The Holy Grail for feed formulators and manufacturers has been reaching the point where it is possible to adjust feed formulations continuously based on the actual nutrient composition of the feedstuffs incorporated into the feed and to vary feed mill processes to ensure quality and uniformity of the finished feed. Howard Eubanks, feed and grain business development manager, Bruker Optics North America, told the audience at the webinar, Feed mill operations improvement using FT-NIR spectroscopy, that inline Fourier Transformation-near infrared (FT-NIR) spectroscopy is available now to provide data at multiple points in the feed mill which brings the industry closer to attaining this goal.
Implementing FT-NIR spectroscopy
Eubanks said that FT-NIR spectroscopy has traditionally been used by feed mill operators to analyze both incoming ingredients and finished feeds. The level of absorption of light in the near infrared wavelengths by a feedstuff or finished feed can be measured and mathematical models applied to this data to estimate its composition. FT-NIR spectroscopy can be used to provide data on the percentage of a feedstuff or finished that is moisture, crude protein, calcium, phosphorous, etc.
Canadian Feed Research Center
The Canadian Feed Research Center at the University of Saskatchewan opened October 24, 2014, and an FT-NIR spectroscopy system from Bruker is one of the new technologies installed at the feed mill. John Smillie, manager, Canadian Feed Research Center, said that the FT-NIR spectroscopy system will support inputs from six probes being operated simultaneously. He said that the center ultimately wants to use the continuously collected data to provide feedback in both formulation and in mill operations.
The first three probes are used to measure ingredients before and after the hammer mill and at the mixer. The FT-NIR system is analyzes ingredients for moisture, proximate analysis and particle size. This data could ultimately be used to vary feed formulations.
Smillie said that after the hammer mill they are measuring at particle size and moisture content. At the mixer they are measuring the homogeneity of the feed, which can provide feedback to vary mixing time.
While the FT-NIR system will only support six sensors at a time, the center could install more than six sensors and then just plug in sensors at different locations in the mill as they are needed.
Smillie described some of the other sensor locations at the center. He said that after steam flaking and before cooling, the center is measuring moistures and degree of gelatinization. Another sensor location is prior to conditioning of the meal, where they look at moisture, proximate analysis, and protein and carbohydrate profiles. The conditioned meal is then analyzed for moisture and protein and carbohydrate profiles. Immediately after the pellet mill they analyze to look at moisture, proximate analysis, and protein and carbohydrate profiles. They also monitor pellets after cooling to ascertain the final product values.
Formulating based on actual nutrient composition
When asked about shifting feed formulations “on the fly” based on the actual composition of feed ingredients going into the mixer, Eubanks said that the technology exists today to provide the necessary data. The Canadian Feed Research Center is implementing the technology that could make reaching this “Holy Grail” attainable for the feed industry. Smillie said, “We aren’t quite there yet, but it is a long-term goal for the industry.”