Troubleshooting Common Problems with LCMS Instruments: A Short Guide

Jul 11, 2022 | Blog

lab worker troubleshooting lcms equipment

LCMS instruments are finely tuned, highly sensitive pieces of analytical equipment. When problems occur, and your data starts to look off, it’s concerning. In this post, we’ll give you a basic overview of some troubleshooting processes and potential fixes.

Before we get into common problems and how to fix them, let’s discuss why troubleshooting is important in the first place.

Why You Need to Know Basic LCMS Troubleshooting

Having a basic troubleshooting procedure for your LCMS equipment is essential.

In many labs, LCMS instruments are workhorses. They’re used daily. With all that use, it’s inevitable that their function will degrade over time – especially if they are not properly cleaned and maintained.

On top of that, basic troubleshooting can also quickly solve common problems or help save time by narrowing down the potential location of an issue. This gives your service engineer a lot more information to go off when they come in and make a repair.

That means your systems are back online and running samples sooner rather than later. So, with that said, let’s get into some of the common issues labs run into and some basic things you can do to troubleshoot.

3 Common LCMS Problem Areas (& How to Troubleshoot Them)

LCMS instruments are complex pieces of equipment. It takes years of training to become an expert in fixing every possible problem. However, there are steps that most people in a lab setting can take to either solve simple problems or narrow down potential issues for an expert engineer to solve.

Here are three common issues people tend to notice in their data that signal something is wrong with the LCMS.

  • Problem #1 – Signal Inconsistencies – meaning a loss of signal, a degradation of signal or unexpected signal.
  • Problem #2 – Loss of Resolution –  a loss of resolution in the chromatogram can be either an LC chemistry issue or LC hardware issue. Loss of spectral resolution is a mass spec problem.
  • Problem #3 – Poor Mass Accuracy – this is when you expect a certain result in the m/z scale, but what you get is either a little off or off by a lot.

If you’re experiencing any of these issues, here are some basic steps you can take to troubleshoot and possibly fix the problem.

6 Questions to Ask When Troubleshooting LCMS Equipment

Are you running the right experiment?

The first thing to do if you’re experiencing any of these problems is to make sure your system is running the right experiment. Running the wrong experiment will always lead to bad data. This may seem obvious, but it’s always worth checking.

Are you behind on LCMS housekeeping?

There are some LCMS housekeeping procedures you can take to make sure everything is clean and running as it should be. There should be a procedure in place for routinely cleaning the mass spectrometer.

Have you replaced your mobile phase?

You should replace your mobile phase weekly, at a maximum biweekly. Completely replace the mobile phase, don’t just top it off. Mobile phase that’s been sitting on the system gets contaminated and starts to yield bad data.

Was your sample prepared correctly?

Make sure that your sample is prepared correctly. If it’s a standard, then prepare it again. This step may not be possible if you’re running a low-volume sample.

Is your analytical column in need of replacement?

While less common, you may need to replace your analytical column. If you’re suddenly getting bad data, replacing the column could be the simple fix.

Do you need to recalibrate your mass scale?

This is something that should be done routinely. If your masses are off, try recalibrating and check if any required reference masses are present.

Running through these common housekeeping items will help clear up any surface-level problems without having to get an engineer on-site. At the very least, if your system is still experiencing problems, you have a head start on getting your instrument up and running after it’s looked at by a professional LCMS service engineer. But when is the right time to call one?

When Should You Call an LCMS Service Engineer?

If you’re still getting errors after running through these basic troubleshooting tasks, then it’s probably time to call your LCMS service provider.

The good news is that, because you’ve done your homework, your LCMS engineer will have a better understanding of possible causes of the problem and how to fix it as quickly as possible.

Another benefit of calling an LCMS service engineer is that they can talk you through more advanced troubleshooting procedures over the phone or on a video call. You might be able to fix the problem without having to get the engineer on site.

Conclusion – Troubleshooting Saves Time & Resources

It’s not a question of whether or not your LCMS instruments will have problems. It’s a question of when. If you don’t schedule maintenance for your equipment, your equipment will schedule maintenance for you.

At the end of the day, you want to make sure that your lab stays productive. Having a process in place on how to troubleshoot your LCMS equipment will keep your instruments functioning as intended and running successful experiments longer.

At ZefSci, LCMS service is all we do. Talk to us today about getting your instruments covered under one of our flexible service contracts.