Validating incoming materials is a major undertaking for any manufacturer or food processor. But despite all the effort, investment and ongoing attempts to identify faulty materials, practically all manufacturers continue to suffer from incoming material errors.
It is virtually impossible to guarantee 100 percent quality and consistency of raw materials. Natural variations in quality, mistakes by suppliers, operator error, mislabeling, and contamination are just some of the reasons substandard and incorrect materials enter the production line. One simple mistake can be extremely costly, resulting in discarded production batches, machinery put on hold and cleaned, missed delivery timelines and loss of business credibility. Reported losses reach upward of $1M for a single incident.
In an ideal world we would aim to test every incoming batch or barrel for quality. But with current validation technology this is impractical. Presently, random testing is performed by established methods such as wet chemistry or NIR analysis. Expensive test and validation equipment are located in the lab and operated by experts, and testing capacity is limited. On top of this is the fact that tests take time and may incur significant costs per test. Collecting samples of incoming materials from barrels or bins, bagging and labelling, and then getting them to the lab takes time and effort. As a result, most manufacturing plants simply cannot afford to test every incoming material, and resort to statistical sampling – testing only a random sample of their incoming materials. The end result is that many incoming materials are not tested. Which means that the one mislabeled container will most often go undetected.
The bottom line: incoming material testing is costly, operationally challenging, and ultimately fails to prevent those very costly mistakes.
But now a new generation of micro spectrometers such as SCiO is dramatically changing the material validation landscape. This new generation of devices combines sensor miniaturization technologies with powerful cloud computing to create keychain size, easy to use and extremely affordable spectrometers.
Micro spectrometers transfer material analysis from the lab to the field, receiving dock, or production line. Raw materials can be tested and validated in a matter of seconds at any point in the plant. With minimal training any employee can test incoming materials at the receiving bay as they arrive. Additional testing points can be added at the factory floor or warehouse, resulting in faster detection of errors or quality issues, reducing down-time, recall and delay. Human errors can be prevented by equipping line workers with this simple to use material validation tool, ensuring they use the right materials during all stages of the manufacturing or food production process.
This new paradigm brings significant bottom line benefits: operational flow are optimized and costs reduced with shortened test and wait times. Because validation is instant and simple, a portable micro spectrometer allows testing of ALL incoming materials. Random sampling is eliminated, and the chances of unsuitable materials slipping through is practically eliminated.
Furthermore, advanced micro spectrometers such as SCiO are IoT devices – which means they’re always connected and employ a convenient smartphone user interface. To record a container’s test results, its barcode is scanned with the phone’s camera or its ID may be manually entered from the mobile app. Once tested, results are immediately uploaded to the cloud. With data reported in real time, a bad batch can set an alert and instantly notify shift managers of the issue. Results can be further collected and integrated into enterprise data systems to enable data aggregation for both real-time monitoring and long term analytics. Material databases that track long term supplier quality, variations in material characteristics, bad material history and any other big-data view are populated automatically. And data centric decision making is facilitated through automated, ongoing collection of information.
Ultra portable, affordable and easy to use micro spectrometers are rapidly changing the way manufacturers and food processors manage their incoming materials. They are moving material analysis from the lab to the field, production floor and receiving dock. The result: improved operational efficiency, millions of dollars in savings, and increased customer satisfaction.