Interview with Prapatsorn Chansamorn and Tanyalak Suwanworachat from CPF Food, Thailand
NIR technology is improving by the day, but for companies seeking the performance benefits of new NIR instruments, what does it really take to make the move and can you take your precious NIR database with you? Two NIR users share their experience.
CPF feed producers began using NIR instruments back in 1996. At that time, there were eleven plants producing animal feed for the company’s agro-feed business section and only one NIR instrument. Today there are 12 plants in Thailand using 13 instruments and another 18 units in use at plants in 11 countries throughout Asia.
Assistant Vice President of Laboratory Information Management Systems, Prapatsorn Chansamorn describes how the company has always had a progressive approach to the use of high technology for quality control. “We need to reduce cost, time and human error,” she says. “The NIR can be the answer because it is high-technology and we can reduce the use of wet chemistry as long as we have an accurate calibration.”
This point about calibrations was most relevant when five new NIR instruments were acquired last year to replace their older units. One thing was the smart new look and functionality of the new NIR instruments, but how should they transfer all the valuable calibration data acquired over many years of using the old instruments?
According to the experience at CPF Thailand, the change to the new instruments can be described in three steps. The first was to add some extra data to an existing database. Then there were a few bias adjustments to cover certain ingredients and parameters. And finally, the new calibration data was pushed out to all new instruments.
Updating the database
NIR specialist Tanyalak Suwanworachat, says: “We had to find the right way to transfer the database from the old instruments to the new ones, but after that, it was easy. It is not hard. There is no need to do standardisation between the instruments. We just added up some more data from the new NIR to the existing database. We scanned them on old instrument and then on the new NIR instrument and merged the data together. After that we added some data from the new instrument alone.”
A set of samples for each product was required, for instance, one each for ingredients such as corn, soya and wheat. Ten samples per product were prepared on the old instrument and ten on the new NIR, plus another 20 reference tests for validation. This added up to quite a lot of work given the many ingredients and products handled by the company. “We could do the NIR in one day, but we lost some time with the reference testing because we maybe had to wait for a week,” says Suwanworachat.
Fine-tuning for some parameters
Apart from the sample set creation, the transfer to the new NIR instruments involved only a little extra work. The database for the old instruments was based on ground samples, whereas the new NIR instrument measures both ground and unground samples. “Sometimes our database did not cover the whole variation,” says Suwanworachat. “For some parameters, it was necessary to make a bias adjustment, but for others it was not an issue.”
A mouse is faster than a plane
A total of around 50 calibrations were involved, covering roughly 30 types of raw material and about 20 finished feed products.
The calibrations were handled using networking software which allows a user to conveniently manage a lot of instruments from their desktop. Key to this ability is the fact that the new instruments are all alike and highly stable. All sorts of updates can be made with a click of a mouse button instead of having to walk, drive or fly to check the performance of the instruments concerned.
“If we compare with the previous time it was easy, because we did not need to think about standardisation all the time,” says Chansamorn who describes how taking a bag full of check cells on the plane can be quite heavy on the arms. All that weightlifting and transport is effectively avoided with the new instruments. “You just need to do the synchronisation with the clients in the network,” she says. “Before, we had to use the check cell for standardising between instruments for every sample type and we needed to do it several times a year, but now there is no need to go from one instrument to another.”
The networking software also helped external specialists to support the whole moving process, where necessary using remote access to instruments and remote control of the computer interface.
The world of new NIR
Both Prapatsorn Chansamorn and Tanyalak Suwanworachat are positive about the move to the new instruments. “The benefit is the savings in costs of standardisation and saved time. And we can rely on the predictions across the clients. For our role as NIR and calibration support, it is much easier with the new model.” says Chansamorn.
With reference to their previous NIR instruments, Suwanworachat adds: “We have found that we get better accuracy since we changed to the new NIR. During the process of changing we compared the results from both instruments in the lab, so we did our own comparison tests. In my mind the accuracy is the same, but the new instrument is easier to use and it has the networking. It helps us to monitor our instruments at home and abroad.”