Last year, many manufacturing companies began to finally feel the delayed effects of the sagging economy. However, at BioTek Instruments Inc., the company introduced four new products, received the Deane C. Davis Outstanding Business of the Year Award and opened a new international sales office in Switzerland. But it wasn’t just 2010 that produced growth. For the past five years, the company has increased market share by about 6 percent and consistently added new employees. It was able to grow while keeping 100 percent of its manufacturing capabilities within the United States, as well – another uncommon occurrence as of late.
BioTek has a worldwide distribution network as well as global sales offices, but all products are assembled from a 40,000-square-foot facility in Vermont.
“We have been pretty lucky and blessed in this economy actually,” Manufacturing Manager Amit Lodha says. “We’ve been growing for the last five years and really haven’t seen the effects of the economy hurt us as bad.”
Shed and Consolidate
However, nine years ago BioTek was in a less enviable situation than it is today. Originally, the company developed and manufactured biomedical instruments. In 1981, it added microplate instrumentation with the introduction of its first microplate reader. In 2002, the company was taut from being pulled in two separate directions.
“We were making microplate instrumentation and biomedical products together for quite some time,” Lodha says. “We decided to focus solely on microplate instrumentation rather than stretch ourselves too thin. We pulled resources from sales, manufacturing and engineering to specialize in one thing that we are very good at.” BioTek sold its biomedical division.
Now, exclusively a manufacturer of microplate instrumentation, BioTek produces variations of three main products used in scientific testing: dispensers, washers and readers. Dispensers dispense a specified amount of liquid. Washers mix liquids together to create a desired sample. Readers will provide data on the sample being tested. Pharmaceutical companies and research institutions are typical customers.
Within a given product model, there are several components that can be tweaked to suit each client’s needs.
“Many of our products are standardized,” Lodha says. “If you look at two instruments, they will be almost identical but have different uses or perhaps different filters in the reader. Some products can have 90 standard variations, and on top of that we can make additional changes. It’s a fairly complex thing.”
Despite product complexity, BioTek continues to invest time and money in R&D. Since 2004, the company has introduced or released at least two new products each year. Last year it introduced four new products.
- Synergy H1 Hybrid Multi-Mode Microplate Reader;
- Synergy H4 Hybrid Multi-Mode Microplate Reader;
- Synergy 2 Alpha Microplate Reader; and
- MultiFlo Microplate Dispenser.
Lodha says the company is firm in its goal to produce quality, American-made products that serve current and future needs. “We don’t sit back on our laurels,” Lodha says. “We believe that what you invest today is what you will get in the future.” In addition, Lodha says the company’s private status allows it the benefit to think long term.
“We are privately held so we can take long-term view of our investments,” he says. “We don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next quarter.”
Investing in Partners
BioTek often partners with suppliers when developing new product. Many of BioTek’s machining capabilities are in-house, but it does source specialty components from trusted suppliers. Some suppliers have worked with BioTek almost since its inception. Lodha says BioTek’s specialty is in assembling the pieces and ensuring quality through product testing.
Its long-term suppliers are welcome to visit the facilities and use its machinery. They are also encouraged to discuss possible solutions with the BioTek engineers. “If they fail, we fail at the same time,” Lodha says. “I don’t’ want [our suppliers] to tell me what I want to hear. I want them to tell me what’s going to happen.”
Suppliers aren’t the only source of solutions for BioTek. Its product managers work directly with clients to discuss future industry needs. Lodha says clients are willing to partner with and buy from BioTek because they trust the company will deliver.
“The clients will say this is what we need in the next few months or years,” Lodha says.
BioTek builds to order, and its average turnaround time is three weeks. It forecasts components that have longer lead times. “Our salespeople can go out there and say to clients, ‘This is going to happen,’” Lodha says. “If they say it can happen in three weeks, we make sure it happens. We don’t have labels that say we are ‘No. 1.’ – our actions say it.”