As one of the most important qualitative and quantitative analytical methods, mass spectrometry is an advanced and powerful technology with a constantly evolving spectrum of applications, with more and more high-tech instruments being launched. There are numerous types of mass spectrometers from which to choose for the many different tasks in present-day analytics. If you are new to this field and want to equip your research facility or routine analytics laboratory with a mass spectrometer, you will probably find it difficult to cope with the complexity of this “mass” market. In the world's largest market overview of mass spectrometers, you can easily find suitable instruments for your own specific applications.
However, for you as a user, the big choice of instruments risks making a hasty purchasing decision the wrong one. The good news is that today's mass spectrometers meet all the criteria for reliable laboratory instruments in routine applications, almost without exception. They tend to be user-friendly, easy to calibrate, generally require little maintenance and measure a wide spectrum of different samples. Nevertheless, there are a few things you should carefully consider when buying a mass spectrometer.
To help you make the right purchasing decision among the many mass spectrometers on offer, we’ll explain the 7 most important things to consider when buying a mass spectrometer.
The 7 things you should consider: Our checklist for buying a mass spectrometer
Number 1 – What do you plan to use it for?
Surely you will have thought about what kind of substances you want to detect by mass spectrometry. Today’s state-of-the-art mass spectrometers measure a wide range of different samples. Nevertheless, some instrument types are better than others for your specific tasks. For example, consider whether your analyses should be invasive (dissociation of the sample into different fragments) or non-invasive, whether you want to detect isotopes, what resolution you need and how high the analysis speed has to be.
To be on the safe side when buying a mass spectrometer, it is best to contact the various manufacturers and discuss your specific requirements – not only with their sales representatives, but also with their application specialists. They should be able to tell you exactly which type of instrument, which features and which accessories you need for your own specific tasks. This will let you find the instrument that best suits your lab’s needs. You can then compare the different manufacturers' instruments – and get a decisive step closer to purchasing the right mass spectrometer.
Number 2 – Can my lab staff cope with the instrument?
It’s best to involve your laboratory staff in the decision to buy the mass spectrometer. After all, it is they who will later work with this usually quite expensive instrument on a daily basis. For your investment into a mass spectrometer to be worthwhile, your lab staff must be able to cope with it well.
In addition to providing initial information at trade fairs, many manufacturers offer to demonstrate the instrument in action at some of their locations. Make an appointment and take your laboratory staff along. Test your mass spectrometer of interest thoroughly with your applications and samples before making your purchasing decision.
Number 3 – Service: Do you as the customer come first?
While we’re on the subject of manufacturers, there’s more to take into account when making your purchasing decision: don’t scrutinize only the mass spectrometer itself, but also at the accessories, services and information the manufacturer provides. Can you understand the user manual? Is there application support for your mass spectrometer? And what about service intervals and costs?
Ask the manufacturer of the mass spectrometer to show you the accompanying user information and application support, and discuss possible service issues in advance of your purchase.
Number 4 – How does the mass spectrometer deal with the data?
From the start, consider how you want to handle the data your mass spectrometer generates. Some mass spectrometers are geared towards basic research and offer few data processing options. One thing to avoid is buying a high-end, easy-to-use mass spectrometer that makes you despair later on because it can only process the acquired data in a single data format.
Some mass spectrometers come with powerful proprietary software. Others are configured to allow the use of software developed by renowned scientists and made available to the scientific community free of charge. Especially if you intend to process vast amounts of data, you should consider this when deciding which mass spectrometer to buy.
Number 5 – Think ahead: Will you need extensions?
Many mass spectrometers can be coupled with other analytical instruments and separation techniques. If you intend to analyze complex samples or even identify unknown substances, this can be a decisive advantage. Among the most popular combinations are GC/MS (coupled with gas chromatography) and LC/MS or HPLC/MS (both coupled with liquid chromatography), but many other extensions can be made to work.
Keep your options open and before buying consider whether your mass spectrometer can be coupled with other analytical or separation techniques at a later date. Think ahead and take possible future needs into account.
Number 6 – Space requirement: Better measure carefully!
Have you thought about where to place your mass spectrometer? An important criterion for your purchasing decision is how much space the new instrument can take up in your laboratory. It’s usually quite straightforward to measure whether it will fit.
When considering the space requirement for your mass spectrometer, not only the instrument’s footprint matters. Don’t forget the cables and connections, for example for the power supply and for coupling other devices.
And one more tip: Portable instruments exist and may be the right choice, depending on where you want or need to use the mass spectrometer (e.g. for measuring air, soil or water pollution in the environment or detecting explosives and toxic substances at an airport).
Number 7 – Last but not least: Your budget
When selecting your mass spectrometer, there are many different criteria to consider – and not least, of course, the price. What’s your budget for the acquisition? In relative terms, there are inexpensive instruments in the massive mass spectrometer market. However, none of the instruments can be considered low-cost.
Compare the prices of the various manufacturers and perhaps consider other financing options when deciding on your mass spectrometer – many manufacturers offer leasing options. Just like when you buy a new car, it’s worth taking a closer look!