How RFID technology lifeguards your chromatography process

Many of us have been in the position of running 20 experiments at once, sharing lab equipment with colleagues and dealing with disasters such as sample mix-ups. But there are ways to help you deal with these daily stresses. For example, RFID technology has emerged as a stable assistant in protecting the safety of your samples and helping optimize your chromatography runs. Learn more about this technology and how it can save your skin in this post.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I go to a public beach, I like to sit somewhere in the proximity of the lifeguard. I am a pretty good swimmer, but just the mere thought that there is someone watching out for me in case a giant wave comes and swallows me up brings me a bit more comfort.

Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to have such a guard to keep an eye out on your experiments in the laboratory? Just to double check you are doing everything okay and you won’t drown and have to repeat the experiment another 10 times?

Mistakes can happen, especially when you are working with many samples, other colleagues and long protocols, like we in chromatography do. But to be honest, the thought of these preventable mistakes costing precious material and time is just as horrifying as the nightmares from my last chromatography blog post.

But there have been some technological developments to help you avoid these mix-ups.

Take RFID tags. These are tiny radio transporters that receive and transmit data when triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a reader device. Typically, the data that is transmitted contains information linked to the object that is tagged.

So what can RFID do for you compared to the frequently used barcode?

Unlike a barcode, the tag does not need to be in the sight of a reader. This simplifies your work. More data can be stored on an RFID tag than on a barcode. And you gain the bonus possibility to both read from and write on the tagged object.

In chromatography, RFID technology can be found on the cartridges and racks to remove potential risks of wrong settings.

Most of the data that is used for method set-up is related to the cartridge. Typically, the larger the cartridge, the bigger the flow rate and the longer the method. Other factors that influence the process include cartridge dimensions and particle geometry. You can read more about the topic of column efficiency and flow rate in one of my previous blog posts.

But even if we know the theory behind process improvement, we often lack the time to process all available data and use it to optimize our methods. Using RFID technology can help you there in the optimization department, as the tags store all necessary information that is needed to run a method effectively and reproducibly on the cartridge. When using RFID cartridges on a chromatography instrument, all data regarding the cartridge will be inserted in the method after the cartridge bas been scanned on the reader. This helps achieve optimal and safe separations.

And there’s more. Information can be written on the cartridge via its RFID tag. This feature can be very useful if you use the same cartridge multiple times.

In such cases, the data that is written on the cartridges could include the amount of times the cartridge has been used and the solvent composition that was used during the last run. This information can be helpful for monitoring the cartridge efficiency over time and for preparing the cartridge correctly for the following run.

We should not forget about the cartridge rack, which can also be tagged. The RFID tag in this case tells the instrument which rack is inserted and what the maximal vial volume is. This is extremely helpful in preventing errors such as failing to collect the fractions in the vials or overfilling of the vials. Another positive thing is that each rack has a unique code. This can be beneficial in very busy labs, as racks containing fractions can be retrieved even when multiple racks are used in the lab. The unique code of the rack can be found in the report after the run, further bulletproofing your process.

Overall, I’d say using RFID technology is like having David Hasselhoff in your lab, where he doesn’t just watch over your safety, he gives you tips on how to improve your backstroke too. You might not become an Olympic chromatographer with RFID technology, but maybe you won’t feel like you’ve been thrown in the deep end of the pool next time you start your chromatography run. With this, I wish you calm waters for the rest of the summer season!

Till next time,

The Signature of Bart Denoulet at Bart's Blog