All feed mills have quality procedures in place at their raw material intake gate to ensure ingredient quality before it enters their production facility. But what happens when the nature of certain raw materials does not allow for quality analysis through traditional NIR techniques? In these situations, a solution is required to ensure the quality of, for example, micro ingredients and trace minerals — a technology that would be especially valuable for premix manufacturers. While the proper identification of these raw materials is crucial, it is often overlooked.
Raven Brackx, a product manager and consultant at BESTMIX, joins the Chat to share quality-control solutions for ingredients that cannot be properly analyzed using traditional NIR techniques.
Interview with Raven Brackx, product manager and consultant, BESTMIX
Jackie Roembke, editor in chief, WATT Feed Brands: Hi everyone, and welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I'm your host, Jackie Roembke, editor in chief of WATT Feed brands and Feed Strategy magazine. This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by BESTMIX.
BESTMIX Software guarantees cost-efficient and precise feed production with high-quality end products — correctly labeled. Since 1974, BESTMIX Software has developed and serviced a unique range of food and feed industry-specific software tools for least-cost recipe formulation, quality data management, ration calculation, cloud services and ERP. Today, more than 1,000 customers in 60 countries apply BESTMIX software to optimize their resources, achieve the highest quality products, optimal animal performance, service their clients, and to become more efficient and profitable.
Today we’re joined by Raven Brackx, a product manager and consultant at BESTMIX. She’s here to share quality-control solutions for raw materials that do not allow for quality analysis through traditional NIR techniques.
Hi Raven, how are you today?
Raven Brackx, product manager and consultant at BESTMIX: Hi, Jackie. I'm well, thanks. How are you?
Roembke: I'm doing great. Thank you so much for being here. Well, let's get right into it. Please describe the typical feed mill's raw material intake flow, and how quality assurance is managed during that process.
Brackx: Our customers will usually have an elaborate set of quality procedures in place at their intake gate to make sure that the quality of the incoming raw materials is checked before they release it into production.
When the truck arrives, the operators on-site usually have a full to-do list in their hands ranging from reviewing accompanying documentation, like shipment forms, certificate of analysis, etc., to taking physical samples of the raw materials for analyzing and testing purposes. This stage also includes initial quality checks needed to determine whether the raw materials can be released into production or not. Things like sensory evaluations, such as visual inspections and odor assessments, can be the first indicators that a raw material is not up to spec. But often times these samples will be run through an NIR instrument to provide some key quality data as well.
These results are then compared to the quality specifications provided in the documentation to ensure that the supplier delivers what they promise and, in some cases, operators will wait to unload the truck until they have a "greenlight" so to speak from these pre-release quality checks.
As a result, the speed at which these quality checks can be performed is very important because they can't just leave a truck waiting for a couple of hours until they receive the greenlight.
Roembke: How does technology assist during this process?
Brackx: Technology can assist greatly by delivering and keeping track of the information the operator needs throughout the process in a vast way. For example, the ability to compare the quality of your incoming truckload to the quality specification set in the supplier contract. That's the thing that's usually facilitated by software technology in general, right? Because you can easily get your quality specifications set and your supplier contract from your ERP software.
Then you have your quality control software that can help you to store pre-release quality checks, like your sensory evaluations and your NIR measurements. And it can really help you quickly detect where the quality aspects are not up to specifications.
As I've mentioned previously, these pre-release checks need to be very fast, which is why a lot of the companies have NIR instruments at their intake gate. They offer very accurate and fast results for some basic quality measures that can be important, things such as protein, fats, moisture, etc.
For a classic feed company, this works very well; however, you do see some companies where these kinds of setups aren't quite sufficient and where they do need to organize their quality assessment in slightly different way.
Roembke: Many variables to consider. How can quality assurance at intake be improved? Are there any missing pieces to this puzzle?
Brackx: For companies that have some atypical feed ingredients, for example, like premix companies, the classic NIR quality data just isn't enough.
For ingredients like vitamins and minerals and additives, for example, sensory evaluations are quite hard since they can't be easily distinguished from each other, let alone being able to visually discern good from bad quality in these kinds of ingredients, and also general quality data, like moisture, fat and protein.
The things you would normally measure with an NIR instrument often aren't the main characteristics that you would want to investigate or measure for these kinds of ingredients. If you order vitamin A, for example, you are interested in the actual vitamin A content of the product, and not necessarily in the fat, protein or moisture content. So, even verifying whether the correct ingredient is being unloaded from the truck can be often not straightforward because of the abovementioned challenges, right.
This is where the gap in today's intake process lies in the actual identification of your incoming raw materials. Although legal regulations and standards mandate some level of identification through documentation, for example, in your shipment form that comes with the truck, manufacturers can often not sufficiently rule out the possibility of the wrong product taken into production — and this is the last thing that you would want as a premix manufacturer, for example, because inadvertently mixing the wrong ingredients or a subpar substitute into your recipe can lead to product recalls, which ultimately leads to huge financial losses for these companies and reputation loss. So the focus of these companies dealing with these kinds of ingredients lies more on checking the reliability of the raw materials instead.
Roembke: What role do current technologies play in allowing feed producers to safeguard their raw material intake process?
Brackx: Since human errors are unavoidable — especially when these raw materials are not easily distinguishable — and given the high stakes and potential risks, it's clear that these companies need a safety net and insurance policy, so to speak. You need a way to confirm the identity of your raw materials quickly and reliably instead of just relying on the information listed on the shipment form or the documentation that you get from your supplier. This is why there has been a trend and new technology on the market that can help us cope with these insecurities and make the actual identification part of your pre-release quality check.
For example, NIR instruments can be a valuable partner in this story, just not using the classical way. When combined with specific software models, instead of measuring quality data, like moisture, fat and protein, NIR measurements can also be used to identify a whole bunch of premix ingredients. And I'm using premix ingredients here as an example because they're ideal for identification using this method because they have a very small range in which they vary in composition. So using the NIR instrument most companies already have at their intake gates, but just in a different way to identify their incoming raw materials, it also means that they get more bang for their buck from their NIR instruments as well.
It's a no-brainer to me that adding the identification step as part of your pre-release checks, when specifically dealing with these kind of premix ingredients, is basically giving yourself an insurance policy that protects those companies from potential risks related to the raw materials that they take in.
Roembke: Excellent — thank you so much. For more information on BESTMIX and the solutions discussed today, visit BESTMIX.com. Thank you so much, Raven, and thanks to you for tuning in.