Insights

In 2006, a cough medicine in Panama that was manufactured locally but that used ingredients imported from overseas caused 78 deaths. Panamanian authorities discovered that diethylene glysol – often used in antifreeze – was used in the cough syrup instead of glycerin, an inactive ingredient. The barrels had been mislabeled to indicate they contained glycerin.

Although an extreme example, this is an illustration of the importance of raw materials inspection as a vital part of quality control procedures. Suppliers usually purchase raw materials and components in high volumes to cover an entire order. This means that quality issues with inferior parts or materials could affect an entire order quantity.

Certain advanced standards such as ISO 9001 require incoming quality inspection (IQC), but the fact of the matter is that even with such controls you can’t always verify what your company may be getting. Your supplier may be shipping substandard materials or substituting lower-cost materials. “Quality fade” is another phenomenon affecting supply chains, where suppliers of materials and components make slow gradual substitutions over time.

The quality problems may not be intentional. Sometimes suppliers and their sub-suppliers simply don’t communicate enough, leading to a significant quality change due to build-up of multiple small quality changes by different suppliers over time.

Current IQC Approaches: Lacking Real-Time Materials Testing

Obviously, setting up solid IQC procedures is the key to ensuring continuous quality of raw materials. IQC requires a proactive approach, including inspecting materials at the source when visiting a potential supplier, inspecting every shipment of supplies when it comes in, and ideally ensuring a third party picks out and tests random samples to avoid inherent employee bias.

But even with a team and a roster of procedures, product quality can be seriously affected, creating delays and expensive corrective actions. This is because of the lack of real-time onsite material analysis. Currently any samples typically have to be sent to either an in-house or third-party lab for verification to detect any impurities or to ascertain the correct quantities of components in the raw materials. The lab procedure is typically a multi-day process requiring shipping or transport and an expensive professional lab staff, often trained chemists. The cost and time constraints limit the number of products that can be tested.

Without real-time testing, manufacturers are faced with the need to either hold off on using the raw materials while they wait for third party testing, or to begin manufacturing at the risk of a recall due to quality issues. Both can be expensive propositions.

Working with a Mobile Spectral Scanner for Real-Time Quality Results

The development of the handheld NeoSpectra-Scanner can go a long way towards helping address these issues of time and expense in material analysis. Using NeoSpectra’s chip-scale spectral sensor, receiving staff and manufacturing floor staff can scan raw materials immediately on receipt or at any time on the factory floor, obtaining results in seconds to ensure that quality standards are being met. The scanner becomes an integral tool for all members of the IQC team as well as for the shop floor.

The NeoSpectra-Scanner for raw materials measurement is applicable for multiple manufacturing markets, from measuring high oleic soybeans for incorporation into processed food, to classification of different types of textiles to avoid cheaper counterfeit materials, and identification of different types of polymers used in packaging production.

The point is not to eliminate lab tests, but rather to save money and time with real-time spot checks that validate quality – without interrupting the manufacturing process. The data from the scanner can be easily integrated into quality control enterprise software for data analysis.

Instant Material Analysis for Any Point in the Supply Chain

The scanner opens up a range of opportunities at any point on the manufacturing supply chain to detect impurities in foodstuffs, testing for counterfeit drug ingredients, or verifying quality of incoming polymers for packaging production. The NeoSpectra-Scanner even offers suppliers and their sub-suppliers an important verification tool and a testing paper trail — an inexpensive means to assure that the raw materials they have selected and plan to ship are in conformance with the manufacturer’s standards. This can be important in the event of a dispute.

Raw materials testing is essential for products like food, jewelry or rubber tires, where composition can influence the value, performance or safety of the product. A partial list of manufacturing industries that could benefit from real time spectral scanning of raw materials includes the following:

Let’s look at one example where a handheld spectral scanner could provide significant benefits. In the case of food processing, many manufacturers have turned to GMO-based soybeans that have a higher oleic fatty acid composition that makes them ideal for vegetable oils with larger amounts of monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats. Large shipments of soybeans from overseas are received at the port and housed in silos for eventual processing. Samples from each shipment must be sent to a lab and analyzed for correct oleic content and/or contamination before being shipped to the processing center. Once at the processing center samples must be tested again, after transporting them to an in-house or third-party lab for quality control. Finally, they must be sampled at various points during production, before final product, to make sure no contamination has occurred during the process.

Where would the NeoSpectra-Scanner fit in? It could be used as far back as the purchasing point, when a company representative or middleman goes to the farm to sample the quality of the soybeans. Equipping the rep with a company-issued and calibrated scanner can ensure that the produce seen and purchased is conformant to the company standards. Having a representative with a scanner at the dock, when containers of the soybeans are received, can also immediately ensure that the produce did not go bad in transit and was not swapped out for an inferior strain. This can prevent potential days of delay when soybeans would normally be sent to the lab for analysis. Employees at the food processing plant can also be equipped with scanners to sample every large batch they transfer from storage area to factory floor, significantly reducing the risk of contamination from a small affected batch of soybeans.

Both frequent and random real-time sampling is currently beyond the capability of most large manufacturers due the cost and time constraints of operating a 24/7 production operation. Handheld scanners such as the NeoSpectra-Scanner offer a cost-effective and safer path forward.

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