How to efficiently maintain a flash chromatography system

You clean your car, you update your computer, you go to the doctor. Maintaining yourself and your possessions is a must in life, no matter how annoying the process can be. Laboratory equipment, as some of your most expensive possessions, must also be regularly cared for to ensure the extended lifetime of the instruments. In this post, I try to show you how to maintain a flash chromatography system in the most pragmatic and efficient way possible.

I’m finding myself at home more and more often these days. I’m newly retired, it’s winter and it’s still a pandemic out there. It’s nice to be home, mind you, but never did I realize how much coffee I drink a day! I’m already concerned that my coffee machine will give up on me and die from overuse. But I’ve always been good to it and I am trying really hard to prevent its early death by maintaining it in good shape. To counter my increased usage, I just wash the system parts, run the descaling program and clean the machine’s exterior more frequently.

No doubt, if I simply used a coffee filter, the whole maintenance process would be much easier. But I cannot ignore the advantages that an automated coffee machine with all the speed and quality it brings to my daily brew.

Now if you are in the separation lab and still performing open column purifications, don’t let the maintenance of an automated instrument scare you into ignoring the benefits of an automated unit. Speed, ease of use and higher quality products are all advantages that an automated chromatography unit brings to your benchtop. And it is easy to maintain a flash chromatography system if you know what parts to look out for.

This is how you can go about doing it.

Firstly, take a look at a typical schematic of a chromatography instrument as shown below:

chromatography instrument, chromatography system, ELSD, UV detection, cartrdige, fraction collector, flash chromatography, prep HPLC

The pump

Let us first consider the pump in how you maintain a flash chromatography system. The pump is the part responsible for supplying the mobile phase to the cartridge where the actual separation takes place. Typically, the pumps used in flash chromatography systems are piston pumps. To maintain the pump and ensure a reliable flow rate, you should:

  • Check the valves and clean them with an appropriate solvent
  • Replace the piston seal once a year to guarantee a constant flow

The detector

If your system is equipped with a UV detector , then maintain a flash chromatography system and its detector by doing the following:

  • Rinse the flow cell from time to time with an appropriate solvent
  • Verify lifetime and intensity of the light source and replace if needed

If you are using an evaporative light scattering (ELS) detector , you might be aware that the detector is made up of three main parts: a nebulization zone, an evaporation zone and the actual detection zone. Here is how you can take care of these parts:

  • Nebulizer: Inspect and clean with an appropriate solvent. How often you should do this depends on the frequency of use, type of sample and other factors.
  • Evaporation zone (drift tube): The drift tube needs to be cleaned whenever contaminated. Eventual contamination depends on the quantity and type of sample that enters this zone.
  • Detection zone: Verify the intensity of the light source and replace if needed.

When you maintain a flash chromatography system, do not forget that a small portion of the stream is diverted to the ELS detector via a detector split device. You also need to maintain this device according to its type. For example, if you are using a valve, you should replace the rotor in the valve from time to time.

The fraction collector

Perform routine maintenance on your fraction collector by cleaning the drop former with appropriate solvent. Remember to inspect the tubes and fittings when you maintain a flash chromatography system. Replace these parts when needed to avoid any leakage and loss of sample during operation.

Something useful to keep in mind is that instrument manufacturers provide maintenance kits. These kits can simplify your job as they usually contain all necessary parts for you to maintain a flash chromatography system and its components.

Besides the chromatography system, you also need to maintain your columns and cartridges . Check out how to perform proper column maintenance in one of my previous posts.

I hope this post helps make the maintenance of your current or future chromatography instrument as easy as making a cup of coffee. And reading the post was as enjoyable as having a cup of coffee. I’m looking forward to many more energized posts with you this year.

Till next time,

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