Containers Should Be Rinsed After Each Use
From a service and support point of view, we often have difficulty getting operators to see that, on a daily basis, sometimes the small things can be as important as the big things. Operators easily see the value in replacing pump tubes, changing the lamp in the detector or remaking reagents, but the small things that can make a big difference are often lost in the busy activities surrounding autoanalyzers. Recently, we have interacted with several laboratories that were experiencing unstable baselines and clogged valves during start up and bad peak shapes, poor standard curve correlation values and failing QCs once the run started. In this situation, the first inclination for most operators is to immediately look to the cartridge, the standards or even at the detector circuitry, for the problem.
To solve these types of issues, we usually focus on moving from the simple to the more complicated and suggested that they rinse out their start up solution containers. On flow analyzers there is usually a rinse container of just water and another of some kind of surfactant which depends on the chemistry being run. We like to drop back to water when issues arise and in both cases, the systems were still having problems with noise and drifting baselines even on water. Next, we suggested they take their wash containers, surfactant containers and reagent containers and rinse them out completely, making sure the straws were all in good shape. For both of these labs, the results immediately improved with clean containers, fresh DI water and, of course, new surfactant. At the end of the day, the operators were both relieved and thankful and cheerfully proceeded with their daily runs.
As we monitored their progress over time, we pestered them to always start their daily runs with rinsed out containers and fresh surfactant. What we saw was quite surprising. Both labs observed that they had fewer issues on start up, their runs tended to be predictably more successful and they finished their sample loads with fewer issues and much more reliability. In analyzing what had happened, we believe that old surfactant and reagents were at the heart of the problem. As surfactant sits in containers over time, it tends to create a kind of super sludge or creates layers of deteriorated surfactant that are very bad for flow and may even clog lines, valves or cartridges. At a minimum, it is most likely causing some type of buildup. We believe that taking a few minutes before each run to rinse out your wash, surfactant and reagent containers can dramatically help with your runs. This may seem insignificant or possibly annoying to busy lab operators, but this relatively small investment of time for simple maintenance creates a stable and predictable path to success.