SelectScience Interview: Round-the-Clock Troubleshooting with the Gas Chromatography Experts

The Phenomenex specialists are always on hand to provide gas chromatography support

31 May 2017

Ramkumar Dhandapani, Phenomenex, USA 
Phenomenex is a global technology leader committed to developing novel analytical chemistry solutions that solve the separation and purification challenges of researchers in industrial, government, and academic laboratories. 
As many as 70-80% of GC problems are associated with the inlet, so choosing the right liner is extremely important
Dr. Ramkumar Dhandapani

Phenomenex, USA

Ramkumar Dhandapani is a gas chromatography (GC) technical manager for Phenomenex. SelectScience spoke to Ramkumar to learn more about the extensive online support services offered by the company. These services and tools support GC scientists through the entire GC analysis process, including choosing the right column, method development and troubleshooting issues.

SS: Ramkumar, could you tell us a bit more about your job role and responsibilities?

RK: As a GC technical manager, I have a variety of different roles. I’m involved in training the sales and marketing specialists on our GC products. I help with application support and product training. I am very proud to be a part of the GC product development team, developing new products based on the current challenges facing our customers, to provide them with time- and cost-effective solutions. I am also involved in daily global troubleshooting through our online portals, providing training and technical support to our customers.

SS: What is your background and experience in GC?

RK: I have extensive experience in analytical method development and troubleshooting. I have a PhD. in Analytical Chemistry, specializing in time-efficient and cost-effective analytical method development using GC and mass spectrometry technology. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for seven years, optimizing methods, and then moved to Phenomenex, where I’ve worked ever since. I love working for Phenomenex, it is such an amazingly versatile company, so colorful and fun, and completely committed to the customer.

SS: As a troubleshooting expert, how do you advise customers to approach any technical problems that they may have?

RK: The first thing we do to approach any problem is listen to our customers, and by listening I mean dissecting all aspects of the problem to make sure we tackle everything that would affect their outcome.

There are a number of common troubleshooting approaches that could be employed to tackle a technical problem.

  1. The first method is what I call ‘the shotgun approach’. This is where you change everything that could relate to the problem until the problem is resolved. This might provide a solution, but it takes time and can be costly. There is also a risk that you may never fully understand what the problem was in the first place.
  2. The second method is 'the educated guess'. The purpose of this method is to make an educated guess about what the problem may be, narrowing down or eliminating parts of the process to determine where the issue lies. This approach doesn’t necessarily mean that you will solve the problem, or prevent it from recurring again in the future.
  3. The final troubleshooting approach, and the one that I use, is 'the systematic elimination' of possible errors. Using this approach, we check the GC system from top to bottom, isolating the problem, finding out what went wrong, fixing it and then taking steps to make sure it doesn’t reoccur. 
At Phenomenex, technical specialists approach each troubleshooting issue systematically, to isolate the problem, solve it, prevent it happening again and learn from it

SS. What are the most common troubleshooting issues you come across?

RK: There are, of course, a lot of different troubleshooting issues that arise from day to day. Some issues arise more frequently than others.

For example, choosing the right column in the first place can be a daunting and problematic process, because there are so many columns and polymers to choose from.

Phenomenex has foolproof selection tools, GC Column Finder and GC Liner Finder, available online. These tools are so easy to use, the customer simply goes to the website, enters their application or official method, and we can tell them which columns or liners to select.

Peak tailing, with asymmetry towards the back or right side of the peak, is a common problem. There are a lot of possible reasons for this, but it is commonly a result of contaminated inlet liners.

It is important to use a clean liner, or an advanced version of a liner, such as the Zebron™ PLUS GC Inlet Liners. Peak tailing is also often caused by secondary interaction of analytes with the column, so it is important to choose a highly deactivated column, such as the Zebron ZB-5MSplus GC Columns or Zebron ZB-SemiVolatiles GC columns. As many as 70-80% of GC problems are associated with the inlet, so choosing the right liner is extremely important. 

It is important to select the correct column for the correct application, as an example: the ZB-FAME is an application specific column for Fatty Acids Methyl Ester analysis that provides optimal resolution of FAMEs  with short run time. Learn more about the ZB-FAME from Phenomenex.

Designed with rigorous fused-silica deactivation and quality control processes, Zebron™ ZB-5MSplus GC Columns virtually eliminate active sites on the column’s surface that can negatively affect peak shapes for challenging compounds

SS: How is Phenomenex able to support customers with their troubleshooting errors and queries?

RK: Thanks to the internet, the world is now a very small place! We have lots of online tools that are self-explanatory and extremely helpful. Users can download our comprehensive troubleshooting guide which has detailed notes on possible symptoms, causes and remedies for GC analysis. In addition to our live chat, we also have an online portal through which customers can directly send enquiries to us. When we receive the query, we call the customer to find out more information and help them to find the solution. We also have extensive documents, webinars and training sessions for users as well as experienced Technical Consultants that can be reached by calling any of our offices.

Phenomenex offers extensive online support to GC scientists, including help with method development, troubleshooting and the ability to ‘Live Chat’ with a GC expert

I think that Live Chat is the future of troubleshooting. It now takes literally a few seconds for a customer to be able to talk to a real GC specialist and not an automated machine. We have a team of technical specialists manning our Live Chat, based in both the US and the UK. We also have an offline essay function, so that people can type in their questions and email them to us for a rapid response. We also use Live Chat to help with application and method development and optimization.

Ultimately, we are here to directly help our customers with any aspect of their GC analysis. Our customers really value the fact that there is no intermediate person involved in this process. They can talk directly to us, any time they want, and we can help them to solve their problems. This has enabled us to build strong, lasting and valued relationships with our customers.

View the Phenomenex product portfolio

Visit the Phenomenex Online Support Centre

Download Phenomenex’s Zebron ZB-5MSplus product brochure