LECO Harnesses Industry 4.0, Decoding Laboratory Analysis "Known Unknowns"


Laboratory Equipment Company (LECO) reduces downtime and increases uptime in the lab, helping researchers hone in on what it calls “the known unknowns.” Its Happy Valley facility has long been an integral part of the operation.

No matter if you consider it a fruit or a vegetable, there’s no denying that tomatoes are an important global crop — and high-yield farming methods typically require pesticides to prevent invaders from destroying these crops, giving rise to the risk that the tomatoes could be contaminated.

That’s what one team of experts set out to learn more about, using LECO’s Pegasus BT 4D in a case study. This instrument is part of the Happy Valley company’s separation science line. The instrument operates using two elements: two combined gas chromatographs (GCxGC) and a time-of-flight mass spectrometer. The combined gas chromatographs provide additional separation dimension to ensure any overlapping chemicals can be clearly separated and identified by the mass spectrometer, which breaks those molecules into ionized fragments, each of which is identified based on a mass-to-charge ratio.

“We work closely with our customers to identify what they need and the challenges they’re facing in their lab,” Jackson says. “Then, we modify the software to best meet their needs and help them do their jobs more easily.”

Users can put a sample into the machine — in this case the sample was a peeled tomato extract — separate all the molecules in the sample and then spit out a list of all the components found in the sample. For the case of the tomato sample, which had been spiked with 164 pesticide residues, all were identified, demonstrating that the instrument can quickly collect data to pick up trace-level quantitative analysis along with non-targeted sample screening.

As LECO’s technical communications manager, Veronica Jackson explains, “Researchers can use the information to detect the pesticides present in the sample versus what was expected. That’s where our instrumentation can become helpful in the food industry, because scientists can use the technology to hone in on what we call, ‘the known unknowns.’” 

There’s a certain set of chemicals that are expected to be found in foods, but there are also a certain number of components you don’t expect. LECO’s instruments allow researchers to analyze foods for consumption, along with agricultural elementals such as soil and products like steel.

Going Beyond Tomatoes

The tomato case study provides just a slice of what LECO’s innovations contribute to Industry 4.0. Jackson notes, “We exist to validate for quality and safety. Our instruments are used to run quality tests and, based on the chemical matter of certain samples, scientists and laboratory experts can detect and determine the quality, strengths and safety of whatever is being analyzed.”

LECO is known industry-wide for innovative instrumentation and productivity in the laboratory. 

“Our focus is on making processes more efficient to reduce downtime and increase uptime, by enabling people to run multiple samples,” says Jackson. “One way we’ve done that is with the autoloaders and autosamplers available for our equipment. These innovations reduce the sample introduction process, which can be tedious. By simplifying the process, operators can essentially set up their samples and walk away — the equipment will continuously load and run the samples. This enables users to spend more time doing the sample and looking at the data.”

LECO also makes its own software that runs the instruments, every iteration of which gets more powerful in terms of what it can do and the algorithms that it can create. “We work closely with our customers to identify what they need and the challenges they’re facing in their lab,” Jackson says. “Then, we modify the software to best meet their needs and help them do their jobs more easily.”

Although LECO’s headquarters is elsewhere, its Happy Valley facility has long been an integral part of the operation. This particular facility produces components primarily by using CNC and wire EDM machines to create some of the precision components for LECO’s instruments. For the Pegasus BT 4D used in the tomato case study, the source and transfer lines would have been created here. These are two things specifically needed for the mass spectrometer to run analysis in the way that it does.

LECO is known in the industry for manufacturing as many components as possible on its own. As Jackson notes, “That’s one of the things that makes our quality and reliability so good. We know exactly what we’re putting into our machines. While some companies might buy a source and a transfer line, we’re able to create it ourselves, which is what we’re doing in our [Happy Valley] location.”

About LECO

Laboratory Equipment Company got its start in 1936 when founder, Carl Shultz debuted the rapid carbon determinator – the first of its kind for the American steel industry. Since its early days, LECO has thrived, launching its first international office in 1967 in Germany. Today, it remains a third-generation, family-owned company with global clout and more than 25 worldwide subsidiaries sell its equipment to more than 75 countries. Do you want to learn more about LECO? Explore all it has to offer at https://www.leco.com.


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