Low Cost HPLC Options - Chromatography Forum

Low Cost HPLC Options

Basic questions from students; resources for projects and reports.

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Hello everyone. I am a newbie to the forum. :alien: Please be gentle. :eye:

I am a bachelor's chemist looking to start up an analytical laboratory, but my resources are bare bones. The first piece of equipment that I am looking to purchase is an HPLC. I am looking for a used piece of equipment. I have been looking mostly online here in the midwest USA.

How much should I expect to spend for an used complete system? (How low can I go and still have a respectable/competitive system.)

What essential do I need?

What problems should I be aware of?

Thank you in advance.
Don't take this the wrong way, but if you have to ask the question, you probably shouldn't be buying a used instrument. Think of it as similar to buying a used car off Craigslist: if you're a good mechanic, there are bargains to be had (and you'll know enough to walk away from the money pits). If you *don't* have good mechanical chops, then *you* are likely to wind up the proud owner of a money pit.

All of that said, what are you thinking about doing with the HPLC? isocratic only or gradient runs? what kind of detector(s)?

At the (very) low end, if you know what you're doing, you could piece together a working isocratic system from eBay parts for about a kilobuck (assuming you bring your own computer).
-- Tom Jupille
LC Resources / Separation Science Associates
tjupille@lcresources.com
+ 1 (925) 297-5374
tom jupille wrote:
All of that said, what are you thinking about doing with the HPLC? isocratic only or gradient runs? what kind of detector(s)?


Thank you for the reply. I think the best option would be to focus on a gradient system. I presume that they can do isocratic elution as well as gradient elution. I'm looking to separate compounds of similar molecular weights and connectivities.

As for the detector, I am interested in the UV-Vis range of the spectrum. How interchangeable are detectors? Can they be interchanged easily?

As for columns, I anticipate buying new upon having a system in place.

Any idea of the parts that commonly go bad on HPLCs in general that I should be aware of?


Thanks for the response.
I am going to do you a big favour here, and save you a pile of money and a lot of time, by stating things very bluntly.

From the questions that you ask about HPLC it is very obvious that even if you get an instrument you will not know how to use it.

Do not kid yourself that the couple of hours you spent on HPLC lab work to get your B.Sc. mean that you can set up and run an instrument all by yourself - far less "start up an analytical laboratory".

Get yourself some experience and some training - even if it means a poorly paid internship - then think again about setting up on your own.

Good luck, Peter
Peter Apps
Peter Apps wrote:
I am going to do you a big favour here, and save you a pile of money and a lot of time, by stating things very bluntly.


Don't take this the wrong way, Peter, but you haven't contributed much of anything of value to the conversation. I've worked in the industry long enough to experience the prevailing snooty and pompous attitudes among the scientists. Yeah, I've spent years on the synthetic side and been merely the user of the company analytical equipment, but I'm trying to invest in some equipment of my own. Hence, the topic.

Does anyone out there know what to look out for in terms of a lemon?
What are the buyer bewares I should look out for?
This is one of those things that unless you can see it work, you can't really know what you're getting. Some things are easier to fix than others. The pistons in the pumps are usually made of sapphire so if they're broken, they're quite expensive. If they're not broken but scored, you'll never get a seal and your flows will likely vary all over the place.

Here's a link to a pump maintenance kit from Restek:

http://www.restek.com/catalog/view/40351

You can see that if you need to rebuild just that part on a 4-pump system, you're into if for almost $3,600 (US).

HPLC's have many threaded fittings in the flow path. If someone cross-threaded a fitting or two here and there, you can have perpetual leak problems. Leaks like this generally lead to inconsistent flows and thus retention times. If your times drift, you'll never know what you're looking at without a mass spectrometer.

Most modern chromatographs are pretty useless without a computer to collect and process data. Getting a computer to talk to your system can be a huge problem. You could spend a lot of time and money trying to get that worked out. We had a situation where we moved a system (no names) from one location in our company to another. We paid the supplier of the equipment to come in and get it working and they could never get it going. We never really needed the equipment to keep our work process going so it sat there on the bench for a long time. We finally sold it to one of those 3rd party rehabilitators-of-used-equipment companies. I have some GC's in my lab that if the computer fails, I will probably have to antiquate the instrument because I can't find a PC that will accept the communications board (A/D converter/instrument control). Perfectly good instruments will probably become useless because I can't get a computer. Sad but true.

Do you have analytes that absorb light or do you need something else? If you get a variable wavelength uv-vis detector, make sure it works. Lamps wear out so they're usually not too expensive because they're a "consumable".

Even if you choose to buy a used system, I would get new columns. HPLC columns are not as forgiving as GC columns and you'll very likely have trouble trying to make someone else's columns work. They're also not cheap. Anywhere from $400-$1,000 for a "garden-variety" C18.

These scenarios are what Tom was talking about as used equipment being a "money pit". A used GC is a little better risk as it's a much simpler piece of equipment. If you choose to buy a used HPLC, I think you should at least ask for a money back guarantee if it doesn't work as advertised.

Good luck. Personally, I don't think I'd venture into this arena. Maybe with a GC but I'd be more inclined to go new on an HPLC.
If you want useful answers, you need to be careful how you ask your questions.

You characterize yourself as a "bachelor's chemist" - no mention of having any experience, but you expect me to take your experience into account.

You said you want to start up an analytical lab, now you want to "invest in some equipment of my own". This is two very different scales of operation.

You ask "What essential do I need?" - which implies that your knowledge of HPLC is very limited - anyone who proposed to set up and run an HPLC would surely know that you need a pump, an injector, a column, a detector and something to crunch the data. Maybe you do know that, but from your post there is nothing to indicate that you do. If you do know it, then why not ask "What essentials do I need in addition to a pump, injector, column, detector and data handling ?"

"What problems should I be aware of?" could apply either to HPLC in general, in which case it reinforces the impression that your expertise is very limited, or it could refer specifically to the pitfalls of buying instruments second hand. You expect your readers to guess what the actual problem is. Maybe I guessed wrong, but "I think the best option would be to focus on a gradient system. I presume that they can do isocratic elution as well as gradient elution." and "Any idea of the parts that commonly go bad on HPLCs in general that I should be aware of?" are not the sort of questions that I expect someone with the skills to troubleshoot and run a second hand instrument to be asking.

If what you want to do is buy a cheap, working HPLC to run a few samples after hours - basically as a hobby in the good sense of the word - then by all means go ahead. You will certainly find that it is more challenging and interesting than handing samples to an analyst to get run, or dropping a vial into an autosampler and pressing start, which was the extent of the synthetic chemists HPLC skills at the previous place I worked at. Before you invest any money you should check out your local chemical waste disposal regulations, and whether your householder's insurance covers storage of toxic materials and inflammable solvents. Or are you planning to invest in dedicated premises as well ? - this could very quickly get very expensive. But it's your money and your time.

Peter
Peter Apps
Thanks for the great information, rb6banjo. Insightful tidbits of information. Seeing it in action is a must. Based on what you have stated, multiple runs of the same standards are just as necessary to ensure consistency of the runs.

I thought about problems with software interfacing but not the actual hardware. :shock: There has to be somewhere that sells an analog to digital converter that will interface with current technology. If not, I'm sure those maker-space types would enjoy the challenge, if you could find one.

I'm not totally sold on giving up on a used system. However, I have a suspicion that finding one may be quite challenging. I have seen refurbished systems, but the having a warranty is solid advice that I haphazardly did not think of.

I will continue to seek out more info on the topic. Maybe, troubleshooting documentation will provide some insight.
uncutchemist wrote:
Thanks for the great information, rb6banjo. Insightful tidbits of information. Seeing it in action is a must. Based on what you have stated, multiple runs of the same standards are just as necessary to ensure consistency of the runs.

I thought about problems with software interfacing but not the actual hardware. :shock: There has to be somewhere that sells an analog to digital converter that will interface with current technology. If not, I'm sure those maker-space types would enjoy the challenge, if you could find one.

I'm not totally sold on giving up on a used system. However, I have a suspicion that finding one may be quite challenging. I have seen refurbished systems, but the having a warranty is solid advice that I haphazardly did not think of.

I will continue to seek out more info on the topic. Maybe, troubleshooting documentation will provide some insight.


Me and few other folks active in the open source instrumentation have been working on a "low cost" HPLC for a while (viewtopic.php?t=25559) and we have had a prototype system running. I wont use it to replace my agilent 1100 yet in my day job since we dont have a autosampler on our version but it does a great job so far considering it barely cost us worth 3 good columns.
and yeah I agree with the above comments that there is more to HPLC than a pump and detector. Things like data acquisition and analysis software, plumbing issues, baseline drifts due to hard to detect leaks, died out pump gaskets, clogged check valves etc a combination of all these issues is the reason you can buy a old pump and detector on ebay for that cheap. we were lucky since all of us on the project has had extensive HPLC experience because otherwise the cost of labor on this project wouldve been more than buying a refurbished instruemnt with 90 day warranty which many reputed vendors offer.
bigdawg wrote:
Me and few other folks active in the open source instrumentation have been working on a "low cost" HPLC for a while (viewtopic.php?t=25559) and we have had a prototype system running.


Thank you for the input, bigdawg. I am on my way to read the topic right now.
If you want to set up analytical equipment largely for the satisfaction of doing it, then you can adopt whatever approach you like best (but see below).

If you are planning to sell results to people (either running an analytical business, or doing work for public grant-giving agencies) then you have a responsibility to produce good-quality, trustable results. Expecting money for inaccurate results is, of course, unethical.

High-quality results need working, well-maintained instruments, and also good software that is well-understood by its operators, and good procedures/well-developed methods. Yes, there is a lot of fun to be had in setting up a low-cost, working system, using e-bay parts and a lot of home-brew skills, but bigdawg is right about the labour costs. It is not a cost-viable way to run a genuine business selling results to those who want a lot of samples processed in a reliable manner; it will never compete with labs that are well-equipped with modern, high-precision and fast UPLC equipment. Put it this way: if you use old Waters stuff off e-bay, the best performance you can expect is what Waters could do 10 years ago, assuming you can bring the equipment back to its as-new state, and interface with it as well as the original manufacturer, both of which are big assumptions. The prices the high-throughput analytical facilities charge are actually the result of their costs in setting up good methods - and they tend to be facilities that focus on developing very high efficiency for the samples they run. They are very competitive.

Right, having done all the cautionary stuff, I still think that if you are choosing what equipment to buy/make, your first question shouldn't be "what do I get?", but "what do I want to measure?" (and "in what am I measuring it?"). A lot of other issues: do I need gradient or isocratic, what quality of pump do I need, what flow-rate am I trying to use, what solvents does my pump need to handle, do I need fume-extraction, what detectors do I need, what software do I need, will all become much clearer if you know what sort of method you want to run.

If you're doing it for fun, to demonstrate that it can be done (forgive me, bigdawg, if I'm doing you an injustice, but I think this is largely your situation?) and it's an e-bay project, then I'd follow in bigdawg's footsteps, and go for a simple isocratic single pump and a fixed wavelength UV detector in the first instance, and then gradually expand to include gradient and maybe some sort of spectral detector like a PDA.
lmh wrote:
If you want to set up analytical equipment largely for the satisfaction of doing it, then you can adopt whatever approach you like best (but see below).

If you are planning to sell results to people (either running an analytical business, or doing work for public grant-giving agencies) then you have a responsibility to produce good-quality, trustable results. Expecting money for inaccurate results is, of course, unethical.

High-quality results need working, well-maintained instruments, and also good software that is well-understood by its operators, and good procedures/well-developed methods. Yes, there is a lot of fun to be had in setting up a low-cost, working system, using e-bay parts and a lot of home-brew skills, but bigdawg is right about the labour costs. It is not a cost-viable way to run a genuine business selling results to those who want a lot of samples processed in a reliable manner; it will never compete with labs that are well-equipped with modern, high-precision and fast UPLC equipment. Put it this way: if you use old Waters stuff off e-bay, the best performance you can expect is what Waters could do 10 years ago, assuming you can bring the equipment back to its as-new state, and interface with it as well as the original manufacturer, both of which are big assumptions. The prices the high-throughput analytical facilities charge are actually the result of their costs in setting up good methods - and they tend to be facilities that focus on developing very high efficiency for the samples they run. They are very competitive.

Right, having done all the cautionary stuff, I still think that if you are choosing what equipment to buy/make, your first question shouldn't be "what do I get?", but "what do I want to measure?" (and "in what am I measuring it?"). A lot of other issues: do I need gradient or isocratic, what quality of pump do I need, what flow-rate am I trying to use, what solvents does my pump need to handle, do I need fume-extraction, what detectors do I need, what software do I need, will all become much clearer if you know what sort of method you want to run.

If you're doing it for fun, to demonstrate that it can be done (forgive me, bigdawg, if I'm doing you an injustice, but I think this is largely your situation?) and it's an e-bay project, then I'd follow in bigdawg's footsteps, and go for a simple isocratic single pump and a fixed wavelength UV detector in the first instance, and then gradually expand to include gradient and maybe some sort of spectral detector like a PDA.


Spot on advice lmh.

I have a friend who after getting a chemistry degree decided to teach chemistry at a public high school. He had this idea of using a "real" HPLC for school demonstrations and asked me and few other analytical chemists to see what we can do by using salvaged ebay parts. So yeah you are absolutely right, this was more of a demonstration project rather than a commercial project!

its absolutely a great learning experience however the key thing was that my day job wasnt dependent on it and hence I wasnt too stressed out if things didnt work as expected (which was a lot!). So with these caveats, if uncutchemist wants to proceed than do so by all means, however have ample patience and be ready for unexpected cost/time overruns; at the end of the day with success or failure I can guarantee you that this will make you a better analytical chemist.
Before you contribute any cash you ought to look at your nearby synthetic waste transfer regulations, and whether your householder's protection covers stockpiling of dangerous materials and inflammable solvents.

Great results need working, very much looked after instruments, furthermore great programming that is surely known by its administrators, and great methodology/all around created strategies. Yes, there is a great deal of enjoyable to be had in setting up an ease, working framework, utilizing e-sound parts and a considerable measure of home-blend aptitudes.
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