In my previous article last month entitled Behavioural Economics, Black Swans and HPLC, I looked at how we struggle to go against the status quo when looking to purchase a new HPLC instrument and let our irrational brain make the decision on biases from our past experiences and perceptions. In this article, I am going to look more into which elements you need to consider to really ensure you can separate your HPLC from the status quo and move your science from the ordinary to the exceptional. But first a little detour.
The day after my previous article was published; the UK, and I included, faced our very own Black Swan in the form of Brexit. Perhaps not a true Black Swan as it was known it could happen, but the events that unfolded in the hours and days afterwards were certainly less predictable. I suggested in this article that you should challenge the status quo and not simply go with what you know. So did I advocate leaving the EU since staying would have maintained the status quo? No, at least not without careful consideration. What behavioural economics teaches you is that, for important decisions such as this, you should challenge the status quo, do the research and engage the rational brain rather than make decisions simply on gut feelings. You can then make an informed decision as to whether to challenge the status quo or not. The same process should be followed when purchasing an HPLC instrument – do the research and engage the rational brain.
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What to look for to separate yourself form the status quo?
Before you go ahead and just purchase the same HPLC instrument you’ve already got, stop and consider the following requirements. It might just allow you to challenge the status quo and make a more rational decision based on your actual requirements rather than biased preconceptions. Here are five requirements that I believe are important when looking to purchase a new HPLC instrument. Do you agree?
- Confidence in results – At the end of the day, the HPLC instrument is there to supply you with data and results so it’s critical that you trust the results that you obtain without having to perform further separations to confirm those results. What gives you confidence in results though? Well, it comes from many different sources; retention time precision so there is minimal shift in your peaks and very low standard deviations over multiple injections, accurate pumps over a wide range of flow rates that are able to deliver the programmed gradient, sensitive detection and a broad linear dynamic range to ensure that even the smallest peaks are detected amongst more abundant compounds, accurate sample injection and sample handling. The list goes on.
- Reliable and robust –You need a system that can operate 24/7 with minimal downtime and very low maintenance. If you can avoid it you don’t want to be rebuilding injection valves every few months or maintaining the pump pistons and seals to prevent leaks and uneven flow. However, if something does go wrong, easy access to the module for maintenance and repair is essential.
- Ability to transfer methods – Method transfer is not a straightforward process, with multiple elements to consider. Any aids that can make this transfer easier are to be welcomed. There are some broad things to consider such as pump type, mixer volume and dead volumes and trying to keep these as similar as possible is beneficial. In the Thermo Scientific™ Vanquish™ UHPLC system some additional tools have been incorporated to help facilitate method transfer. Amongst these are two thermostatting modes and an active column preheater to help mimic existing thermostatting conditions as well as an adjustable metering device idle volume for fine tuning of the gradient delay volume.
- Ease of operation – The last thing you want is a system and software that are complex to use, requiring each new user to undertake many hours of training. The ideal situation is that a new user can walk up to the instrument and start a run almost instantly. It’s not just about an intuitive instrument to operate, but also its integration with other analytical instruments in your lab such as mass spectrometers and the Chromatography Data System (CDS) software. It’s also the small things such as the Thermo Scientific Viper™ finger tight fittings which, as the name suggests, allows connections to be made without the need for additional tools.
- Future proofed – Rarely do things remain constant (apart from the results on a Vanquish UHPLC system!) Technology advances and applications change, so an HPLC system should be able to have the flexibility and capacity to adapt to these changes without the need to purchase new modules or a completely new system. We are already witnessing a decrease in column particle sizes which comes with an increase in backpressure. As this progresses, systems will need to handle the backpressures of today and the anticipated higher backpressures of future column technologies. Likewise, systems are required that can handle today’s sample volumes and will also accommodate future increases in capacity, with sufficient power to reduce run times. It’s always good to buy a system based on what is around the corner and not for what is needed today.
These are my top five, but I could go on and turn this into a top ten. I suggest that if you really want to elevate your chromatography then you will have to look at challenging the status quo and evaluate your potential instrument purchase against these five parameters. We know from behavioural economics that your brain won’t like it because its energy consuming but the outcome will be worth that investment of time. We’ve made it easier to start the process of separating your HPLC from the status quo.