Belgian compound feed company Vanden Avenne implements smart process quality control
Innovative analytical solutions by NIR process instruments
Dipl. Ing. Chr. Müller, Hamburg
Vanden Avenne is a family-owned company which tripled its turnover in the past 25 years. By establishing a second production plant in Floreffe, a joint-venture with the Walloon cooperative Scam, Vanden Avenne has become the absolute number two of the Belgian feed production companies.
The history of the family-owned company Vanden Avenne goes back to 1889. In Ooigem, near the canal Roeselare – Lys, the first site was founded with a flourishing business in agricultural supplies and extended by the production of feed later to a modern compound feed company (Fig. 1).
Despite of the dynamic growth in the past years, the family-owned company has to face competition all the time, as well as market changes and the actual challenges:
- The margins are very narrow, it is needed to control the cost factors as efficient as possible
- Quality control systems including batch documentation and tracking & tracing will become more and more important or they are prescribed by law
- An innovative quality management, not only for recipe control, but also looking at criteria as storability, shelf life or microbiological load
In order to continue generating growth in this difficult market environment, convincing its customers with consistent quality at the highest level and at the same time reducing relevant cost factors, Vanden Avenne pursued the following strategic goals at an early stage:
- Contemporary connectivity
Close connection of IT with production to create new digital opportunities
- Batch monitoring
Establishment of smart quality control systems for batch documentation, individual valuation and traceability
- Innovative quality management
Continuous determination of the most important quality parameters like water activity, moisture, fat, protein and more in real time, during production
Implementation of strategic goals:
In compound feed plants, process analysis is used in most applications to monitor a few process parameters as moisture, protein, fat, etc. for direct cost and energy savings.
Innovative compound feed plants are adopting a new approach: During the production process, all relevant parameters will be determined mainly in real time, linked to other plant, sampling and historical data and finally evaluated by powerful software. Predictions for quality-relevant analysis parameters of final products are also included as the possibility of intelligent recipe adaptation. This technology is already popular in the food industry ("Statistical Process Control").
In order to have all data immediately available, establishing internal tracking & tracing processes, improving production planning and optimization, and to be able to make faster quality forecasts, Vanden Avenne was consistently focused on inline NIR process analyzers DA 7300 (Fig. 2) of Perten Instruments (a PerkinElmer company).
These process analyzers are fully integrated into the communication chain and able to manage supervisory order and batch numbers, so that each single measurement value can be assigned to these numbers. Furthermore, the internal IT (IBM iSeries) was converted and established as the central data acquisition unit. All data from the laboratory, from process analysis and from production are transferred to this central unit and processed there. By this "big data" approach, Vanden Avenne is able to monitor all stages of production, to detect defects immediately, and to predict the results (quality) of each produced batch.
To ensure consistent product quality, an evaluation of each production batch is necessary. By an inline NIR process analyzer, installed at the surge bin (Fig. 3), a continuously monitoring of production relevant quality parameters such as water activity, protein, moisture, ash, fat etc. content takes place in real time. These deviations are decisively influenced by the properties of the raw materials (cereals, oilseeds, rapeseed and soybean meal, etc.) as well as the production process. In order to perform a direct batch evaluation and, where appropriate, to initiate quality assurance measures, it is necessary for the NIR process analyzer, to be able to send all the data, pre-compressed per single batch, to the superordinate IT department.
Innovative quality management:
Historically, quality parameters such as moisture, fat, protein and energy content apply for quality assessment of feed. But these parameters say little about storability, durability or the microbiological load risk. Since years, Vanden Avenne is measuring water activity of their feed products but offline and randomly only. A continuous and representative controlled water activity is necessary to guarantee the quality relating to the shelf life of a product at any time.
The water activity is a measure of the free, unbound, microbiologically available water in a feed product and thus a measure of the microbiological safety of a feed product. It is defined as the ratio of the water vapor partial pressure in a product (p) to the saturation vapor pressure of pure water (p0) at a given temperature (aw=p/p0). The water activity is thus dependent on the humidity and the ambient temperature, as can be seen in Table 1, and can only take values between zero and 1.
For feed, a water activity value of less than 0.7 is considered as the safety limit (Table 1). Higher values increase the risk of microbiological load and a shorter shelf life of the feed product. Due to the rapidly changing humidity due to the proximity to the coast and large temperature fluctuations in the day-night course, a water activity value of less than 0.7 cannot always be guaranteed.
More important is a determination of the water activity value in real time in order to be able to initiate targeted measures for quality assurance.
This provides the addition of an organic acid mixture in the feed mixture in order to restore the microbiological stability. The cost factor of this acid treatment is considerable and a targeted use for cost reduction desirable.
By the use of in-line NIR process analyzers of the type DA 7300, a continuous and reliable water activity determination was realized. The real-time information is used for gapless production monitoring and controlled dosing during acid treatment. Advantage: cost savings and consistent product quality. Additional, the comprehensive process information leads to valuable knowledge about the production processes that can be used for process optimization.
In-line NIR Process analyzer DA 7300
The in-line DA 7300 process analyzer (Fig. 2) from Perten Instruments (a PerkinElmer company) enables continuous NIR measurements directly in the product stream. It offers an instantaneous measurement method, a variety of connection options and all prerequisites for integration into a higher-level system.
The DA 7300 uses the actual NIR diode array technology, which is in the labs, by the DA 7250, known for a long time for high efficiency and economy. The DA 7300 In-line is protected against external influences by a stainless steel housing (protection class IP 65). It is a compact, robust system (ATEX Zone 21 and 22) designed for long-term stable operation. The optical window is made of scratch-resistant sapphire. The high measuring speed delivers 10 spectra per second and thus enables continuous and timely analysis. The data is stored locally on the device and can also be stored in an existing database. The DA 7300 In-line has a second light source. The 2-lamp automatic switching system ensures smooth and continuous operation even when a light source fails.
Smart, innovative solution
All connectivity requirements can be fulfilled by Perten Instruments' innovative, web-based ProcessPlus software. Current measured values can be transferred to the IT as pre-compressed data of a batch (average values, standard deviation, minimum, maximum value per parameter). For unambiguous identification, batch numbers and order data are transmitted to the process analyzer in real time by the higher-level IT and the feedback data records are labelled automatically.
Vanden Avenne has consistently implemented its strategic goals for the future. The approach works so well with non-pelleted feed that three in-line NIR DA 7300 process analyzers are already in use. The continuous measurement of all parameters in real time leads to gapless production monitoring, efficient batch documentation, better individual valuation and traceability of the production. At the same time, the representative determination of the water activity and the controlled acid treatment achieved a cost saving combined with an always consistent product quality. Comprehensive process information are valuable for process optimization.
In particular, the smart connection via the latest interface technology directly to the IBM iSeries and the web-based interface, which also allows direct access from the laboratory, were convincing. The next step is to combine the NIR data generated on the mixing lines with the steam data of the presses. The goal is to control the energy consumption of the presses without losing control of the water activity value of the final product. For this purpose, the drying process in the mixing line should be prepared more efficiently and all data should be connected to each other. Through these and other measures, the family-owned company Vanden Avenne is prepared for the challenges of the coming years.
Vanden Avenne is a family-owned company which tripled its turnover in the past 25 years. By establishing a second production plant in Floreffe in a joint-venture with the Walloon cooperative Scam, Vanden Avenne has become the absolute number two of the Belgian feed production companies. In order to continue generating growth in this difficult market environment, convincing its customers with consistent quality at the highest level and at the same time reducing relevant cost factors, Vanden Avenne pursued strategic goals at an early stage. In this article these strategic goals are examined and displayed in more detail with particular importance of NIR process technology for achieving these goals.