The Differences Between IR Moisture Balances and NIR Analyzers
Moisture control is one of the most critical responsibilities in food production, especially for snack foods like potato chips, crackers, cookies, and more. Not only can moisture content affect product texture of palatability, but it can also influence product shelf life, negatively affecting your brand.
Despite its importance in snack food production, only a few at-line methods exist to help producers verify the moisture content of products before packaging. Today's most common moisture analysis instruments in food production are Infrared (IR) Moisture Balances and Near Infrared (NIR) Technologies.
How do IR Moisture Balances & NIR Technologies Compare?
IR Moisture Balance is a very reliable method to measure the moisture content of most food products. With a product sample placed within a climate-controlled chamber, these units essentially dry a product with a heating mechanism while simultaneously weighing the product. Once the product is dried to a constant weight, the instrument displays a moisture reading.
While accurate, IR Moisture Balances have some drawbacks for specific product types. Firstly, each IR Moisture Balance is calibrated to a particular product weight. To obtain an accurate reading, each sample must be weighed before any analysis along with any other required sample preparation (crushing, grinding, etc.).
Additionally, depending on the starting moisture content of the sample, the testing process can last an unpredictable amount of time (typically between 5-to-20 minutes), which can negatively impact the company's efficiency, especially for retesting products. They also must be operated in a controlled lab environment clear from excessive humidity or vibration.
On the other hand, NIR instrumentation uses specific wavelengths of light to analyze samples for compositional or characteristic traits. When NIR light is presented to samples, some of the energy is absorbed by chemical bonds in the sample at specific wavelengths, and thus the reflected light has less absorption in these regions. The detector on the NIR instrument collects this data and outputs a raw measurement of moisture, but also several other parameters, including fat (oil), protein, and more. Read this article for more information on how NIR technology works.
NIR technology is a faster and simpler method to measure moisture content than an IR Moisture Balance. At-line NIR instruments like the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer are robustly designed and can operate in most factory conditions. Also, there is very little sample prep required for these instruments – simply ensure the sample bowl is filled, and your analysis can begin.
However, since NIR instrumentation is a secondary measurement method, each device needs to be calibrated to a known moisture reading, which can be obtained by an IR Moisture Balance. As a result, NIR instrumentation can help enhance and streamline IR Moisture Balance protocols, improving efficiencies in many ways.
As this customer found, with the help of a straightforward moisture (and fat) analyzer, one snack food company could reinvent its methods for controlling moisture with the help of the QuikCheck Analyzer.
About the Company
This potato chip manufacturer produces several flavor varieties at their facility. The operation runs three shifts daily, each with a small team of quality assurance specialists ensuring process control.
As part of their protocol, team members are required to pull grab-samples of each product batch, crush them, and put them into one of eight IR Moisture Balance units in their quality lab. Each potato chip moisture test lasts between 10-to-15 minutes, which is why the company has multiple IR Moisture Balance units in their lab. Four of the Moisture Balances are solely meant to test fresh product batches, while the other four are intended to assess moisture content after any corrective actions in the production process.
Since several IR Moisture Balances can be running simultaneously, the quality assurance team must stay organized and keep accurate records.
However, Recent Staff Turnover Begins the Search for a Simpler Solution to Control Moisture
Now with a mostly-new team, the head of quality assurance with the company struggled to train his staff on their complicated protocol, which has led to out-of-spec products leaving the factory.
This leads him to begin researching alternative methods to verify the moisture of food products. During his search, he is introduced to Near Infrared (NIR) instrumentation and the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer.
There were three aspects of the QuikCheck that immediately caught his attention:
- The ability to accurately measure moisture content (+/- 0.1% depending on product type) in just 10 seconds of analysis. But as a bonus, measuring fat content could also help the team manage ingredient usage and save costs.
- The simple sample-preparation process. He and his staff would not need to weigh each sample.
- The small, robust unit could be easily transported directly to the production floor, rather than having to repeatedly pull product samples and bring them to their climate-controlled testing lab.
See the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer in Action
A KPM Representative Visits the Production Facility with a QuikCheck
To begin the demonstration, the KPM rep asked the manager to provide five samples of their potato chips that an IR Moisture Balance had already evaluated. He specifically requested in-spec and out-of-spec samples that required corrective actions.
With just these five samples, and in under five minutes, the KPM rep developed a QuikCheck calibration for their specific product. Simultaneously, the rep also calibrated a standard for fat content – a quality parameter the company had not prioritized in their program before.
The KPM rep left the QuikCheck unit with the quality control manager to continue his testing. After a few days of use, the manager began to see a direct correlation between readings of products from his IR Moisture Balance systems and the QuikCheck. Since QuikCheck could provide equally accurate results in under 10 seconds, rather than 10+ minutes with his IR Moisture Balance, he realized he had a game-changer in his possession.
Best of all, his new staff could be trained on the QuikCheck in a matter of minutes, empowering them to make data-driven decisions on product quality.
That QuikCheck unit never left the potato chip production facility after that initial demonstration and has helped the company reinvent its quality assurance protocol to be more accurate and efficient.
Are IR Moisture Balance Technologies Overcomplicating Your Food Quality Assurance Protocols?
Let’s discuss how NIR technologies like the QuikCheck Moisture & Fat Analyzer can help you command vital quality product parameters with ease and efficiency. Contact us!