Vast progress is being made in making NIR technology practical and accessible for feed producers. Significant commercial developments are now on the horizon. Since the mid-70’s computer and optical system technologies have steadily evolved. We are now at the point of implementing real-time solutions and commercial implementation may be in the not-to-distant future to reach a tipping point. Prolific adoption of Bruker Fourier Transform -NIR technology in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries has supported this development.
FT-NIR technology analysis evolved much like cell phone technology with an intensive focus on technical performance, development of efficient support infrastructure and innovative products suited to end user application requirements.
In the early days, Feed analysis by NIR was very appealing as a means of off-setting laboratory cost and turn-around time in producing wet chemistry results on samples transported from feed mills to a central laboratory. As implementation in the feed mills became more practical, a direct trade off in the value of the central lab operating model and analysis at the feed mill occurred. Of course, the optimal solution is to implement networks linking the central lab to the feed mills. Pet Food companies with high margins and more personnel to support such integrated solutions, were the first to build such infrastructures.
Clearly, there remained a need for more robust instrumentation, even reduction of end user mind share, and better economies of scale – if pet food producers and main stream poultry and swine feed producers were to make large scale use of the technology. With the current nexus of new FT-NIR system solutions, industry demand for operational improvement and favorable business environment, we will see widespread commercial implementation. Dr. Shivaram Rao’s paper, “Practical Utilization of NIR Technology in Poultry Feed Formulation,” was rather predictive.
The pharmaceutical, chemical, and feed industries have recognized that establishing industry standards is necessary for better effectiveness and efficiency in NIR applications. This is driven by strong interest and demand in reducing solution complexity and cost, while increasing robustness. Even establishing a standard vernacular, as in ISO 12099:2010, is beneficial and arguably serves the interest of all parties and society in general. Massive benefits resulted from a harmonization of standards in the processes control industry and software industries and the same will occur in the development of NIR solutions.
In recent years, larger feed producers and ingredient suppliers have gravitated to Bruker FT-NIR to build out practical and less proprietary enterprise solutions. Superior resolution, reliability, and signal- to-noise of Bruker’s FT-NIR optical systems are the preferred standard in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The feed industry is taking note of the advantages FT-NIR has to offer over Scanning and Diode Array type optical systems.
New visions of what’s possible are emerging. A prominent nutritionist recently expressed – “The IDEAL solution would be to fully automate the feed formulation and batching process.” Another with the same vision states, “We will get there.” Indeed.
By Howard Eubanks, Business Development Manager – Feed and Grain