shutterstock_408095131Athletes, flavor, constitution, someone’s voice, coffee – these are all words that you might expect to be qualified with the word “robust.” It’s a great description and creates a nice word picture.  However, this description doesn’t ever seem to apply to electronics or instruments with major electronic systems.

When is the last time you’ve heard someone say “I just bought the latest iPhone. I love how robust it is!”

Could you ever imagine yourself saying “I finally got around to replacing my laptop. It’s much more robust than my last one.”

How many people have discussed their laboratory equipment and said things like “I’m so glad we decided to purchase an ICP-OES for our laboratory. I can’t get over how robust it is!” or “Our ICP-MS is so robust! Analyzing hundreds of samples a day has never been so easy!”

If an object is described as robust, that typically means it is rugged, sturdy, powerful, durable and long-lasting. Those are certainly features I would want in my laboratory instruments. Of course, I would also want my instrument to be accurate, sensitive and reliable, but what good is accuracy and sensitivity if you’re suffering from constant mechanical failures?

So my question is, why? Why can’t the word “robust” be used in the same sentence as a laboratory instrument? My theory? This word isn’t used as a descriptor because it can’t be. I hate to defer to a cliché, but instruments aren’t built like they used to be. Remember when elemental analysis instruments used photographic plate detectors and reminded you of this:


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They were the size of a small tank and weighed hundreds of pounds. Some instruments were so large, one of the walls in the laboratory had to be temporarily removed or the instrument had to be delivered in pieces and constructed inside the lab. The computer processor alone was roughly the size of a refrigerator. But they were rugged. Some of those instruments are still in use today, 20+ years after first being installed.

Instruments today are built to be smaller, lighter, more modular, cheaper to manufacture and easier to transport. The benefit to these changes is instruments are cheaper to purchase, easier to operate and maintain, quicker to repair, and you don’t have to remove one of the laboratory walls to install them. The drawback to these changes is instruments have vacuum pumps that fail, optics that fog, RF power supplies that fail, and charge transfer-style detectors that freeze.

As I just mentioned, instruments are being made more modular and cheaper to manufacture, so it’s relatively quick and easy to make these repairs; but it’s still money out of your pocket and lost productivity in your lab. Wouldn’t it be nice to be free of these issues? Wouldn’t it be nice if your instrument was…robust?

That’s why I’m so excited about the Thermo Scientific™ iCAP™ instruments. The Thermo Scientific™ iCAP™ RQ ICP-MS has improved electronics, an enhanced RF generator to tackle even the toughest sample matrices and reliable hot and cold plasma operation, and a maximum-lifetime detector. In fact, the brochure describes the instrument as “Simplicity, productivity and robustness for routine labs.” The word “robust” is literally used in the description!

The Thermo Scientific™ iCAP™ 7000 Plus Series ICP-OES has a detector, an optical design and an RF generator that can tackle the greatest application challenges. Results are sensitive, accurate and reliable, and instrument downtime is almost non-measurable. The brochure describes the instrument as a “powerful, easy-to-use, solution for multi-element analysis.” Powerful is synonymous with robust!

There’s a lot to like about the iCAP instruments…including their robustness.