In our modern era of exponential technological growth, we can continually find newer, better, and more efficient ways of solving everyday issues. For better or worse, we’re rapidly advancing existing technology — often making technology predecessors obsolete incredibly quickly.
As consumers, we must consider the pros and cons of this booming high-tech revolution.
Although the flow cytometry market is generally more stable than other technological fields, instrument obsolescence is becoming an unfortunate everyday reality that negatively impacts the users.
What is Obsolescence?
Functional obsolescence occurs when a newer technology or product comes to market and makes the original technology no longer viable. For example, when video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu superseded Blu-ray discs and DVDs, the newer technology prevailed due to improved product accessibility and better pricing.
Quality obsolescence occurs when a product breaks down to the point of no longer being usable. Many consumer goods are built to break down faster in today’s disposable and single-use product market. To cut costs, manufacturers offer a cheaper product at the expense of longevity and reliability. The cheaper product can be for safety, ease of use, or to encourage consumers to buy more frequently.
Desirability obsolescence occurs when a newer and more exciting product comes along, reducing the desirability of the older product. This is often seen in industries such as fashion, where the life span of products can be incredibly short and highly cyclical. Desirability obsolescence can also be thought of as similar to “shiny object syndrome.” Once a newer product is introduced, its novelty quickly makes it the next must-have item leaving older versions outdated and forgotten.
These forms of obsolescence can occur because of poor design, lack of forethought, or—more commonly—as an economic business strategy, such as planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence includes several incremental product changes to encourage consumers to purchase a product that is “a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary” . Most notably, this is seen in the life cycle of cellphones as newer models come out every year. Beyond incremental changes, planned obsolescence is also forced on the consumers by companies choosing not to offer service despite a product still providing value and function.
Obsolescence in Flow Cytometry
Flow cytometry and its associated technologies are being negatively and rapidly affected by obsolescence. As technology improves, so do the cytometers. While the industry’s progression is usually constructive, there has been an alarming number of flow cytometers—about one-third (see list of instruments at the end of this article)—that have been obsoleted, no longer supported, or taken out of circulation between 2008 and 2020. This has left users with little to no recourse after procuring and spending considerable costs on their instrumentation.
The current generation of flow cytometers are not being built to stand the test of time, and, as a result, we see a growing trend of “disposable” flow cytometers. Instruments like the BD FACSCalibur have been manufactured and supported for more than two and a half decades before being retired ,, while newer instruments like the FACSVerse or the original Life Technologies Attune (before being replaced by the Attune NxT) ,, only remained on the market for a handful of years.
Some flow cytometry manufacturers (FCM) have portfolios of numerous but heavily disjointed products. This negatively affects their readiness to provide rapid-response services and long-term commitment to support customers who have invested in their instruments. Although an extensive portfolio allows for more choices, it also makes purchasing decisions more cumbersome and upgrading more difficult.
For example, one major manufacturer offers SEVEN different RUO flow cytometers each with different specs, performance, software, and capabilities. Stratedigm, a flow cytometry instruments company founded in 2004, provides TWO flow cytometers that offer the same performance, use the same software, and differ in specs only in that one is a fixed 2-laser, 6-color and the other is a customizable up to 6 lasers and 30 parameters. The upgraded option provides cohesive and easily navigated options.
With little to no continuity for hardware design and software solutions, manufacturers with fragmented product offerings are forced to deal with a long list of components and maintain and preserve an increasingly larger body of tribal knowledge about each product. Inevitably, these issues burden the customers when the company finds it easier to obsolete certain products and abandon support for the units already on the field.
Many instruments were left on the field still functional yet deemed obsolete because manufacturers, busy consolidating their fragmented portfolios, no longer wanted to support them (i.e., planned obsolescence). This left existing customers with very few options: purchase a new machine, trade-in their existing machine for a small fraction of what they paid, or go without any support or recourse if something happened to their instruments, e.g., the FACSVerse or the LSR II ,.
See the case study here.
Globally, users are forced to deal with the pains of planned instrument obsolescence and discontinued support for their cytometers. Institutions have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their equipment only to have it gather dust and fall into disuse after only a handful of years. In the past, users have also turned for help to third-party service providers to find that they no longer support these obsolete systems due to new business models or lack of access to spare parts . Worse still, in the clinical market, if an instrument is obsoleted and a new instrument is required, there are several months of (re)validation required for the new instrumentation.
Service contract investment is another aspect to consider. In the beginning, service contracts are more valuable to the manufacturer because the instrument and its components are brand-new and require less maintenance. As the instrument ages, the service contract becomes more beneficial to the customer due to normal wear and tear. When instruments are obsoleted, the added value of an older, more valuable service contract is ultimately erased.
Beyond the fiscal consequences, there are also environmental impacts. Users are forced to abandon their instruments when they ultimately breakdown, adding even more waste to landfills 3.
So, what is the solution to all of this?
It is the role and responsibility of FCMs to design and produce instruments that are meant to withstand the test of time; they must be forward-thinking and stand behind their products. Manufacturers with future-proof designs and guarantees will lead the way into a more inventive, resourceful, and sustainable future for cytometry.
Customers and FCMs can insist on upgradeable designs and modular cytometers that are economically attractive. They will benefit significantly from next-generation systems that have much more in common with previous generations, making the transfer of knowledge, part inventory, and serviceability simpler and more manageable.
When the time comes to purchase a new instrument, consider the manufacturer’s track record of obsoleting their instruments and providing consistent, continuous service.
Is Anyone Doing This?
Between 2008 and 2020, only one company has provided its customers with continued support and combatted the pressures of product obsolescence — Stratedigm.
Since its inception in 2004, Stratedigm has always had the forethought and purpose of designing its products to be upgradeable, customizable, scalable, and future-proof. Its flow cytometers have grown from 4-laser, 8-color instruments to 6-laser, 30-parameter powerhouses spanning four generations of the S1000 platform (S1000, S1000EX, S1000EXi, S1000EON). This makes the S1000 series the longest-standing instrument still on the market today.
The S1000 platform has always been upgradeable, and users can field-upgrade lasers, PMTs, accessories, and automation. Stratedigm’s future-proof design offers something that no other instrument on the market has achieved to date: the ability to upgrade BETWEEN generations for over a decade.
Stratedigm focuses on combating each form of obsolescence (functional, quality, desirability, and planned) with its S1000 series by:
- always providing an upgrade path to the latest Stratedigm technology
- designing time-tested instruments with the highest quality, performance, and most robust parts available
- pioneering and backing its products with the market’s first anti-obsolescence guarantee (see below)
- continually planning product development around forward-upgradeable designs
What does this mean for new and existing Stratedigm customers?
Regardless of the purchase date, Stratedigm customers have peace of mind knowing that they can field-upgrade to the latest generation of S1000 flow cytometer. For example, if a 4-laser, 8-color S1000 was purchased in 2008, it can still be upgraded to the newest 6-laser, 30-parameter S1000EON in 2021.
Not only are Stratedigm instruments upgradeable, but they are modular. Their automation suite allows for piece-wise upgrades as budget permits and applications require. Stratedigm gives users the ultimate cost savings benefit by providing them with instruments built to last and be continually upgraded as new technology and innovations are developed.
With a tightly consolidated product portfolio and a single, unified software package, Stratedigm is able to provide excellent service and easy training regardless of when an instrument was built or purchased.
Stratedigm is not only the pioneer, but is also the only OEM to currently offer an anti-obsolescence guarantee (AOG): if an instrument has been under an uninterrupted service contract since its purchase and the installation date and an instrument or a component fails or is completely redesigned such that it is no longer field-upgradeable, available for purchase, and not serviceable, Stratedigm will replace it when necessary at no additional charge with the latest model. As of this writing, this guarantee is unique to Stratedigm and not offered anywhere else in the flow cytometry market.
While others may follow suit one day, Stratedigm’s track record truly demonstrates unwavering values and mission within the flow cytometry community. From the beginning, they have been dedicated to users all around the world by providing future-proof instrumentation that grows with their lab and applications. A purchase from Stratedigm saves the users money and time today and headaches tomorrow.
Stratedigm flow cytometers allow users to focus on their applications rather than the distraction of instrument obsolescence. In an era of disposability, Stratedigm continues to find newer, better, and more efficient ways of improving flow cytometry without leaving its existing customers behind.
Table 1. Instruments Not Available for Purchase, Removed from Circulation, No Longer Serviced, and/or Obsoleted.
|Beckman||Cyan (CyAn ADP Analyzer)|
|IntelliCyt||HTFC Screening System HyperCyt iQue Screener HD iQue Screener Plus iQue Screener|
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 Hadhazy, A. (2016, June 12). Here’s the truth about the ‘planned obsolescence’ of tech. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech
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 A legacy to be proud of for flow cytometer. (2021, January 13). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.flowcytometry-news.com/category/the-cytohub/2018/05/05/a-legacy-to-be-proud-of/
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 UPDATE: Life Tech’s Applied Biosystems DEBUTS flow cytometer. (2009, December 07). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.genomeweb.com/update-life-techs-applied-biosystems-debuts-flow-cytometer#.X-zlmulKjOQ
 Picot, J., Guerin, C., Le Van Kim, C., & Boulanger, C. (2012, March). Flow cytometry: Retrospective, fundamentals and recent instrumentation. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279584/
 Next-generation flow cytometry instrument broadens analysis in life science research. (2014, May 19). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20140519006260/en/Next-Generation-Flow-Cytometry-Instrument-Broadens-Analysis-in-Life-Science-Research
 BD FACSVerse™ flow cytometer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.bdbiosciences.com/en-us/instruments/research-instruments/research-cell-analyzers/facsverse
 LSR II obsolescence. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.bdbiosciences.com/en-us/go-campaign/lsr-ii-comp-cont
 BD service OBSOLESCENCE letter and FAQ. (2020, March 20). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://cytekbio.com/blogs/news/bd-service-obsolescence-letter-and-faq