Published by Peter Boler on November 10, 2020
In part one of this series, I pointed out that in times of economic downturns, like we are seeing with COVID-19, the natural tendency is to reduce if not eliminate the level of investment in new technologies and methodologies – an obvious approach to dealing with economic uncertainty. However, while this is viable over the short term, the reality is that all businesses have to re-evaluate their operational priorities to ensure they emerge from the crisis in a better position to deal with new economic realities. For many laboratory-dependent organizations, this means looking for ways to become more efficient, perhaps even increasing throughput while spending less, but still generating accurate results.
I want to dig a little deeper into the advantages of the VUV Analyzer™ Platform for Fuels as it relates to improvements in operational efficiency and long-term cost reduction.
Let’s start by looking at the platform itself. The VUV Analyzer Platform for Fuels is designed to analyze different fuel types (Figure 1), with no changes in hardware or setup. This is significant because it means you can easily switch between gasoline (ASTM D8071), jet fuel (ASTM D8267) and diesel/biodiesel (ASTM # Pending).
Table 1 highlights the traditional analytical techniques and methods used for the analysis of these different fuels. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, you will need to run multiple samples on different analytical techniques. From an efficiency standpoint, this requires a lot of time and depending on the techniques, significant expertise. Since the VUV Analyzer Platform is automated and uses a single column, there is minimal impact to productivity when switching between analysis types. This allows you to consolidate fuels analysis to a single platform while increasing the efficiency of the analyst. Ultimately you can increase analytical throughput with fewer analytical techniques. But what about cost?
Logically, it would make sense that reducing the number of analytical techniques would have a dramatic impact on cost. In part 1, I showed that when using the VUV Analyzer Platform for Fuels running ASTM D8071, you could reduce the cost-per-analysis from approximately $64.63 USD per sample to $5.21 USD. For jet fuel (Figure 2), cost-per-analysis can be reduced to $3.07 USD per sample compared to FIA (ASTM D1319) at $51.49 USD, and HPLC (ASTM D6379) at $8.98 USD per sample. How is this possible?
The answer is not all that complicated and takes into account three different variables: cost-of-acquisition, cost-of-maintenance and consumables, and cost-of-labor. Let’s consider each:
Usually the cost to acquire the hardware gets the most attention as it is the upfront cost needed. Depending on the instrumentation required, it can be inexpensive like FIA or more expensive like GC-MS. To be fair implementing the VUV Analyzer Platform does require more capital investment compared to other techniques, which is reflected in Figure 2 with a higher cost-per-sample on the capital line. It is important to note that the number is greatly influenced by whether or not the VUV Analyzer hardware is being added-on to an existing GC (which reduces the capital requirement) or a new GC. However, the capital investment is only a small part of the story.
Cost-of-Maintenance and Consumables
Consolidating from multiple analytical techniques reduces the number of instruments in the lab. This means less maintenance and consumables cost over time. Simply put, using the VUV Analyzer Platform reduces the number of GCs and gas consumption, eliminates expensive consumables like platinum reactors used in GC-OFID, eliminates the need for ion source cleanings and expensive deuterated standards. Additionally, there are no expensive dyes (FIA) or hazardous solvents like those used in HPLC. The VUV Analyzer Platform has one consumable – a lamp that only needs to be replaced every 2000 hours. To put this in perspective, one user of the VUV Analyzer Platform running ASTM D8071 and D8267 has calculated that they will save approximately $125,000 USD per year (excluding labor) by replacing the other techniques with the VUV Analyzer Platform.
The last variable is labor. Any discussion of labor cost almost always revolves around reduction. However, when I refer to reducing the cost-of-labor, I am actually referring to better utilization of existing resources as opposed to the elimination of that cost. Simply put, since the VUV Analyzer Platform eliminates the need for multiple analytical techniques, is automated and calibration free, and does not require any changes in hardware or setup when changing between fuels types, laboratory resources can be utilized on other high priority projects – which means more productivity.
As discussed in part 1, in times of economic uncertainty, it is usually capital expenditures which get delayed or eliminated first. Laboratories that look to eliminate long-term recurring costs first are often better positioned to emerge from economic uncertainties. Strategic capital investments that have a positive impact on reducing operating costs and generating operational efficiencies over the long term are critical to future success.