Scientific instrument maker Sciex has told owners of more than 2,000 mass spectrometers to immediately shut down the instruments because a catastrophic failure of turbo pumps manufactured by Agilent Technologies could “result in serious injury or death.” To date, Sciex says, no one has been injured.
According to a safety notice dated March 13 for owners of API 4000, API 4000 Qtrap, and API 5000 model mass spectrometers, the rotors of the TV 801 turbo pump can suddenly fragment and be ejected at high speeds. The pumps are used to create a high negative pressure in the instrument’s vacuum chamber.
Taking his API 4000 out of service will be financially crippling, says Bruce S. Levison, an assistant professor at the University of Toledo College of Medicine & Life Sciences who uses the machine to analyze tissue samples for pharmacologically relevant compounds. “We stand to lose thousands of dollars per day in revenue,” he says.
Sciex and Agilent have yet to determine the root cause of the failure. “This situation is unprecedented both in the sheer size of the installation base affected and in the criticality of the recommendation,” Inese Lowenstein, Sciex’s senior vice president of global sales and service, tells C&EN.
The workhorse mass spectrometers are used for a variety of chemical analyses and are in place around the world in academic, industrial, and government settings, Sciex says. The instruments were sold under brand names including Sciex, AB Sciex, MDS Sciex, and Applied Biosystems.
Two catastrophic turbo pump failures within a week of each other earlier this year led to the safety notice. Sciex notified Agilent of the failures, and the two undertook a joint investigation leading to the shutdown recommendation. Lowenstein says Sciex has not received any more catastrophic failure reports since the notice first went out.
The two TV 801 pumps that failed were manufactured in 2002, Lowenstein says. The pump was discontinued in 2008 and replaced with a new design, the TV 902, which has double bolts securing the housing. The TV 801 has single bolts. Lowenstein figures that between 1,500 and 2,000 of the API model instruments in use have the older pump and should be shut down.
Sciex expects that affected instruments will be out of service until Agilent designs and assembles a repair kit that Sciex technicians will install sometime starting in mid-April. Costs to Agilent, Sciex, and customers for the repairs are still undetermined, Lowenstein says.
According to Scott Walden, a product specialist at Turbo Vacuum, an Orlando-based firm that repairs turbo pumps, a brand new TV-902 pump costs $26,000. Refurbished units cost between $12,000 and $18,000.
Many of Walden’s clients have shut down their Sciex mass spectrometers for liability reasons and are desperate to get the instruments back to work. “We have a waiting list of 20 clients asking for the 902 pump,” Walden says.