Portable GC/MS

Once exclusively large, cumbersome instruments, both gas chromatographs (GC) and mass spectrometers (MS) have shrunk dramatically in size and power requirements. This has led to the development of GC/MS systems that can be operated outside of the laboratory. However, most of these instruments have been mobile, but not truly “man-portable” until

more recently. .

The first GC/MS that was widely considered portable was the Hapsite system, which was introduced by Inficon in 1995. Revamped designs have reduced the weight of the system somewhat to a more manageable 35 lbs. The Hapsite remained essentially the only significant offering in the portable GC/MS market until 2004, when Bruker Daltonics introduced the MM2 mobile MS, which can be configured as a GC/MS, but is bulkier, and more than twice the weight of the latest version of the Hapsite.

In 2007, Torion and Griffin Analytical entered the market with truly portable integrated GC/MS systems. In contrast to the Hapsite and the MM2, which are based on conventional quadrupole MS technology, the two newest portable GC/MS systems are based on variations of ion trap MS technology, which is generally better at identifying unknowns. At 25 lbs., the Torion Guardion-7 (see IBO 3/15/07) is considerably lighter and more compact than previous systems. Griffin Analytical, which was acquired by security technology firm ICx Technologies in 2006 (see IBO 12/31/06), introduced the model 500 portable GC/MS system at this year’s Pittcon (see IBO 3/31/07), but has yet to begin shipping it. One vendor that is on the verge of entering the portable GC/MS market is Microsaic, which has developed a quadrupole mass analyzer on a chip that can be easily configured as a suitcase-sized GC/MS; it has been shown in such a configuration in the company’s ChemPack instrument. However, it is more likely that such a product will come from an OEM instrument manufacturer, rather than directly from Microsaic.

The market for truly portable GC/MS instruments consists almost totally of governmental entities, the largest of which is the military. The ability to carry an instrument for the detection of chemical weapons into rugged terrain is a major advantage. Such an instrument is also useful for hazardous materials (HazMat) teams trying to identify the nature of an unknown chemical spill or attack and for environmental monitoring. Unfortunately, demand from these markets has historically been inconsistent.

The total market for portable GC/MS was less than $10 million before the attacks of September 11, and more than doubled in the 18 months following the attacks. However, since 2004, demand has been flat to slightly declining. With the introduction of two new models from two new market entrants, the market is likely to pick up considerably in 2007 and 2008.

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