Hyphenated Techniques Breathing New Life into the Analytical Instrumentation Industry

Published: 6 Jan 2004

By Kiran Unni, Industry Analyst

Being a part of a mature market, with marginal and steady growth at best, analytical instrumentation companies have been looking for a facelift. These veterans are looking to be able to cash in on new applications, new marketplaces and new prices for their products. On a macro level, technological advancements in pharmaceutical and bio-technology industries and therefore increased investment in R&D on these advancements has tremendously improved demand for application-specific analytical instruments in the past five years.

Extensive research in biochemistry, drug discovery, environmental testing, and even space research, has increased the need for high-performance analytical equipment. Each new improvement offers much more than its predecessors. Greater emphasis on quality control in manufacturing processes and prospects of a vibrant recovering economy are also creating a positive impact.

Improvements in instrument design such as miniaturization, incorporation of statistical methods, and user-friendly software are aiding customers in easy use and maintenance of equipment. Vendors are focusing on compatibility of instruments with research facilities such as Lab-on-a-chip and Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) to enable complete interconnectivity. Application-specific equipment such as surface analyzers for semiconductor chip, and infrared spectrometers are increasing the demand for these instruments as a whole.

Integrated Equipment Edging Out the Stand Alone?

Traditional analytical approaches including HPLC (High-Performance Liquid Chromatograph), GC (Gas Chromatograph), UV (Ultraviolet) detection, etc., have become insufficient to effectively address the growing number of challenges in analyses of species- specificity and sensitivity. Modern speciation analyses, whose developments are referred to as hyphenated techniques, originate from the traditional use of molecule or element specific detection in electrophoresis or chromatography.

Hyphenated techniques and instruments have been around for over two decades now. The GC-MS (Mass Spectrophotometer), the ICP-MS (Inductive Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrophotometer) have been finding applications in several research efforts across end-user segments. Apart from routine research, these techniques are finding increasing application in commercial uses as well.

Elemental speciation analysis in biological, environmental and clinical sample matrices are important applications of several new hyphenated techniques including the GC-ICP-MS. Stand alone instruments could analyze various physical properties such as boiling point, toxicity, solubility and metabolic pathways in different living organisms. With integrated equipment such the HPLC-ICP-MS or the GC-ICP-MS, sample preparation before analysis is minimized and ‘on-line’ species separation is much faster. These integrated techniques are becoming increasingly popular in applications where analyses of complex matrices with low detection limits and high specificity are expected.

New Techniques on the Block

One of the most important industry trade shows, Pittcon 2004 is expecting to see several such innovations and integration of erstwhile stand alone instrumentation. One of the leading participants in this market, Thermo Electron is planning to announce the launch of new innovations in its X-series ICP-MS line of instrumentation. The company is planning to include new HPLC and GC coupling packs such as the Finnigan™ Surveyor™, Finnigan™ Focus and Finnigan™ Trace into its ICP-MS series. These new hyphenated techniques are expected to have the benefits of an open architecture sample introduction system that enables quick and easy interchangeability between ICP-MS, HPLC-ICP-MS and GC-ICP-MS configurations. These configurations are expected to offer optimum chromatographic separations in both aqueous and organic mobile phases.

The Thermo Electron initiative is merely a glimpse of what is expected in the future. Increasing number of hyphens in the technology used in analytical instrumentation is a reflection of more complex requirements in several end user segments and their insatiable need for high-performance instrumentation.

In addition, a portable GC-IMS (Ion Mobility Spectrometry) instrument was demonstrated by FemtoScan to be used for detection of toxic chemicals in military and defense applications. Apart from being a highly powerful hyphenated analytical instrument, its portability offers an exciting range of applications from an in-situ manufacturing process monitor to on-site environmental testing.

The biggest advantage of hyphenated speciation techniques is the ability to detect species other than the pre-conceived compounds. This has been found to be especially true in the analysis of drinking and wastewater, drug discovery, biochemistry and biotechnology, where focus on research is maximum the world over.

Future of the Hyphen in Analytical World

Currently the most common techniques for trace element speciation include a combination of separation technique coupled with a detection technique that is more sensitive. Earlier such hyphenated techniques were the coupling of separation of a special sample preparation off-line and later adding a detection technique. Presently, online coupling of the two techniques have become increasingly common. As will be witnessed in Pittcon 2004, benefits from using integrated analytical instrumentation are plenty. These hyphenated techniques offer

  • Shorter analysis time
  • Higher degree of automation
  • Higher sample throughput
  • Better reproducibility
  • Reduction of contamination because it is a closed system
  • Enhanced combined selectivity and therefore higher degree of information

All these factors are expected to improve the commercial availability of these hyphenated techniques in the next couple of years. Environmental and biological research users are already using these type of instruments in varied applications. Introduction of commercial versions of this equipment is expected to find demand in industrial applications as well. Chemical and petrochemical, food and beverage, plant and animal biochemistry, clinical chemistry, etc., are all areas where research and manufacturing will be greatly benefited by these hyphenated techniques.

The advancements in technological compatibility and integration are signs of serious movement in the analytical instrumentation industry worldwide. Saturation of demand and market maturity of several conventional, stand-alone instruments are driving industry participants such as Thermo Electron, PerkinElmer and several others to investigate and offer highly advanced hyphenated techniques that meet the needs of high-technology oriented applications. These market leaders are acting on foresight that indicates the need to offer innovative instruments that proactively cater to the changing requirements of their customers.

For more information on the Analytical Instrumentation Market subscription and queries on the information provided above, please contact the analyst at kiranunni@frost.com.

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