Portability has transformed the use of many analytical techniques, from GC to Raman spectroscopy. An analytical instrument that was once a tied to the lab bench can now be carried to neighboring labs, placed next to a manufacturing line or taken into the field.

But one technique that has not yet to be made truly portable is HPLC. Later this spring, start-up Axcend will launch the Focus LC, a 12 lb (5.4 kg), 4.7 x 7.9 x 7.9 in (30 x 20 x 20 cm) system designed specifically for portability. A miniaturized pumping system, and on-column dual LED UV detectors enable the small size while still providing similar performance to benchtop systems, according to Axcend CEO and Co-founder Glen Mella. “This is a complete, full-featured LC,” he told IBO.

“Another thing that we are solving with the design of this product is bringing down the complexity and training requirement of an operator.”

Co-founder and CSO Milton Lee, PhD, stated, that the detectors are “about one hundred times more sensitive than any commercial UV absorption detector.”  The VALCO pumps have a reservoir volume of 125 μL each and pump at about 1 μL per minute. The system is capable of pressures up to 20,000 psi. Battery life is 10–12 hours with the pump running continuously.

The detectors and nano-flow capillary columns, with a 150 μm internal diameter, come in a cartridge format for easy installation and customized packing (the company packs its own columns with particle sizes ranging from 1.7—3 μm). As Mr. Mella explained, “Another thing that we are solving with the design of this product is bringing down the complexity and training requirement of an operator.”

“We’ve done a lot to try to design not only ease of use but economics into this device,”

The small pump volume eliminates the need for solvent bottles and reduces waste, also lowering operating costs. “We’ve done a lot to try to design not only ease of use but economics into this device,” said Mr. Mella. The device itself is also priced to reflect this. Although final pricing is not set, the price is estimated to be in the $30,000 range.

Portability also means the system can be brought closer to the sample. Company spokesperson David L. Politis told IBO, “What’s been interesting is that there’s been a fair amount of interest from people saying ‘I could move this, because of its design, in a lab closer to this device, the sample, whatever it might be, instead of running tubing.” One possible application is process control lines, where long transfer lines are now used to connect cart-based HPLCs to the production line. Other possible applications include forensics testing in the field, and in pain clinics to monitor drug usage.

Axcend displayed the system at Pittcon, showing off its design. A twist cap–like closure allows sealing at the right pressure, and a handle makes the system carryable with one hand. Like its novel look, the Focus LC can be expected to shake up the expectations of LC users.

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