Launch of Pay-Per-Use Service of High-end NMR, the “F1” of Analytical Instruments
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers are especially useful for analyses of samples like organic compounds, polymer materials and biological substances. These instruments are used at research institutes such as laboratories of universities and companies, but are expensive, and not easy to purchase. Therefore, JEOL has launched a pay-per-use service to enable anyone to use this kind of high-end analytical instrument. The NMR remote sharing service allows users to freely operate the instrument remotely via the WEB.
First Remote Sharing Service
An atom behaves like a small magnet spinning with a unique cycle. Placing
this magnet in a stronger magnetic field, the magnet begins to demonstrate the properties to resonate with the external radio wave. The NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer) is the instrument using this characteristic. It is a useful tool in analyzing medical drugs, polymer materials such as plastic and polyethylene, and organic compounds consisting of atoms such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus, for example, biological substances such as nucleic acid and proteins.
JEOL offers 2 types of high-end NMR, JNM-ECZ800R and JNM-ECZ600R. The 800R has an especially high-level performance, and can truly be called an F1 machine. Everyone would like to use one, even just once, but this is not easy to achieve in practice.
One reason is the cost. A high-end NMR uses a superconducting magnet cooled with liquid helium. The helium, as well as nitrogen, must be replenished regularly, and, of course, a high-end NMR requires a carefully managed installation environment.
To address this, in 2018 JEOL launched a new remote-sharing service offering pay-per-use access to high-end NMR.
One of the key people in the establishment of this new service is Toru Ide.
“With the budgets at university labs becoming tighter, purchasing the latest high-end NMR is becoming difficult, but there is still a demand to use a high-end instrument, because the data obtained with a low-end NMR is not as precise. Our CEO, Mr. Kurihara, heard about this issue during conversations with customers and came up with the idea of a remote sharing service. We believe this can help provide an environment for training personnel capable of operating these instruments at universities, allowing repeated use of the service to become familiar with the instruments.”
Performance that customers become addicted to
For the NMR remote sharing service, users send their samples to JEOL, and once the setting has been completed, the user can freely operate the spectrometer and perform measurements on-line from the WEB via the Internet. The fee is set as a daily rate, allowing users to “drive” the F1 NMR for a full day.
"Typically, the charges are based on instrument use time, but with NMR, it is often necessary to make multiple measurements of a small amount of sample, so we decided to offer access per day. Full-scale operation of the service has just begun; but, the customer reactions are good. Just using it once seems to cause customers to “get hooked” on the excellent performance. I think it is a service that people will use repeatedly.”
The NMR is an instrument developed by JRI (JEOL RESONANCE Inc.), a subsidiary of JEOL Ltd. Cooperation of JRI was required to launch on this new service.
“It took a long time to confirm the stable operation for JEOL and JRI. There was also considerable coordination between JRI and JEOL in promoting this business. "
1 Year Trial Testing with Keio University
The trial testing was started in early 2017, with test operations conducted in collaboration with Keio University Faculty of Science and Technology. Initially, there were some unexpected problems.
There was uneasiness about the new procedure, including security, and a hesitancy to send off precious samples. Ide explains; “For the instrument performance, confidence was built through repeated testing and explanation, with engineers, mainly from JRI, going directly to the university. We also constructed a way for the data measured by the user to be saved and analyzed without involving JEOL personnel. It was suggested that the HDD should be switched for each user to ensure confidentiality. It was also important for researchers to feel certain that the samples could be transported safely and securely. So, in addition to selecting specific courier companies, we designed new shipping containers to transport sample tubes.”
We asked a company specializing in cardboard containers to create a reusable shipping container. It took a year, with many prototypes created, to complete the final design. The container can hold 24 sample tubes, with the cardboard inside the box cleverly folded to absorb shocks. We asked NMR users for their feedback, and they rated the reusable shipping container quite highly.
New Winds of Change for Instrument Development
The efforts of Ide and the project team were appreciated by Keio University researchers, who continued to use the NMR remote-sharing service through 2018’s fiscal year.
There are rival NMR manufacturers, but at present, there is no one other than JEOL offering this kind of sharing service. Ide says, “Generally, as a manufacturer, this can be a difficult business model, because the instruments are not being purchased.” Nevertheless, the implementation of this kind of service illustrates the JEOL commitment to a customer-oriented and a service-oriented perspective.
Ide talks about the future prospects;
“It’s called a “remote” service, but there is still too much manual effort, including the sample delivery. In the future, we hope to lower the fees by introducing procedures that eliminate costs, such as displaying the days that an instrument is available and accepting applications for use on-line.”
Ide hopes for an enhancement of automated functions, with the change of instrument usage.
“JEOL makes many expensive instruments, but there aren’t many that have automated functions. If the sharing business is successful, I think it will help demonstrate the need for more automation within the company. I hope to introduce new winds of change to the instrument development process through this new business model.”
Contracted analysis services and web conferencing services have been offered for some time, but a sharing business that enables users to perform their own measurements remotely is unprecedented, both at JEOL and within the industry. We will hope for the outcome of new challenges.