Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Common HPLC Problems and their Causes (Sudden changes to either the HPLC Backpressure or Peak Shape)

   Let's take a quick look at two different problems which you may encounter when operating an HPLC system. We start with the basic observation and then look at the most likely causes so we can begin the troubleshooting process and repair the problem. An automated HPLC system's flow path typically consists of: The Solvent Pickup Filters (in the mobile phase reservoirs); The Pump(s); AutoSampler; AutoInjector; Column and one or more Detectors.*You should have a good understanding of this flow path before you proceed to diagnose the problem(s).

 *A gradual increase of pressure for the same method over time is often due to column fouling or a dirty inlet frit (e.g. PTFE frit). This article specifically focuses on the causes of a sudden change, not a slow change over time.

   Sudden System Back Pressure Changes: We will assume that you have been running the same method for some time or at least several times without a problem and then suddenly notice that the back pressure has changed from what is normally seen. The problem must lie within the flow path of the system.

   Excessive High Pressure: Typical reasons for this are:
  1.      A fouled or plugged column;
  2.      Wrong flow rate (higher than normal);
  3.      Inlet frit/filter plugged or restricted;
  4.      Plugged line;
  5.      Wrong mobile phase composition.

   Large Drop in Pressure: Typical reasons for this are:
  1.      A leak at a fitting, column or line (Number one reason);
  2.      Wrong flow rate (lower than normal);
  3.      Wrong mobile phase composition. 
  • Start by checking the method parameters to insure that they have not changed (i.e. flow rate, mobile phase composition). Check for leaks or plugs. If the column is suspect, replace it with a zero dead volume union (ZDU) and restrictor and flush the system. Replace the column with a new one or wash the current column according to the column manufacturer's guidelines.

   Sudden Peak Shape Changes: We will again assume that you have been running the same method for some time or at least several times without a problem and then suddenly notice that the peak shape of one or all of the peaks has changed from what is normally seen. *The key thing to keep in mind is that the change occurs all of a sudden, not because of poor initial method development.

   Typical reasons for this are:
  1.      Tailing or Split Peaks: Sample overload, change in flow rate, mobile phase composition (e.g. composition or pH), void formation, dirty frit, injection solvent too strong or a fouled column.
  2.      Fronting: Commonly seen when overloading sample on column.
  3.      Ghost Peaks: Usually due to a contaminated mobile phase, contaminated sample vial or contaminated injector (e.g. rotor seal).
  4.      Broad Peaks: Large sample injection volumes or extra column volume (bad connections with the system or tubing) are usually to blame. Try reducing the injection volume by a factor of 10 and see if the problem goes away. You may also want to wash the column as it may be fouled with sample.

   These are just two common problems we see when using HPLC systems. Note that a dirty or fouled column can cause many of these problems so take care of your columns and wash and test them regularly to insure they are in compliance. There are many other commonly seen problems besides these. If you would like to see a specific problem featured on this blog, then please send me a request.



  

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