Time to take the test

Increasing demand for environmental tests has precipitated a boom in the lab services market, and led to in-house testing going out. David Fevyer, from LabDirect, connects UK industry to the lab services they need on-line.

If, as the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention, then it may also be said that legislation is the mother of necessity. Goodwill and a sense of social obligation can count for something, but it is legislation, and the turn in public opinion that leads to it, which can push issues from the sidelines to the centre of the business game.

Historically, this has been placed on the shoulders of governments. Now it is industry itself that is seen as the key player. Governments, though initially slow to react to this potential vote-earner, are now trying to at least seem as if they are doing something about it, with the result that more and more environmental legislation is being targeted at all areas of industry.

Testing tools
But wait. With all this legislation issuing forth from Westminster and Brussels, industry needs to perform a greater number, and a wider range, of tests, making the business of testing, and particularly out of house testing, a real growth market.

Most commercial laboratories can, in fact, test just about anything if they calibrate their equipment to do so. Some tests might need specific tools, but generally speaking, the reason labs specialise in certain areas is the cost of re-calibration. Given this, the sheer number of labs that deal with testing that can be placed under the broadening 'environment' umbrella should say something about the growth in demand.

Indeed, the very term 'environmental testing' has shown signs of growth over the past few years, with branches of specialisations such as microbiological analysis and chemicals testing being re-grouped under this collective term. This may also explain why even large companies, who perform a certain amount of in-house testing, still find a use of independent labs; when new or proposed legislation leads to a requirement for which the in-house lab is not best suited, it is often easier and more cost-efficient to out-source.

Nowhere has this become more apparent than in the on-line marketplace for laboratories that take in such testing. Traditionally, industrial manufacturers needing out-of-house testing have stuck to the companies they have encountered before, or who are geographically close at hand, so that an accurate overview of the market for environmental laboratory services was hard to discern. Now, however, the market is becoming larger and therefore more competitive, with environmental laboratory services being sought in a more targeted manner.

Indeed, figures from LabDirect, the only company that specialises in connecting UK industry to the lab services they need, suggest that up to 50 per cent of the lab services market is currently taken up with environmental testing of one sort or another. The water and sewage industries alone were worth £8 billion in the UK last year.

Significantly, the market has now reached the stage where companies within industry that have in-house testing facilities of their own are responding to the out-sourcing demand. LabDirect has helped company labs that may be going through an idle few months to take on work from other companies and so provide an unexpected revenue stream.

Green is good PR
This shift from the 'someone, someone else was at University with' mindset to a more sophisticated, open market looks set to continue over the coming years, as factors such as the limping Kyoto treaty finally begin to filter down to legislative level. Furthermore, many companies are beginning to regard a demonstrable 'green' approach as good PR in its own right, with a number of major US motor manufacturers having already set themselves targets for emissions standards that outstrip their legal obligations.

Whatever the reasons for an individual company seeking environmental lab services, it is now clear that the they will be an increasingly important and integral part of industry for the foreseeable future, and the procurement of such services now ranks alongside the traditional logistical and supply issues of business decision making.


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