LCMS-2050 – Providing High Speed and High Sensitivity Analysis in a Compact Design –
Liquid chromatograph (LC) users sometimes avoid using mass spectrometers (MS) because they tend to view them as large and complicated to operate and maintain. The LCMS-2050 high-performance liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer was developed in part with these LC users in mind. Therefore, it was critical for the LCMS-2050 to comfortably stack with Shimadzu LC Nexera series they are familiar with using. The following describes the story of Hyeri Kang, an Assistant Manager in the Product Design Unit, at the Corporate Product Design Center, as she took on challenges and endured struggles together with development engineers.
Finding a Balance Between the LC Business Unit and MS Business Unit
The development project was mainly led by the MS Business Unit but included involvement by the LC Business Unit. It is rare for a single instrument development project to involve engineers from both units, so the role of Kang as the designer was to create the best possible design by identifying and enhancing the key points and intentions considered important by respective parties.
“The MS Business Unit wanted a product with originality that was easy to maintain, whereas the LC Business Unit wanted a new LC-MS system compact enough to fit with a Nexera LC system and that provided design consistency.”
The most difficult aspect of integrating the preferences of both business units was the ionization unit. It was not easy to make it smaller while still maintaining the high-speed and high-sensitivity performance. Kang reflected: “I was skeptical whether we could really make a large MS unit small enough to fit as a single LC module.”
All team members wanted the instrument to look consistent with other LC products. However, when development started, the ionization unit was located toward the rear of the system, which the MS Business Unit pointed out made it difficult to perform maintenance and decreased user-friendliness. Unfortunately, when the ionization unit was moved to the front, it protruded way out in an intimidating way. If the system was seen as different from existing LC modules, then it would not satisfy the market demand for a compact MS system that is easy to use.
All Team Members Worked Together to Eliminate the Protrusion
The question was what to do about the protruding ionization unit. Feeling a sense that it looked odd, Kang said to an engineer: “The ionization unit really protrudes way out the front, doesn’t it?” The engineer replied unexpectedly, “No, it doesn’t.” “Yes, it really protrudes, doesn’t it?” “Hmmm.”
They kept exchanging views in an effort to mitigate each other’s impression, created a mockup to get a mutual sense of scale, and tenaciously continued discussing what to do. Despite the validity of the engineers’ insistence that the size was necessary for achieving accuracy, the development criteria also required a consistent look and a compact size. After people higher in the organization also pointed out how far the protrusion stuck out, the final extent of the protrusion was decided based on trial and error.
If the protrusion could be reduced with technology, then the rest could be left up to the designers. They would implement the appropriate design process for achieving both design consistency and originality. Nevertheless, Kang was still worried. “Even if the protrusion could be reduced, it still seemed a negative factor. However, senior colleagues advised me that ‘such features can be made a positive factor in terms of design’.”
A glossy, smoked surface material was used for the front of the protrusion to prevent it from feeling oppressive. Detailed corner rounding and chamfering were used to design details carefully and give it a highly finished look.
In addition to trying to make things look beautiful, the job of the designer includes optimizing the design to improve functionality and ease of maintenance and providing suggestions or requesting reconsiderations to respective departments. “Though sometimes I have to play the role of a heel, I try to honor the perspective of customers by raising questions or suggestions accordingly.”
Design Achieves Both an Advanced Look and Intuitive Operation
Any MS unit designed for compatibility with Nexera LC systems must at least include all the key design elements. “LC and MS units can be given a consistent look by ensuring horizontal and vertical lines are aligned when placed side-by-side. In addition, the power button position, the indicator colors, and other module features were given as consistent a look as possible.
The team also focused on making sure operations and maintenance are easy to perform. “Ease of maintenance was improved with better access to the ionization unit by enabling the door to be opened easily with one action. Operating steps were also minimized.”
However, an easy-to-understand design offering intuitive operation could diminish the impression of high performance by being perceived as overly simple. “Therefore, the LCMS-2050 design, which was intended to maximize usability, must also exhibit a well-balanced impression of high performance and being advanced. That effort is exemplified by the use of materials.” To ensure the system does not appear monotonous, a variety of materials were used for areas with the same “black” color. That is also why machined aluminum parts were used as accents.
"Design should ideally facilitate better product development rather than impede other aspects of development" explained Kang. As a result, the LCMS-2050 was awarded a 2022 Good Design Award. The award represented not only a recognition of the functional and aesthetic aspects of the LCMS-2050, including the external design achieved by redesigning the ionization unit and overcoming psychological barriers, but is also a recognition of the design’s ability to promote the broader use of high-accuracy mass spectrometers.
From a design perspective, the LCMS-2050 successfully achieves an advanced look that is easy to understand by users new to MS. Surely, it will prove to be a valuable asset to future laboratories.