Agilent launch next generation GC instruments

By Dr Matt Wilkinson

- Last updated on GMT

Agilent looks to maintain its strong market presence in the gas
chromatography (GC) sector with the launch of two new instruments.

The new gas chromatography (7890A GC) and tandem gas chromatography mass spectrometry (5975C GC/MS) systems were launched earlier this week at Pittcon 2007. According to the company, they promise to reduce sample run time, while allowing users to maintain their current methods, which is particularly useful for regulator approved applications. The company claims to have been the number one worldwide supplier of benchtop GC/MS systems for the past 30 years, and the innovations in this latest offering will help to continue a strong market presence, especially as the instruments will be sold at a comparable price point as the previous models. Dr Cynthia Cai, Agilent's GC marketing program manager, told that the new instruments: "increase performance and reliability while allowing customers to continue to use their existing methods and training."​ The introduction of a new metal injection molded electronic flow module, made from stainless steel, allows increased flow and pressure control of the carrier gas to one thousandth of a psi. This is an order of magnitude greater than previous GC offerings from Agilent and allows improved retention time locking which helps to identify known compound peaks, especially useful when replacing old worn columns. "The whole development cycle involved lots of customer interviews; we talked to over 200 customers to find out the challenges they are facing, the issues they have and their wishlists,"​ continued Dr Cai. One of the key things that customers requested was the ability to retain existing separation methods that have received regulatory approval, removing the need to validate new methods. The keypad and instrument set-up have also been retained so users familiar with the previous instrument, the 6890, will not need retraining. Agilent have improved the efficiency of the instrument by reducing the waiting time needed between sample injections, while allowing users to continue using current separation methods. Dr Cai said: "People can easily speed up their GC run by a factor of two or three times; the key to this is the new capillary flow technology capabilities such as backflush." ​ The backflush system makes use of the new capillary flow technology that allows the column flow to be run backwards at the end of a run, purging the system of high boiling point compounds that can stick to the column. This has been shown to increase the life of the column as it removes the need for high temperature bake out which can damage the column. A post-run column bake out that previously took 33 minutes can now be completed using the backflush system in just seven minutes, dramatically improving the efficiency of the instrument. The capillary flow system design uses a microplate manufacturing technology that allows GC flows to be manipulated inside the oven. The low thermal mass of the system ensures incredibly fast thermal response, key for obtaining good chromatographic results. The capillary flow technology allows the 'quick-swapping' of columns, shortening the downtime of the instrument dramatically, especially useful for GC/MS systems where changing a column on a typical system can take up to two hours due to the need to vent the MS before detaching the column This will be particularly useful in high throughput drug discovery applications. This new addition to the instrument allows several other advanced functions such as solvent bypass, Heart Cutting (Deans switch), controlled splitting of the effluent to up to three different detectors simultaneously, as well as allowing controlled two-dimensional GC (GCxGC). GCxGC can increase a instruments separation power by a factor of ten or more, with respect to conventional chromatography. According to Dr Cai: "GCxGC is much more powerful than trying to get the separation in just one column." ​ The technique works by using a modulator to collect effluent from the primary column before transfer to a second column with different retention characteristics. The effluent is collected in portions, typically of 1.4s, before transfer to the second column. The use of the capillary flow system removes the need for cryogenic freezing during this step opening the door for more routine use. The capillary flow device can be retrofitted to Agilent's 6890 GC instruments, although complete upgrades are not possible, as some of the software upgrades cannot be integrated into the older machines. Some of the newer features, such as GCxGC will need the purchase of a new system. Several other new innovations are included in the mass spectrometer package, such as Trace Ion Detection which reduces background noise, increasing the signal to noise ratio and improving peak shape at low ion concentrations. The new 350o​C high temperature ion source in the mass spectrometer, gives improved response for many high boiling molecules, as well as stopping high molecular weight molecules from sticking to the source, allowing more robust operation when working with 'dirty samples'. According to the company, these additions to the mass spectrometer give more performance across a wide range of applications and gives you sensitivity you can use. Agilent claim the new mass spectrometer has the highest sensitivity in the industry, with a 1uL injection of a 1pg/uL OFN standard giving a signal-to-noise ratio of 200:1. "Agilent has the history and know-how to make innovations work and help the industry move forward,"​ said Dr Cai. New lab monitoring and diagnostic software allows the user to monitor up to twenty instruments from one PC and can be set up to alert a user by email, sms, phone or fax to any problems encountered during a run. This software can be extended to monitoring the outlet streams of continuous laboratory processes and alerting the user if a problem in the process occurs.

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