Australia and New Zealand are the focus of this installment of our “Getting To Know” series and we are pleased to have the assistance and insight of Peter Barron, BioSpin Division Manager. In this article, Peter discusses the close relationship Bruker has with the academic community and the recent installations of systems that have kept the service engineers very busy.
First of all, can you give us an introduction to the Australian office – where are you based, and how many staff are there?
Bruker BioSpin is based in Alexandria, a suburb of Sydney, which is conveniently close to the airport and two of our major university customers. We have 5 staff based in this office plus two engineers based in Melbourne and Brisbane. Optics is also based in this office whilst AXS and Daltonics are based in the Preston office in Melbourne. There is also a small office in Wellington, New Zealand. Bruker in Australia and New Zealand currently employs approximately 35 people.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Bruker in Australia?
After Mr Ben Selby met Prof Laukien at an ACHEMA early in the 70’s, Selbys Scientific became the distributor for Bruker products in Australia and New Zealand. In 1984, Dr Gerhard Wider and Mr Peter Caha set up Bruker (Australia) Pty Ltd in Sydney. The move to the current Alexandria premises, with a demonstration/application laboratory, workshop and parts store, occurred in 1990 with an official opening by Dr Tony Keller. Since then there has almost continuously been a current generation NMR system installed in the lab – it is hard to emphasize strongly enough how beneficial this major investment has been for the Australian and New Zealand NMR business. We of course do not do many “demos” as such but it allows us to become very familiar which each new system, to keep up with new software features, to investigate customer problems. etc. In 2012 a major refurbishment of the premises occurred and more offices, a conference room and a demo/apps lab for Optics were created. BioSpin merged with the other Bruker divisions late in 2013 with both Sydney and Melbourne offices being retained. There are now representatives from all divisions based in the Alexandria office and there is close contact between the divisions’ management.
What sectors do your customers mostly work in – are they primarily in research/academia, or is there a significant industrial market?
Our business is very much dominated by university and government research. There are only a handful of NMR systems outside of these areas unfortunately.
Australia is quite large geographically, and New Zealand some distance away, are there challenges in visiting customers or bringing the NMR community together?
There are certainly challenges with such a large physical distribution of installations (comprising of 150 NMR, MRI and EPR systems), and a small BioSpin organization. The last of these means we try to lose as little time on travel as possible. Acting as a team has always been essential. We aim to keep system ownership costs down as much possible as, like everywhere, academia is not flush with funds for maintenance and repairs. Hence we rely very heavily on close relationships with our customers and with their help try to diagnose and rectify problems without actually visiting sites. Our engineers of course have to travel and spend significant time away from home for installations – it is clearly hard to come home for a weekend from Perth which is a 5 hour flight each way from the east coast cities. And you are a long way from help if something goes wrong. With a sample changer, it is actually possible to run Acceptances tests remotely….if only we could deliver magnets at field!. Having more than 25 CryoProbe systems to be serviced, in locations like Hobart, Townsville, Cairns, Auckland and Palmerston North, places heavy demands on the engineers.
Have you had a significant or unique sale or customer installation recently?
Last year we managed to win a sale to a consortium of four universities which included the replacement of non-Bruker systems with a package of AVANCE systems including an 800 with CryoProbe. In 2012 we sold a total of 15 NMR/MRI/EPR systems which made the following year extremely busy for our engineers (who are able to deal fully with the complete range of vertical bore 4.2K magnets). But they worked incredibly hard and managed to keep all the customers happy with the end results. We have had to install 10 or 11 NMR systems in the first half of this year, so again there has been a lot of pressure on the engineers. Late last year two FT-EPR’s, an ICON MRI and an ALBIRA PET/CT system were installed by factory engineers with our engineers assisting, and now they have the task of supporting these systems and thus have a lot to learn. I have often said that during our time with Bruker, we have no choice but to continue learning, regardless of age!
Are there challenges to working so far away from the factories in Europe and Corporate Offices in the US?
Just really the time for urgently required parts from the factories to arrive and get through customs. Even after dealing with this for many years, and thinking we know how to avoid traps which cause delays, new situations can still catch us out. The support we get from Fallanden and the Karlsruhe factories is just astonishing, right from the Orders, Shipping, Production, Technical and Applications people.
What are the main conferences/trade shows that you attend in the region?
The ANZMAG society runs a local MR conference every two years somewhere in Australia or New Zealand (ANZMAG 2015 is in November north of Auckland at what should be a lovely location) and it has become a tradition for BioSpin to hold a Users’ Meeting on the weekend before at the conference site. This attracts a very substantial proportion of our customer base due to the fact that we always import a number of factory people to give presentations. We seem to regularly have international conferences held locally i.e. ISMAR, ICMRBS, ISMRM. Every year we will participate in some more general local conferences with other Bruker divisions.
What are your thoughts on the future of the market for magnetic resonance instruments in Australia and New Zealand?
New challenges have arisen in the market and we must be careful about how we handle these to ensure we maintain our our close relationship with the customer base. There will be new competitors entering the market for certain, especially in the medium-high field supercon market, and there already are in the low field, high resolution benchtop area. Biospin, as part of the Bruker Corporation as a whole, has to continue to evolve and modernize our ways of functioning to remain successful. But it will be important in doing so, in fact, crucial, that we do not lose those characteristics that have made us so successful. As far as the BioSpin business in Australia, we are very reliant on government funding for research and have to live with the wide fluctuations that have always occurred in this funding – this is largely out of our control. Regardless of the level of funding in any year, we will of course always work hard to make customers accept us as their first choice. And we also need to encourage the expansion of applications into new fields and thus broaden the potential customer base.