Smart production technology

For years, the food industry has used imaging technology to monitor the quality of foods like fruit and vegetables (and even flowers). This data-driven approach is based on the simple premise that when it comes to all-important quality control…prevention is better than cure. So, the Triott Group looked at this technology and thought: why not apply the same principle to animal feed? Enter the GrainCam – a unique quality control system currently being deployed in the grinding and mixing process, but with multiple potential applications across the entire milling operation…

The challenge

Despite the immense importance of producing a stable and uniform finished product, there is very little real measurement in today’s feed milling process, with good reason. Unlike the food industry – where imaging technology can be applied to a single (often large) product like a melon or apple – the feed business of course brings together diverse crops from different countries and climates, with up to 10 different components often blended together.

While kernel size and shape can be measured manually via screening with regular batch inspections, they can be a drain on resources – plus there are many other quality parameters to consider: for example, the amount of dust in the operation; the threat of cross-contamination; the effect of maintenance and engineering work on product quality; and even color consistency. Ultimately, at the most granular level, the process remains a ‘black box’ – unless you make a conscious decision to regularly take the time and effort to look inside, the contents often remain a mystery – because a customer has already complained and the product has been recalled.

The solution

Digital imaging technology has undergone a major evolution in the past few years. So, Triott company Ottevanger decided to approach a major customer to conduct a feasibility study of where and how a state-of-the-art digital imaging system could benefit their chickenfeed production. It was decided to trial the technology at the all-important grinding and mixing stage – thus making it possible to monitor and identify all aspects in the milling process relating to the quality of the grinded and mixed product (including uniformity of particle size and color, as well as process irregularities).

A GrainCam was thus mounted just after the mixer to send continuous, high-resolution images to a cloud-based database. To put that into perspective, the average size of a mixture is anywhere from 500 to 1,500 microns (and sometimes even smaller – for example, chickenfeed starts at 100 microns). The GrainCam has a resolution of 18 microns – which enables it to not only measure and analyse the typical particle size range, but also the full distribution (known as sieve curve estimation); the uniformity of the mixing performance itself (how homogenous is it?); and even the distribution of grain dust.

The result

The result of the trial has been unprecedented 24-7 visibility into the grain mixing process resulting in increased product quality and production productivity. Specifically, the pilot project has delivered:

  • More consistent milling quality: the GrainCam provides constant monitoring for feed recipes. This includes kernel size distribution and shape; measurement of cross-contamination from batch-to-batch; and importantly, the ability to monitor a completely new quality parameter – grain color (already used to great effect in the food and flower industries).
  • Improved maintenance planning and early warning: reducing production downtime through both hammermill maintenance and early alerting of sieve break-down.
  • Labor savings: the GrainCam drives further productivity improvements of up to two hours per day by eliminating the need for manual sampling for sieve analysis; and it reduces the risk of contamination through physical contact with the batch.
  • Data-driven production insight: based on high-frequency image recordings delivering constant, objective quality assessments that take benchmarking to a new level. For example, customer complaints can now be quickly addressed simply by accessing the corresponding GrainCam images held in the cloud.

In fact, data from the GrainCam has already been used to assess the quality and uniformity of some 100 different recipes, benchmarked against the industry standard.

Having established the credentials of this industry first, we are now expanding the scope of the initial successful chickenfeed pilot. We believe that for progressive and ambitious customers looking to get ahead of the innovation curve, this technology offers a unique opportunity. In fact, it could benefit every stage of the milling process from intake (identifying contamination in the grain) to pelleting (measuring uniformity and shape) to storage (monitoring the product’s overall condition).

In all, an innovation really worth smiling about.

More information

Would you like to discover more about this smart production technology? Why not try it for yourself with our low-risk GrainCam early adopter program? Contact us here for more information.

Benefits of GrainCam

When it comes to quality control…prevention is better than cure.

By measuring kernel size and monitoring grain color (a new parameter for the feed industry), the GrainCam digital imaging technology helps to improve milling quality in a number of ways:

  • More consistent milling quality
    • Year-round monitoring for consistent feed recipes
    • Improved insight into kernel size distribution and shape
    • Measuring cross-contamination from batch-to-batch
    • Identifying grain discoloration
  • Improved maintenance planning and alerting
    • Hammermill maintenance
    • Early alerting of sieve break-down
  • Labour saving
    • Saves 1-2 hours a day in manual sampling for sieve analysis
  • Data-driven milling through high-frequency image recording
    • Addressing Customer complaints based on smart data
    • Objective quality assessment
    • Benchmarking of data.