Advances in Process Analytical Technologies

Instrument and PAT vendors are continually innovating, and 2015 is no different

By Emil W. Ciurczak, Contributing Editor

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Process Analytical Technology (PAT) and instrument vendors are continually advancing the usability, reliability, accuracy and efficacy of their technologies, and the first half of 2015 is no different. Companies in this sector introduced technological advancements and other innovations to better support lab and QA/QC operations.

When it comes to demonstrating new analytical equipment to the industry, PittCon has traditionally been a primary launching point for introducing PAT systems and innovations to the industry. Several vendors brought out new systems or introduced significant new features at the conference.


In the world of PAT/QbD, spectroscopy occupies a leading role. One instrument that should interest physical chemistry and spectroscopy-minded pharma professionals is the nano-FTIR from Neaspec GmbH. This combination of AFM (Atomic Force Microscopy) and IR may be somewhat specialized, but is unique in what it can do.

A focused IR LASER illuminates a standard metal-coated AFM probing tip. The tip generates a nano-focus at its apex that is 103 times smaller than the diffraction limited IR LASER spot. The nano-focus is used to probe the sample, with IR imaging and spectroscopy performed by recording the scattered light during a surface scan. Their background suppression allows spatial resolution of 10 nm throughout the IR spectrum. There may not be thousands of applications in Pharma, but where small particle discrimination is needed, this is a technique worth exploring.

Spectroclick shared an interesting, compact spectrometer. While it is "merely" a visible spectrometer, its methodology is unique. It is a portable instrument making use of consumer-grade megapixel camera technology to generate absorption spectra from 430 nm to 720 nm with intensity dynamic range comparable to instruments with more expensive detectors. Using stacked gratings technology to produce SpectroBurst data (see Figure 1), they trade intensity dynamic range and wavelength resolution without moving parts- and graphic display is unusual enough to be noted. Associated software leads users through the steps of a determination so that no advanced training is required.

Cobalt Light Systems introduced a powerful Raman system for raw materials identification (RMID). While both NIR and Raman instruments have been used in the past to measure RMs (often through plastic liners), this new portable (not hand-held) instrument can measure RMIDs through paper sacks, glass and opaque plastic containers. The Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) simply focuses the light on the far side of the container, minimizing absorption of the radiation by the container. The demonstration was impressive.

A small, rugged system for transmission imaging was developed by InnoSpec GmbH. Working in two ranges (950-1700nm or 1200-2200nm) with a 320 x 256 pixel InGaAs (thermoelectrically cooled) detector, the instrument can achieve a spatial resolution of < 35?m. The image size is 7.68 mm (spectral) by 9.6 mm (spatial); the instrument (400 x 184 x 180 mm) weighs 7 kg, and runs on a 24V battery.

Falling into both the hardware and software categories is the MA-5000 Series Application-Specific Spectroscopic Sensor by Symbion Systems Inc., a division of Axiom. The hardware components of the MA-5000 Sensors combine robustness with low power consumption, which enables models to operate using rechargeable batteries. Specific engines are chosen to optimize performance for each application, for liquid, gas-phase, or solids analysis.

Spectral ranges range from UV to NIR; each sensor includes a miniature on-board computer equipped with the appropriate range of Symbion Systems software. Typically they include the Symbion RTM rapid-deployment package and Symbion QT Chemometrics. Secure web-based communications provide for cloud-based data storage as well as remote monitoring in real time via a smart phone or tablet. This software allows analysts and technicians to perform QbD or merely PAT (via on-line process monitoring). Symbion RTM employs multithreaded data processing to facilitate rapid deployment of analyzers capable of 30 or more analytical outputs per second.

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