Rethinking Liquid Chromatography

Liquid chromatography is one of the most competitive categories in the scientific instrument industry, with the major players continually increasing pressures, adjusting flow rates and generally waging a never-ending battle of specifications. How do you go
beyond making incremental improvements to deliver a new kind of value for research laboratories?

Our existing UHPLC product family has a very loyal customer base, but another set of customers have indicated their desire to take chromatography to the next level. Here’s how we set out to meet their needs.

We asked our R&D, marketing, manufacturing and executive teams how we could create a new generation of UHPLC, but the answer didn’t come easily. Actually, the answer didn’t come from within the company at all, it came from the greater community of chromatography users. We asked a large number of customers, basically, what they would want to see in a new UHPLC system.

As you might imagine, there were plenty of differing responses, but there were also some recurring themes that boiled down to three main categories:

• Performance (more resolution,sensitivity)
• Productivity (more throughput, ruggedness, sample capacity)
• Usability (easier and less method development, familiar software, simpler operation)

Following much debate, we realized that an upgrade to an existing platform would not deliver the additional value that customers were looking for, nor the competitive edge that we sought. We decided to take the big step of creating a completely new UHPLC platform from scratch, based on current and future customer needs rather than evolution.

This gave us the opportunity to actually begin by developing new column technology and then designing the rest of the platform around it. This way they complement each other with additional performance. It’s like beginning with a set of high performance tires and designing a sports car around them so they all work in harmony.

We knew that the new system would need to work at very high pressure to deliver the performance we sought, and we developed Thermo Scientific Accucore Vanquish UHPLC columns for 1500 bar (22,000 psi), the maximum pressure rating for the new Thermo Scientific Vanquish UHPLC system. The new columns feature 1.5 μm solid core particles utilizing Core Enhanced Technology to take full advantage of this pressure at a fl ow rate of 5mL/min. for ultrashort diffusion path lengths and high resolving power.

High pressures tend to be tough on hardware, but since we had the luxury of designing the system from scratch, we were able to mitigate wear and tear. The clean, monolithic design of the Vanquish system features very short, strong connections between the modules, contributing to the platform’s exceptional ruggedness. Because the modules easily slide in and out, the Vanquish system combines the flexibility and ease of maintenance of a modular system with the ruggedness of an integrated one. Eliminating accidental void volumes and dispersion effects contribute to this performance and ruggedness, as do unique zero-dead-volume Viper fingertight fittings. We were also able to include hard carbon-coated ceramic injection valve and pump pistons, designed for very consistent performance for 200,000 injections between the need for maintenance. After this interval, they can be easily swapped out, further enhancing productivity and uptime.

The column compartment can be positioned on either the right hand or left hand side of the Vanquish system, to keep the flow-path short regardless of how the benchtop workflow is set up. Because we were starting from with a clean slate and a clear focus on what we wanted this system to achieve, the list of features that enhance performance, productivity and ease-of-use is long.

“Form follows function” is a very basic but comprehensive principle in architecture and design. We kept this in mind from the beginning when we started to discuss our new generation UHPLC. The result is the completely new industrial design of the Vanquish system providing new levels of performance, productivity and usability without compromising flexibility. One obvious example how design supports functionality are the doors: they open widely to allow excellent access for setting up fluidic connections, but when closed there is a clean appearance. Rather than simple LED indicators, we use LED bars that efficiently display the relevant information on instrument status. The lean design concept is also applied to details like a drawer for consumables and drawer accessible Vanquish modules to make maintenance easy to perform.

Many people consider liquid chromatography a fairly mature technology. We believe that, with the right approach, substantial advances are not only possible, but achievable. We offer the new Vanquish system as proof.

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