions. Zoetis gained SMB’s ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology increasing their capabilities in animal health, while Corning enlarged their capabilities in high-end glass micro-components.
There is a word of warning in this trend, however. Before these acquisitions, Schott and the other acquirers relied on various external partners for the products and processes they were not able to manage internally. Following the acquisitions and the inevitable expansion along the supply chain, Schott and the others no longer need their former partners and even start competing with them. This might become a cause of concern for their former partners.
About the author
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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