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Laboratory Automation The Perfect Blend: Sample Preparation in Flavor Development

| Author / Editor: GUIDO DEUßING* / Marc Platthaus

By automating and miniaturizing a key process, the Germany based global player Symrise has succeeded in increasing the productivity of its flavors and fragrances development in a sustainable manner, reducing the use of costly ingredients.

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Fig. 1: The MPS Work Station accelerates the development of new fragrances and flavors, increasing both productivity and throughput. The system can operate around the clock—24/7.
Fig. 1: The MPS Work Station accelerates the development of new fragrances and flavors, increasing both productivity and throughput. The system can operate around the clock—24/7.
(Source: Deußing)

When management spurs an organization on to question standard procedures and to try new approaches in order to improve products and processes, an innovation drive can be set in motion that releases a lot of creative energy within a short period of time. This is what happened in the German company Symrise AG. The Symrise company group was formed in 2003 by a merger between the German companies Haarmann & Reimer and Dragoco. Today, Symrise is among the top three companies in the global flavors and fragrances market. It is the stated intention of the company to continue growing faster than the market.

Creating conditions for growth is easier said than done, but a company that can afford to take a long-term view on investment while continually working on process improvement is off to a promising start. Key parameters in working towards continual improvements and success are productivity, flexibility and sustainability, the latter meaning reducing the amount of energy and other resources spent at all levels. This is the approach taken by the Analytical Department of Symrise, which has a key role in the development of flavors and fragrances for different applications and markets such as the food and consumer goods industries.

When they create new flavors and fragrances, the flavorists rely on a large number of very different raw materials and ingredients, each of which can consist of a multitude of compound mixtures. The ingredient concentrations, depending on their flavor intensity, can range from a few ppm to as much as 90 percent in the final mixture. Accurately producing a new flavor or fragrance with such a wide concentration range of components requires technical know-how and the right equipment in addition to the flavorist’s creativity.

Miniaturization improves flexibility and reduces cost

Blending new flavors for sensory evaluation is typically a time consuming and labor intensive task that requires a significant amount of expensive ingredients. Speeding up flavor development requires automation. If automation can be combined with miniaturization of the blending process, significant savings can be achieved. If the automated system is capable of running 24/7, good efficiency and productivity is also ensured.

Automated blending devices used in flavor and fragrance development are obviously capable of reducing the amount of labor required, but they typically require a lot of bench space as well as large amounts of the often very expensive ingredients. Since one key goal of Symrise for the entire organization is to operate with minimal use of resources, miniaturization of the blending process was a key objective from the very beginning of the project.

The Multipurpose Sampler — a powerful blending device

For many years, the analytical laboratories at Symrise have been relying on the Gerstel MultiPurpose Sampler (MPS) to automate sample preparation and sample introduction in combination with GC/MS analysis. The MPS-based systems in the lab are, among other things, configured for liquid injection, various static and dynamic Headspace techniques as well as extraction techniques including Solid Phase Micro-Extraction (SPME). Since 2005, the company has also used an MPS Workstation equipped with an integrated balance for simple extraction procedures. The MPS is extremely well suited for handling and transporting the tiniest amounts of sample and standard solutions and dispensing them with high accuracy. This gave the flavor experts Uwe Schaefer and Lars Grohmann the idea that they could miniaturize the flavor blending process using the MPS, and greatly reduce the quantities of ingredients used in the process. “The results of the initial experiments we performed clearly indicated that we were heading in the right direction”, the flavor experts reported.

Key capabilities for clean and accurate work

From a technical point of view, the MPS Dual Head Workstation offers a wide range of sample handling options. The system can be configured with many different tools as well as with a range of heated or cooled trays of different dimensions. If liquid addition steps have to be verified and documented with the highest accuracy, a laboratory balance can be integrated into the workflow.

To prevent contamination and sample to sample carry over, Symrise chose to configure the MPS Workstation with Dynamic Load and Wash (DLW) technology: “Between the needle and the syringe barrel, there is an inert sample loop through which a well-defined amount of flavor ingredient is sampled”, Lars Grohmann explains. At no point does the sample or ingredient get into contact with the liquid syringe. Finally, before the next liquid volume is aspirated, the sample loop and needle are thoroughly rinsed from above using solvents that are approved for use within the flavor industry. The solvents are dispensed from a dedicated DLW solvent station.