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NIR for feed – what it really takes

Ready-made calibrations and networking software helped North American poultry integrator GNP Company to get NIR analysis operations up to speed after a time-consuming detour into the world of do-it-yourself feed calibration development.


Today, the laboratory facility at North American poultry integrator GNP Company has a well-functioning NIR analytical instrument that is used to track the quality of both feed ingredients and finished feed.

The NIR solution is a good example of how a reliable NIR instrument combined with ready-to-use calibrations and networking software can yield results within a short start-up period. The situation has not always been so simple, however. With a previous solution that did not include calibrations and networking software, the road to everyday NIR was rocky and in the end turned into a dead end.

Quality control manager, Ann Och, describes how the calibration development work with the previous instrument was time-consuming and complicated. “At that time, they did not have calibrations for any kind of feed or feed ingredients for it,” she says. “We had to start from scratch to develop our own. It was very time-consuming and very expensive and it just did not work well.”

She describes the frustration with the NIR solution despite the efforts of the vendor to help. “They tried to help us, but there was not a lot of knowledge about the type of samples that we have and there were also problems with the equipment. For example, there was a problem with the rotating cups doing some weird things that we could not explain. We could not figure out what the problem was,” she says.

A particular challenge was the number of wet chemistry tests involved in developing calibrations from scratch. Och explains: “Obviously there is a lot of time involved in running a set of tests with the wet chemistry for fat or fibre and so on. Because you are constantly trying to add data to the calibration, it became a constant battle and it was really time consuming.”

Based in St. Cloud, MN, GNP Company (www.GNPCompany.com) is a provider of premium branded and custom chicken products to retail, deli and foodservice customers nationally. Founded by E.M. Helgeson in 1926 and purchased in 2013 by Maschhoff Family Foods, the parent company of The Maschhoffs, LLC, GNP Company remains family-owned. It distributes products under the Just BARE®, Gold’n Plump® and Sunny Roost® brand names.

Together, the company’s nearly 1,700 team members and 350 family farm partners in Minnesota and Wisconsin bring millions of wholesome, high-quality chicken meals to American families. Sales in 2013 were about $400 million. For more information about the company and its mission of “dedicated to healthy food, families and farms,” visit GNPCompany.com. For more information about its specific brands and products, and to find chicken recipes, general cooking, safe handling tips and nutrition information, visit GoldnPlump.com and JustBareChicken.com.


Off down the road with ready-made calibrations and mosaic networking

Moving over to a new solution that included calibrations and networking software was quite a different experience. “Having the calibrations readymade really helped us a lot. It was a huge time saving for us,” says Och.

A few minor adjustments to some of the ready-made calibrations were required, but these only involved a few tests to support a bias adjustment. Triplicate wet chemistry tests were run on the same sample and the average used to compare to the NIR. The bias was then set. The work started out with the ingredients and the finished feed. It took a couple of months to get running with some elapsed time to make it manageable for staff to fit in with other duties.

The networking software supplied with the instrument then made the update to the instrument quite easy without interruption to normal working procedures in the laboratory. “That was one of the features I love about the networking software,” says Och. “Things can be done from my desktop – making those bias adjustments doing those sorts of things and then pushing it onto the instrument, not having to tie up the instrument all day long while trying to develop new calibrations.”

Besides the calibration updates, the software helps technicians to check instrument performance questions by allowing them to look inside the instrument from wherever they are located.

Keeping up with variations in ingredients

The calibrations appear to be very stable. “We found that the calibrations are very robust,” says Och. Nonetheless, some ongoing adjustments are occasionally required where ingredients can fluctuate a lot, for example, inconsistency across distiller’s grains suppliers demand bias adjustments for each vendor. Once these have been set they are pushed out via the networking software. This last part takes a matter of minutes to synchronise with the instrument and then the operators can start using it.

Making the most of NIR

The new instrument is now in constant use at the laboratory facility in St Cloud, Minnesota area for all feed ingredients and finished feed. These come from two feed mills, one nearby and another in Wisconsin.

The instrument is used for testing incoming deliveries such as the protein value in soy meal or distiller’s grain and for testing finished feed. The results are reported to a statistical process control reporting system so people in the feed mill have the data and can address problems quickly. Several operators have been trained to use the software which Och describes as easy to use and straightforward.

The capability of the new instrument and calibration has been a timely development given that feed costs have risen to record highs while poultry prices remain low, leaving little room for inefficiencies in the feed production operations.

Overall, the ready-to-use calibrations and networking software has been a great experience for GNP “It has been a huge timesaving and more stable and much more consistent than the other solution.”

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