Impact of Global Meltdown
The economy, and its impact on laboratories, has been one of the big instrument stories of the past year. Due to layoffs and cost-cutting, purchasers value automation and throughput more than ever. The shortage of acetonitrile, a byproduct in the manufacture of acrylonitrile (a high-volume industrial monomer), has caused analysts to re-think solvent-intensive HPLC methods. Many companies are substituting solvents, for example methanol, but that requires re-validating methods, which in regulated industries can be expensive and time-consuming.
“Users are looking to cut back on solvent consumption through use of smaller-diameter columns with lower flow rates and shorter analysis times, not to mention alternative methods, like ion chromatography, that do not use acetonitrile,” says Phil DeLand, market development manager at Dionex.
Dionex claims its “reagent-free” RFIC™ ion chromatograph reduces equilibration time, calibration, method verification, and troubleshooting compared with standard ion chromatographs. Reagent-free refers to RFIC’s ability to manufacture eluent on demand through electrolysis and controlled formation of potassium hydroxide or methanesulfonic acid.
Dionex also offers a rapid, high-resolution HPLC, the UltiMate® line, which includes modules for performing rapid separation LC (RSLC) and nanoflow LC/MS.
Helmut Schulenberg-Schell, marketing manager for liquid chromatography at Agilent Technologies, agrees that the global economy will have a deep impact on instrument markets with speed, efficiency, and higher-quality data being the prime drivers. HPLC systems, he argues, will need to be a lot more flexible to address issues of diverse workflows and operator competencies. “Whether the issue is sub-2 micron technology or high flow, purchasers feel locked in. We want to change that.”
The Infinity LC system, Agilent’s first major HPLC introduction since the debut of the 1200 series three years ago, provides the flexibility to utilize columns and chemistries from any vendor, according to Schulenberg-Schell. The Infinity binary pump module uses “active damping,” which incorporates firmware to reduce ripples in pump output and associated background noise. Noise is further reduced by Jet Weaver gradient mixing technology, which delivers solvents in picoliter steps for precise mixing.
Another feature of the Infinity is a new UV diode array detector with (reportedly) twice the sensitivity of other available detectors—significantly higher than what is required of an FDA-validated assay, according to company spokesman Stuart Matlow. Optofluidic waveguides provide ultralow detection limits and high signal-to-noise ratio, while use of noncoated fused silica eliminates special-care requirements.
Most vendors tout pressure ranges for HPLC systems but, according to Schulenberg-Schell, a more relevant parameter is power range, the product of flow rate times pressure. Agilent claims the highest power range available for its Infinity binary pump, up to those typical in UHPLC. Agilent has also reduced the delay volume to about 10 microliters, two orders of magnitude smaller than for typical HPLC systems. “The practical implication of this is separations in 30 seconds instead of 20–30 minutes,” says Schulenberg-Schell.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for Infinity is its backward compatibility with pressures, columns, and established methods. “Whenever users are ready to upgrade a method, that capability will exist for them in the Infinity,” notes Schulenberg-Schell.