Astech “REACTS” to market

Company hopes to leverage its new automation maintenance service to gain new customers

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RUNCORN, U.K.—Looking to fill an unmet need in the market, Astech Projects, a provider of custom, advanced automation tools and systems that it sells primarily for pharmaceutical development, announced last month the launch of REACTS, an automation maintenance and support service that will not only serve its existing customers, but will also look to find customers further upstream in the drug discovery area.

"What we discovered is that we were being requested by a number of our customers to provide this service," says Anthony Moran, sales and marketing director for Astech. "Over the past few years, we have been fortunate to have a number of former RTS employees start work for us and much of what we were being asked to do was on RTS and REMP tools. With that expertise now in-house, we felt confident we could launch REACTS on a global basis."

According to the company, the initial REACTS (Rapid, Effective And Complete Technical Support) team will be four strong and include former RTS employees who have worked around the world commissioning and installing automated systems. While the service offering brings Astech into a market area where it hasn't been particularly active, Moran is confident the company can make inroads—and perhaps even find a new market for—its custom automation systems for compound and sample management.

"It has traditionally been a hard market for us in discovery, since RTS and REMP have really sewn up a good portion of what's available in automated sample management," Moran notes.

Paul Norris, founding chairman of the 50-employee company, says Astech is hopeful—but not banking on—eventually winning over some of its REACTS customers for customized automation systems.

"We are just building up REACTS at the moment," says Norris. "We found that RTS was interested more in selling their systems than they were in providing the service. [The discovery area] is always one we've been interested in, since it is using the same techniques that we already provide. We know we are very good at servicing and maintaining these systems and perhaps it can turn into something more."

Moran says that where some companies may be more interested in selling the complete automated solution than in providing maintenance and service down the road, it is also one reason he thinks Astech is well-suited to the task.

"We do integrate a lot systems and that is unlike other companies that generally lock down their customers with only their systems and products," he notes. "Because we have this expertise it makes it easier for companies looking for maintenance to call us since they can have just one company, and not several, doing the work."

The service Astech intends to offer will focus initially on planned maintenance. In this instance, Astech would visit the customer on a regular schedule, perhaps twice a year, to perform preventive maintenance on tools, examine the system to determine how it is operating mechanically, whether robots are homing correctly and if not, make the needed adjustments.

Astech will also offer remote monitoring services and telephone and E-mail support for customers who want to do much of the required work themselves.

"Our customers will have complete flexibility in how they specify the support we provide for them," Moran notes.

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