Automation

E. Vérette, Gilson, Villiers-le-Bel, France Copyright © 2000 Academic Press

The last 20 years have seen an important increase in published papers on chromatography, reporting fully automated systems or complete online techniques. This shows a strong interest in automation in chromatography to obtain faster, safer, more cost-effective and convenient analytical procedures, that satisfy regulatory compliance and good laboratory practice directives. Automation in chromatogra-phy takes place in the more general laboratory automation context, which is the application of computing, robotics, electronics and mechanical engineering technologies to laboratory problems for enhanced throughput, reproducibility and traceability. This has been made possible as a result of considerable improvements in equipment and techniques, from autosamplers, sample processors and reliable eluent delivery devices, to universal or more specific detectors, collectors, single point control software able to collect and handle accurate data (Figure 1) and, last but not least, laboratory information management systems.

The chromatographic techniques whose automation is principally discussed in this article are gas chromatography (GC), high performance liquid l_l chromatography (HPLC) and supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC). Other chromatographic methods such as planar chromatography can also be automated, but full automation is more difficult to achieve.

One of the most important aspects of automation is the introduction of interfaces between instruments and computers, and centralized user-friendly software for system control and data handling. The main qualities required for interfaces, designed to collect analog signals and digitize them to reflect detector output accurately, are good sampling rates and high resolution. Other important aspects of automation are directly related to the evolution of individual instruments, and the possibility of coupling them online. This article is not an exhaustive description of automation in chromatography, but highlights the principal trends in this field. It emphasizes sample preparation and application in chromatographic systems, multidimensionality and fully automated solutions widely used today such as high throughput screening and preparative chromatography.

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