Many industries, including ingredient processing, agriculture, processed foods, and industrial applications, employ near-infrared (NIR) analysis — a method used for compositional measurements. Typical measurements are for protein, fat, moisture, crude fiber, and other constituents, and also for physical property measurements, like hardness or digestibility.
Image Credit: KPM Analytics
NIR encompasses numerous features that make it a very feasible technique for tracking manufacturing processes:
- NIR analysis is quick, often taking a few seconds to a minute
- It is non-destructive and does not involve the use of hazardous chemicals or the payment of disposal fees
- Little or no sample preparation is required
- Powders, slurries, and solids are among the sample types that can be evaluated
- NIR analysis requires little training and gives results that are operator-independent
- NIR analyses are highly precise and can be repeated
Image Credit: KPM Analytics
NIR analyzers are utilized every day in thousands of food manufacturing plants to offer fast compositional data of incoming materials as well as in-process manufacturing end-product control. Historically, the vast majority of NIR analyzers have been used in one of three applications:
- Incoming raw ingredients: NIR evaluates incoming raw components for compositional and physical or rheological properties in these applications. This information is used to evaluate incoming raw material lots in order to ensure that the right compositional profile is maintained to support final product quality. NIR data can also be used to confirm that ingredients fulfill contract criteria and to back up claims for components that are out of specification.
- In-process analysis of moisture and oil: Process NIR analyzers are placed in or above a production line in these applications for real-time product analysis. Moisture and oil are two quality indicators that online analyzers can easily detect. Through feedback process control, real-time data is used to modify process parameters like oven temperature or conveyor speed.
- Final product inspection: For a more thorough inspection of product quality, final product analysis can be carried out either on-line or via sampling at-line. Moisture, oil, and other characteristics can be evaluated depending on the instrumentation and sampling. Although final product inspection guarantees quality, it is a lagging indicator and not very useful for process control.
At-Line Monitoring with High-Performance NIR Analyzers
Food businesses are increasingly utilizing high-performance NIR analyzers in-line to monitor production and cut raw material costs as the global food market has become more specialized and competitive.
At-line analysis with frequent sampling gives production managers the real-time data they need for responsive process control. Moving the analysis near the production line enables the use of NIR analyzer technology and calibrations that can precisely measure more problematic ingredients like seasoning or sugar.
Many procedures use sprayers or tumblers to apply these components, which might result in an inconsistent application and final concentration. Regular real-time monitoring of these important elements enhances product quality while reducing over-formulation waste. Over-formulation can have a huge influence on the bottom line if global material costs vary and major rises occur.
The two examples provided below detail how at-line inspection can provide a quick return on investment (ROI) while also enhancing product quality and consistency.
Example 1: A Medium-Sized Breakfast Cereal Plant was Applying Sugar Using Tumbling Applicators
Breakfast Cereal. Image Credit: KPM Analytics
Several factors influence the amount of sugar that ends up in the final product, including the moisture in the sugar mix, humidity, cereal temperature, and so on. Sugar is important for consumer approval, so the amount of sugar utilized was increased by 2% (from 10% to 12%) to ensure adequate sugar coating on the finished product. This firm reduced its sugar use by more than 15% by instituting regular at-line inspection of in-process samples, saving $3,000 per day.
Example 2: A Snack Food Operator Applied Seasoning Using Spray Nozzles Over a Conveyor Belt
Potato Chip Production. Image Credit: KPM Analytics
Plant managers modify the seasoning load by adjusting the sprayer pump. However, changes in seasoning consistency, clogged nozzles, and other factors tend to influence the seasoning load, resulting in the production line applying extra seasoning to achieve consistent coverage.
On the production floor, a SpectraStar™ Analyzer was installed, and it was set up with a seasoning-specific custom calibration. Plant managers were able to run closer to their target and cut seasoning by about 5% by regularly monitoring production samples, saving over $1,000 each day.
Both of the above cases shared the following characteristics:
- The key ingredient was applied by tumbling or spraying rather than in a batch mode, resulting in variable and inconsistent content in the finished product.
- The component measured was crucial to the end product’s quality and consumer approval and accounted for a large amount of the raw material cost.
- Process control adjustments were made based on data collected in real-time.
SpectraStar™ XT NIR Analyzer
SpectraStar™ XT NIR Analyzer — A comprehensive, plug and play solution for lab and at-line compositional analysis of many food products. Image Credit: KPM Analytics
The Unity Scientific SpectraStar™ XT NIR Analyzer from KPM Analytics is an optimal solution for at-line applications such as processed and snack foods, with features such as:
- Scanning monochromator technology, which provides the highest quality NIR signal available, allows for the analysis of more difficult parameters such as sugar or seasoning.
- With little or no sample preparation, operators achieve dependable and accurate findings in under a minute.
- The XT is ideal for at-line deployments due to its stand-alone design, sealed case, and touchscreen control.
- To obtain operator-independent results, intuitive software and simple operation require minimum training for plant personnel.
- A single SpectraStar XT Analyzer can support many production lines, maximizing analytical capability and doubling ROI.
- Custom calibrations can be created to measure critical constituents in unique or proprietary end products.
Reduce Over-Formulation for Rapid ROI
The above examples show how effective at-line NIR analysis can provide food manufacturers with the information they need to confidently prevent the over-formulation of expensive ingredients. For many processed food applications, regular at-line monitoring of food production lines can result in cheaper raw material costs and uniform product quality.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by KPM Analytics.
For more information on this source, please visit KPM Analytics.