A beautiful thing about working with spectrometers is that you don’t always know where the next application is going to come from. These are great instruments that allow us to see and understand materials well beyond what we otherwise would be capable of knowing.
Several years ago, we were contacted by someone from a company involved with programmable logic control, or PLC. They explained that a large food-producing company that they were doing business with was having problems maximizing its moisture content in the manufacture of bread bi-products. Food companies these days often have large quality-control units where they do sophisticated food analysis using process analytical technology or PAT.
Why is moisture content important?
Well, moisture is water and water doesn’t cost much compared to other ingredients in bread and bread crumbs. People also don’t like bread that is too dry and brittle. This may seem like a small matter until you multiply croutons or crackers by a million or billion. Then it becomes very important.
The challenge for the food production company was to get close to the maximum amount of moisture allowed by law, without going over it. If you exceed the acceptable moisture content, there are problems with mold.
The spectrometer we used, the Brimrose Luminar 4030, was able to consistently provide moisture content of between 10 percent and 12 percent, which is exactly what the company hoped for.
The result was that they saved $170,000 in the first four months of use. Needless to say, the company was very happy. The result was that they bought our spectrometer (we had originally loaned it to them), and have since bought four more. We are anticipating additional orders.
The Luminar 4030 is perfect for these applications. It is small, compact and rugged and integrates easily into the production environment. It is vortex-cooled with a heat exchanger that easily replaces hot air with cooler air. The 4030 can and normally operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
How does it all work?
The crumbs or other bread bi-product goes through an oven to be baked before they go to the hoppers to be packaged. The trick is to set the oven at the right temperature so the right amount of moisture will be baked out of the crumbs.
Cables connect the Luminar 4030 spectrometer to the PLC unit, which in turn interfaces with the oven. The spectrometer tells the PLC what percentage moisture is coming out in the bread and the PLC unit in turn adjusts the temperature of the oven to the optimum setting. In essence, our spectrometer controls the oven.
Robert Newton of Kerry Corporation is very excited about the capabilities of the process. “We’ve interfaced our first unit via PID loop to thermal bake technologies in an effort to optimize the moisture content of our products,” he says. “Our application is a real-time iterative approach that not only optimizes the desired output, but has eliminated product rejections due to over and under drying. Our pilot application has returned well over six figures in the first eight months of continuous operation. We expect similar returns with the installation and commissioning of four additional units in like processes across the Americas Regions.”
With endorsements like these, I have to believe this market will continue to grow together with the food processing industry.
If you would like to talk more about this application, you can call me at 410-472-7070.