Best Practices to Reduce Downtime of Critical LCMS Assets

Dec 08, 2023 | Blog

reducing downtime of critical LCMS assets

LCMS systems are powerful, essential tools. Unfortunately, many labs still run at the edge of maintaining just enough equipment without redundancy. If this is the case for your lab, reducing LCMS downtime is critical. Here are some strategies to help.

Whether you’re running a pharma, biopharma, CRO or academic research lab, chances are LCMS instruments are critical workhorses in your lab. They are used for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of large and small molecules in a wide variety of applications, including proteomics, antibody analysis and more.

When an LCMS system goes down, there can be dire consequences in terms of lost time and lost revenue.

To reduce the downtime of your LCMS system, you first need to understand the most common problems an LCMS system can encounter and the best practices for good maintenance and troubleshooting. Then you need to form an asset management and LCMS servicing plan involving all stakeholders and the right external partners to ensure your LCMS stays up and running at all times.

What Causes LCMS Downtime? The LC or the Mass Spec?

We’ll be upfront. When an LCMS system encounters a problem or goes offline, it’s common for the LC engineer to blame the MS, and the MS engineer will blame the LC for the problem.

Most of the time (around 80% in our experience), the LC causes the most common problems that can bring the entire system down. That doesn’t mean the MS never has an issue, but prioritizing training and preventative maintenance efforts around the LC to start will be most impactful.

With that said, let’s dig into some of the more prevalent problems with both sides of the system, starting with the LC.

Common LC Problems

The LC involves a lot of moving parts and fluids moving through the system. Between the pumps, injectors, columns, tubing and fittings, there are plenty of opportunities for mechanical error as well as human error.

The most common issues with the LC are:

  1. Contamination: Mobile phases running through an LC can pick up unwanted ingredients from many sources, including glassware, mishandling or even the surrounding environment. Those other substances can contaminate the LCMS leading to issues down the line. Common contaminants include Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) or PEG-like materials, metal ions, phthalates, siloxanes, grease, oils and other surfactants.
  2. Mechanical component breakdown: LCs have mechanical assemblies, tubing and zero-volume connections, which can cause issues from lack of maintenance or poor installation. All those parts are potential points of failure that can cause the system to go offline.
  3. Chemistry Issues: LC columns sometimes have to be replaced, and any residual sample must be cleaned from the system after use. If those steps aren’t taken, the sample on the system can interact with new sample, leading to inconsistent results.

The good news is the LC is easier to effectively troubleshoot for a scientist or non-engineer user than the MS.

Best Practices for Maintaining the LC

Contamination and wear and tear can be prevented with routine cleaning and preventative maintenance. Here are some best practices your lab team can implement to increase the uptime and lifespan of your LC.

  • Change solvent reservoirs weekly and never top them off.
  • Only use ultra-pure MS grade ACN, MeOH, water, and modifier.
  • Change all system frits and high-wear components regularly.
  • Run full clean regularly.
  • Sample clean-up is key – UF, L/L extraction, SPE, immunoaffinity.
  • Run the system constantly and idle at low flow, 50% organic. This is especially true for nano LCs.
  • Set up routine preventative maintenance (PM) – one a year is fine, two is preferable depending on the use.

Common Mass Spec Problems

As we stated earlier, problems typically occur less on the MS side. Unfortunately, when they do occur, the problems are harder to troubleshoot and require greater skill and more time. Here are some of the more common things you will notice when the MS has issues.

  1. Sensitivity Loss: When sensitivity drops off, these lower-than-normal signal intensities will impact limits of detection as well as reduce the overall performance of the instrument.
  2. Poor Resolution: A decrease in resolution or peak shape can often lead to poor peak identification and matching, mass errors, and reduced sample coverage. All of these will impact the quality of data.
  3. Poor Mass Accuracy: If you’ve run a procedure many times and received the same mass value, when that starts to drift, it’s a clear indicator of a greater problem.

Best Practices for Maintaining the Mass Spec

While problems with the mass spec are harder to troubleshoot and fix without an expert engineer, the good news is many of them are preventable with routine mass spec servicing, careful sample prep, and adherence to protocol. Here are some best practices that will help mitigate issues.

  • Schedule routine maintenance once or twice a year to improve uptime and avoid catastrophic breakdowns.
  • Run system suitability test (SST) and make sure to track and record trends.
  • Perform mass calibration if SST result indicates it is necessary.
  • Clean the ion source, spray chamber and nebulizer tip on a suitable schedule.
  • Implement a shutdown method for end of run or end of day.
  • Keep an inventory of key parts and consumables.
  • Keep detailed maintenance records outlining issues, troubleshooting, diagnosis and repair and distribute them to all stakeholders.

LCMS Asset Management – How to Build Your Team

While determining an entire asset management plan for all your lab assets is a large undertaking, the first thing you can do is determine the right team to get involved with maintaining the uptime of critical LCMS instruments.

Here are some considerations that will help you get started.

  • Customize your service team and include multivendor providers, asset management companies, internal metrology, scientists, users, and super users. Create a team with a diverse set of skills and experience.
  • Use the highly trained engineers to do the heavy lifting and more difficult troubleshooting.
  • Invest in training the lab staff to perform basic troubleshooting along with routine cleaning and maintenance.
  • With that first round of training, you can create super users who then train new users on proper protocols.
  • Hold quarterly review meetings with the team to review best practices and keep stakeholders informed.

Conclusion: The Right LCMS Service Partner Can Help Maintain Uptime

At the end of the day, LCMS service agreements with the right partner go a long way to maintaining LCMS uptime. OEM service contracts can be limiting, and they don’t always take your lab and stakeholder needs into account. It’s important to explore all your options for servicing, so your LCMS instruments can stay up and running.

Consider an expert multivendor LCMS service provider like ZefSci. Get in touch with our team today. We’re more than happy to discuss how our services can fit into your asset management plan.