A New-Generation HPLC System Has Users at Its Heart
What better way to improve HPLC design than to involve the users themselves in that development process
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In the chemistry lab, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is one of the workhorses of the analytical toolbox. Traditionally the dominion of the expert user, manufacturers have been striving to improve usability, accessibility and help users improve their experimental outcomes. And what better way to do that than to involve the users themselves in that development process.
We spoke to Dr. Michael Baynham, director of next-generation LC product management at Waters Corporation, to find out about the Alliance iS HPLC System, how it was conceived and what difference it will make for users.
Karen Steward (KS): Can you tell us about the Alliance iS HPLC System and how it was conceived?
Michael Baynham (MB): The Alliance iS System was conceived after closely listening to our customers and taking in the minute details about how they use and interact with our instruments in the laboratory. In those early discussions, customers outlined the stumbling blocks that affected their working day, such as productivity, performance and their companies’ ability to hit their financial targets and deadlines. Those hurdles were different to those expressed in the past (such as running more samples, quicker and faster). These were centered around several common themes, such as reducing errors, assistance in training staff, system uptime, smooth method migration and simplified fleet management. The Alliance iS HPLC System was conceived to address exactly those issues, through a range of technical innovations, software enhancements and simplified workflows – all the while maintaining a high level of performance (reproducibility, carry-over, throughput, etc.). By combining those enhancements with the market-leading chromatography data system (CDS) (Waters Empower) as well as a high level of input from our users at every level of product development, we have delivered a system within an ecosystem which can remove up to 40% of errors found in a typical laboratory and is intuitively simple to use.
KS: You mentioned that the system was developed in a user driven way. Could all users get involved or were they specifically chosen by Waters?
MB: From the very beginning, the Waters Experience Design Center in Milford actively recruited HPLC users to help with the development of the Alliance iS HPLC System. The journey started with a diverse range of users, from experienced Waters users to experienced non-Waters users all the way through to less experienced HPLC users. This was done specifically to get inputs and suggestions from the widest possible range of laboratory analysts into the design and use of a new system. The customers selected were from all geographical regions. Waters always aims to increase the pool of users available for these studies and anyone interested in informing our future product development can join in here.
KS: Of the new system features, which do you think will make the biggest difference to users and why?
MB: The user feedback we have received tells us that the most valuable features change with the level of the user’s chromatography experience. New, less experienced users have felt far more comfortable using the system with the guided operation features that help them shorten their learning curve in being productive and confidently getting their job done. Even more experienced users have benefitted when the Alliance iS System helps prevent those simple human mistakes, such as forgetting to check if you have sufficient mobile phase, forgetting to add a sample or installing the wrong column by accident.
KS: How have the support systems in place to aid users when they are having issues changed?
MB: The Alliance iS HPLC System enhances our customers’ effectiveness and maximizes their uptime. We know that many users have a high level of technical ability, and Waters wants to support them and less experienced users to resolve any issues as quickly as possible. To this end, we have developed smart on-board technology that helps troubleshoot issues and train users easily. It does this by providing a QR code on the touchscreen that can digitally link a user directly to the relevant paragraph within a knowledgebase article or how-to document on Waters.com. This QR code can be scanned on a mobile device. However, since many of our users are not permitted to use phones in the laboratory, a simple alternative numeric code alongside the QR code can be used on a PC web browser to find the precise information on the help page on Waters.com. Further to this assistance, we have the Waters service team available via call centers and other means to provide support.
KS: What excites you most about the way in which this instrument has evolved?
MB: For me, the excitement comes from watching how the team at Waters developed an HPLC system for the user, with the user. Even the size of the system, the way the doors open and close, where the solvent lines are placed and how visible everything is to the user. These may seem small, but they are important details of how we listened and that’s even before we get to the technical features! Waters has delivered a truly modern HPLC system with the Alliance iS, which we intend to build on and serve as a model for further innovation. Watch this space.
Dr. Michael Baynham was speaking to Dr. Karen Steward, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.
About the interviewee:
Dr. Michael Baynham holds a degree in analytical chemistry. He also holds a PhD from the University of Nottingham in LC-MS separations. He then completed post-doctoral studies in Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University before returning to the UK to start his career as a field applications scientist. Michael moved in 2015 to a product management role for LC columns and consumables and went on to become a senior manager of a team looking after new product introductions and product lifecycle. Michael joined Waters in 2021 as a director of product management for LC systems within the QA/QC business.