Rapid, accurate NMR tests provide cost-savings

With overtime for lab personnel up, as well as the cost of reworking products that fell outside company specifications, Kerry Group's facility in Owen, Wis., needed a more efficient method of fat and moisture analysis to help improve its process control. After speaking with a CEM sales representative, Kerry's Cathy Laube, quality assurance mgr., decided to give the Smart Trac™ Fat and Moisture Analyzer an on-site evaluation.

"CEM offered us a trial of the Smart Trac, which we accepted," says Laube, "and we could not have been more impressed with its excellent repeatability and accuracy."

Based in Ireland, Kerry Group is a global provider of consumer foods, ingredients and flavors, with a wide range of product offerings, including a variety of cheese and cream-based products. Kerry's Owen, Wis., facility, which makes more than 300 products that must be tested for fat, runs two spray dryers, primarily for cheese and cream powders, a cold-pack line, a dry-blend line, a multi-process line and an enzyme-modified cheese line.

Laube needed a faster method for fat and moisture analyses that provided results comparable to the industry-standard Mojonnier test for fat and a vacuum oven for moisture. Both reference methods are time consuming. The Mojonnier test takes approximately 45 minutes from start to finish. Vacuum ovens can take hours to dry a sample, making it difficult to use them for anything except a final quality control check. The Mojonnier test is also labor intensive, as it involves the use of chemicals and several laboratory procedures that are not automated. As a result, at times, Kerry's lab technicians needed overtime in order to complete their daily responsibilities and the company did not have a time-effective means to provide its work centers with results.

Kerry's lab began running a variety of samples through the system and technicians were delighted to discover that the Smart Trac yielded fat and moisture results that were comparable to traditional methods in minutes on a variety of samples. Moisture results on Kerry's high-moisture products (excluding powders) have been within 0.4% of the vacuum oven. Laube and her staff are also very pleased with the system's fat analysis capabilities.

"Overall, I would say that the [fat] results have been within +/-0.3% of the Mojonnier and that's amazing," says Laube. "You can have have two different technicians run a Mojonnier and get that kind of variation, if not more."

Laube also found that the Smart Trac's fat analysis of powdered cheese and powdered cream-based products were "right on or up to 0.5% variance." The cheese powders have a fat content range of 18% to 35% and the cream-based powders fall between 17% and 43% fat. Other products that run as high as 73% fat fall within +0.3% of the Mojonnier.

Laube estimates the Smart Trac system could save her facility more than $175,000 per year in product rework, overtime for lab technicians and the cost of chemicals for the lab. The system does not use solvents or acids, which reduces lab costs for reagents. In addition, the system's ability to supply accurate test results in minutes enables Kerry employees to make rapid adjustments to their process control, significantly reducing the amount of out-of-specification product and reducing overtime. According to Laube, her lab technicians save approximately 15 minutes per hour by using the Smart Trac, which over the course of a normal work day frees up two hours of the technician's time.

The Smart Trac uses a unique combination of microwave drying and NMR analysis to yield fast moisture and fat results on slurries that are comparable to traditional methods. A sample is first dried in the microwave system and then placed in the NMR for an accurate analysis of the fat molecules within the sample. For powder applications, the Smart Trac utilizes a "fat only" option to offer NMR fat analysis without microwave drying.

"The time savings and accuracy of this machine are unbelievable," concludes Laube. "Our R&D team is extremely pleased with our usage of the CEM Smart Trac and its rapid, accurate results. I would highly recommend this piece of equipment to any manufacturing facility for which a rapid fat analysis is of the utmost importance."