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Advances in in-line food analysis

View of the Thermo Scientific e scan in-line monitor for continuous measurement of moisture and temperature of the production process in operation in a production line at Axium Foods
Although more parameters can be monitored by the system, currently Axium use the new ε scan for controlling moisture and temperature
Thanks to the Thermo Fisher Scientific technical team, there were no problems with the installation of the new system. Installation was carried out in only one day and calibration in another two days

A brand new system, based on the principle of guided microwave spectrometry, has been introduced for the real-time analysis and measurement of key properties of foods directly in the process stream. Unlike other in-line measurement systems that penetrate only millimeters into the product, the new ε scan from Thermo Fisher Scientific measures through the cross section of flow, thus allowing process control with more accuracy and efficiency. Food Engineering and Ingredients (FEI) wanted to find out more about how the new system performs in practice, so we talked to Karen Schoon, Quality Assurance Manager of Axium Foods who have been evaluating the new system in field trials and in fact, have now purchased the Thermo Scientific ε scan. 

Q. First of all for our European readers who might not know your company, where are you located, what markets do you serve and what exactly do you produce?
We are located in South Beloit, in Illinois, USA. Our company is a division of McCleary Incorporated. We’ve been in the snack food business for almost 50 years making private label and co-pack snack foods. These are basically corn- based snack products. We serve markets throughout the United States.

Q. How big are your production runs?   
On average, on each of our production lines we produce approximately 230 000 Kg per week.  

Q. Prior to the installation of the Thermo Scientific ε scan, what process control system did you use and what were its pros and cons?
On a different production line, we had an earlier generation Thermo Scientific GMS system for in-line constituent analysis, We were happy with the system from the point of view of reliability and durability but the disadvantages were the lack of parameter visibility for calibration and operation.

Q. What attracted you in particular to the ε scan?
Initially we were attracted to the new system because we were familiar with the Thermo GMS system which was really reliable. We figured that the new Thermo Scientific ε scan would bring improved technical performance and make certain aspects such as calibration easier, yet would still retain the reliability we had with the previous system. We installed the new system on a new production line. 

Q. When was the new system installed? Were there any problems in its installation or did you have to change your production process in any way?
The new ε scan system was installed last May by the Thermo Fisher Scientific team who only took one day for the installation; calibration was completed over the next two days. We didn’t need to make any production changes and our production schedule wasn’t interrupted. Since the initial installation, we haven’t had any  production problems and the system has run flawlessly.

Q. What about calibration/validation of the new system? Were there any problems?
The Thermo Fisher team provided us with rigorous support and gave us clear direction and recommendations regarding calibration and validation, so basically we’ve had no problems.

Q. The new system can measure several parameters of the food process. Which particular ones do you measure? and how do the results correlate with the previous process measurement systems?
The two parameters we measure are moisture and temperature. Since the ε scan was installed on a new production line, there was nothing to compare it with directly. We calibrated the system using offline moisture and temperature analyses, using a Forced Air Oven and an Arizona Max 400XL moisture balance.

Q. Are there any issues with the ε scan during change-overs of the production process from one product to another?
Of course, like many other manufacturers we frequently change the product that we’re manufacturing on the line. As far as the ε scan  is concerned, the change-over process is seamless and we have no problems.

Q. So after approximately five months of routine operation with the ε scan, what’s your overall impression and what about any plans for the future?
That’s easy — we find that the new system is  easy to use, rugged, reliable and is well backed up by the Thermo Fisher Scientific support team. As for the future, we plan further integration to control water input online and will evaluate the
ε scan for additional product lines.

Karen Schoon
Quality Assurance Manager
Axium Foods
239 Oak Grove Ave.
South Beloit, IL 61080, USA
Tel + 1 815 389 3053
Fax + 1 815 389 9842


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