Mass Spec Servicing: Warning Signs, Service Tips & Prevention

Oct 13, 2023 | Blog

mass spec servicing tips and warning signs

Mass spectrometers are the workhorses of many laboratories. When they fail, business suffers. In this post, we review the most important warning signs that your instrument needs servicing and calibration.

Before we dive into the article, it’s important to note: if your lab uses mass spec equipment, LCMS, GCMS or any other separation technique, those instruments should receive regular servicing and preventative maintenance to ensure they are in proper working order.

Unfortunately, many laboratories still neglect a routine mass spec service plan for a variety of reasons. If your lab uses mass spectrometry and your instruments aren’t regularly serviced, it’s important to recognize when the instrument is telling you it needs servicing.

3 Common Signs Your MS Needs Servicing

While full mass spectrometer repair requires years of training and specialized engineering knowledge, there are obvious signs lab techs and scientists can watch for that indicate the mass spec needs calibration or routine service from a trained engineer.

Here are the three most common signs your mass spec needs to be serviced.

Sign #1: Sensitivity Issues

If the mass spec is not routinely cleaned, it can lead to contamination of the ion source and optics which may cause unpredictable results. Sensitivity may drop off, and these lower-than-normal signal intensities will impact limits of detection as well as reduce the overall performance of the instrument. Either way, erratic results are a clear sign that your mass spec needs a full cleaning.

Sign #2: A Drift in Mass Accuracy

Mass spectrometers provide highly accurate mass measurements. Perhaps you’ve run a procedure many times and received the same mass value each time. When you see that mass value drift away from the norm, it’s a clear sign to check that you’re running the correct methods or that the instrument needs servicing.

Sign #3: Poor Resolution or Peak Shape Distortion

If not routinely serviced and tuned, 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 acquired by the mass spec.

What Causes These Mass Spec Issues?

Mass spec issues are usually caused by a combination of many factors. These could include:

  • Contamination: Sample residue, excessive background ions from mobile phase and other unwanted environmental compounds can enter the MS source leading to degraded performance until they are removed by cleaning.
  • General wear and tear: Its normal for mass spectrometers to need maintenance over time. These instruments involve many finely tuned parts that run under extreme conditions. When these parts have issues so do your results.
  • Environmental conditions: Conditions like temperature, humidity, and the instrument’s power source can influence the performance of your mass spec. If these conditions are suboptimal or inconsistent, you can expect to see fluctuations in your data.

Troubleshooting your mass spec to determine the exact cause of the issue you’re experiencing can often be a challenge without a trained engineer.

Careful sample preparation and adherence to protocols can help reduce a lot of the issues your mass spec may face. But those protocols should never be a replacement for routine servicing.

Mass Spec Servicing: A Brief Overview

Generally, routine mass spec servicing involves inspecting and cleaning critical components like the ion source, checking detector performance and vacuum system integrity, plus any needed system calibrations or sensitivity tests. The exact list of tasks and parts to be cleaned and replaced will vary depending on your system and the OEM specification.

How Often Should My Mass Spec Be Serviced?

At a minimum, it’s important to have your mass spec or full LCMS instrument serviced at least once a year. If you run corrosive substances in the system, it’s prudent to increase that routine servicing to multiple times a year.

As always, check the OEM specifications and recommendations for your system and consult with an expert LCMS engineer.

Preventative Care Tips for LCMS & Mass Spec

While routine service is still essential, there are general care tips your lab can implement to help extend the lift of your mass spec instrument.

Tip #1. Set Up a Cleaning Procedure

As we’ve noted, system contamination is a primary cause of many mass spec performance issues and can accelerate the deterioration of performance and critical parts. An established cleaning protocol can ensure your instruments are cleaned regularly and not neglected.

Tip #2. Change the Mobile Phase Routinely on the LC

If you’re running an LC on your mass spec, the mobile phase should never sit on the system for too long. At minimum it should be changed biweekly. It should never be topped off in the old bottle. It must be prepared fresh in a new or clean bottle and the whole bottle should be replaced.

Mobile phase that sits on the system too long can yield bad data from the mass spec. On top of that, if your mobile phase is particularly corrosive, it can wear away at the wetted surfaces in your LC, causing corrosion and leakage that can ruin other critical parts across your entire system.

#3. Always Refer to the Manufacturer’s Recommendations

Mass specs are complex, highly sensitive pieces of equipment, and each manufacturer has slight differences. It’s critical that everyone working in your lab is at least familiar with the manufacturer’s recommendations for care and routine maintenance.

Conclusion – Routine Mass Spec Servicing is Essential

If you start to notice any accuracy shifts, reduced peaks, or unpredictable results, your mass spec may need servicing.

MS, LCMS and GCMS instruments will inevitably break down without routine servicing.

Even if you don’t notice any of these signs today, it’s still important that your instruments receive regular maintenance and calibration services to ensure they stay in working condition.

Is your mass spec telling you it needs servicing? Get in touch with ZefSci. We offer flexible multivendor LCMS servicing contracts to keep your mass spec up and running.