Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Saturday, November 9, 2013

HPLC Maintenance & Repair Parts To Have on Hand for HPLC Systems

HPLC (UHPLC) systems are complex instruments which require periodic inspection, cleaning and maintenance. These tasks are critical to maintain the performance, reliability and accuracy of the instrument. If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that you create formal standard operating procedures (SOP's) which address: (1) The frequency of when routine and non-routine maintenance procedures should be performed; (2) The types of maintenance and/or repair procedures used (e.g. piston seal replacement, A/I rotary valve seal replacement); (3) The exact step-by-step procedure to follow in performing these tasks and (4) The Performance Verification or Qualification steps and procedures which are to be performed to verify that any repairs made have been done correctly. *An instrument log book should be employed to document these procedures over time.

Periodic "General Maintenance" of the HPLC is one type of service procedure which should be scheduled at a set frequency (Example: Every 6 months) and will serve to provide a time to clean, inspect and repair/replace any parts which are worn due to normal use. Such routine HPLC maintenance is often referred to as a basic "Preventative Maintenance" service (or "PM Service"). Spare parts common to your HPLC system(s) should be on hand to perform these scheduled maintenance procedures as part of a normal PM service.

Here is a list of common parts that should be on hand for a "typical" HPLC system used in a pharmaceutical laboratory. Please consult the appropriate manufacture's product literature to determine the correct parts needed for your own HPLC system. This list is presented as a general guideline only:

  • Capillary tubing, fittings (nuts and ferrules): Assorted fittings, usually made of 316 Stainless Steel, but could be made of polymeric materials. Always have spare precut and polished chromatography tubing of appropriate I.D. and lengths for use with your HPLC available at all times. Insure that the nuts and ferrules used are appropriate for your brand of HPLC system and the columns used as different manufacturers have different specifications for their fittings and ferrules. Many types are not interchangeable.
  • Detector Lamps: At least one spare bulb of a type designed for your specific detector should be on hand. Note that some detectors use multiple lamps so you may need to have more than one type available for each detector. Some lamp bulb types (e.g. tungsten) can be safely stored and last for several years while other types, such as Deuterium bulbs, loose substantial energy after as little as 6 months. If you have several detectors of the exact same design, then there is often no need to stock multiple replacement bulbs for each one. Instead, stock enough bulbs to service one detector as it is unlikely you would see failure of more than one detector on the same day (an exception to this guideline is if you perform PM services on all of the instruments at the same time, then you may want to have multiple bulbs available).
  • Pump Pistons: One set of spare new pistons should be kept on hand for each pump module. As with lamp bulbs, if you have several identical pumps, then there is often no need to stock multiple sets of pistons for each one. Stock only as many as you expect to use in one year. Clean and inspect the pistons during each PM for any signs of scratches or surface abrasions. Under routine use, pistons should only require general cleaning and last a long time before replacement is required (> 1 year). Mobile phases which contain high concentrations of salt buffers often accelerate this wear requiring more frequent replacement. *Always install new piston seals when replacing pistons.
  • Pump Piston Seals: At least one set of spare new piston seals should be on hand for each pump module. Seals wear out more frequently than pistons. You should go through two or more sets of piston seals before you need to replace the pistons. If the piston seals leak, inspect the pistons for wear (replace with new ones or clean and reuse) and install new piston seals. Mobile phases which contain high concentrations of salt buffers often accelerate this wear.
  • Solvent Pickup Filters: These are the large particle filters which sit inside your solvent or mobile phase bottles. They are often made from stainless steel or sintered glass with porous inlets (~10 to 30 micron) and can clog or become fouled over time (esp. when used with aqueous buffers). In some cases these can be cleaned using sonication (not sintered glass filters, only steel or polymeric!). Note: Sometimes it is most cost effective to replace them with new filters then clean and re-use them.
  • Inline Frits/Filters: You may have an inline filter placed after your PUMP head, but before the column inlet to collect any remaining particulate matter. These filters can extend the lifetime of the entire HPLC system (esp. the A/S, A/I and Column), but will only do so if changed on a regular basis. Some manufacturers incorporate this type of filter into the design of their pump modules. An example of this can be found on the HP/Agilent brand model 1050, 1100 and/or 1200-series pumps. These have an inexpensive 10 micron PTFE frit installed in the outlet valve of the pump. This filter catches all of the normally occurring piston seal debris and larger mobile phase particles and should be changed every month. Other pre-filters are installed in cartridges just before the column inlet. These often overlooked pre-filters filters must be replaced about once each month to do their job properly. Keep plenty of spare filters on hand.
  • Auto-injector Rotary Valve Seals: If you have an auto-injector, then a high pressure valve is probably used to switch the sample into the flow path for analysis. This valve will have one or more parts which require regular inspection, cleaning and periodic replacement. Mobile phases which contain high concentrations of salt buffers often accelerate this wear. The valve rotor seal is the most common part which requires replacement.
  • Auto-Sampler Needle: A needle should last a very long time, but depending on the frequency of use and type of vial septa encountered it can require replacement at regular intervals. A good general guideline would be to keep one spare needle on hand for every 2-4 systems.
  • Auto-Sampler Needle Seat: The needle seat often requires more frequent replacement than the needle due to repeated mechanical wear. A good general guideline would be to keep one spare needle seat on hand for each system.
  • UV/VIS Detector Flow Cell: While not actually a required PM spare part, this one is worthwhile to have. If you employ a UV/VIS flow cell, then I always suggest you keep one dedicated spare flow cell on hand which matches the size and volume of the type you use in your instrument. A spare flow cell can prove to be very valuable as a troubleshooting tool if you believe that you have contaminated or clogged your current flow cell. A quick swap can answer the question and get you back to work quickly saving hours or days of lost time. *Note: This extra flow cell should be kept separate from all instruments for use as a tested spare only and not used for regular analysis.
If you have suggestions for other types of common HPLC spares to add to the list or to have on hand, then please let me know.