Making the most of feed ingredients with digital solutions for networked NIR analysis

Capturing data from a network of 600 near infrared (NIR) analytical instruments is helping the Nutreco MasterLab facility to ensure optimal use of feed ingredients in animal feed.


Wheat prices, alternative protein sources, supply chain disruption – whatever the latest challenge, the use of feed ingredients is an essential tool for animal nutritionists navigating in a landscape of constant change and tight margins. 


Against this backdrop, rapid testing with NIR instruments has become increasingly popular. Specifically, the easy-to-perform tests help to get the dosage of valuable ingredients just right so that more high-quality feed can be produced from a finite source of raw material. 


Another aspect of today’s near infrared (NIR) analytical solutions is that they are supported by smart connectivity and software functionality. This ensures smooth analytical operations for both ingredients suppliers and feed producers. Instruments can be monitored and managed remotely by NIR specialists from a central location leaving busy feed professionals to get on with their work without having to worry about considerations such as updates to calibrations and instrument maintenance schedules. 


An organisation that has always been at the forefront of using NIR analysis is the renowned Masterlab laboratory in the Netherlands. As a part of the Nutreco organisation, MasterLab provides a range of accredited laboratory services to the global feed industry. NIR analysis has become a central part of this mission, and today, the laboratory runs a network of no less than 600 NIR instruments. About 50 of these are run at Nutreco sites and the others are instruments owned by feed producers around the world. All are connected to the network hub at the MasterLab head office.


Master Lab

MasterLab is part of Nutreco, a global leader in animal nutrition and fish feed.


Networked NIR yields a wealth of data 
General manager of MasterLab, Peter Bom describes the development. “We started with our own internal network of instruments in 2008 and then expanded to include instruments at our customers around the world. Today, I think it is fair to say that the technique for running NIR is in place. We have the organisation, the database technology and good people working all over the world operating the instruments.” 


He describes how each instrument is used on average for 20 tests per day and how these tests include a minimum of five parameters such as protein, moisture, starch and others. The potential for this wealth of data to improve nutritional performance across animal feed production was soon recognised by scientists at the MasterLab facility. “The next the step that we took was to connect analytical results to a nutritional database,” says Peter. 


Data supporting farmers and nutritionists
The move to include data from NIR instruments is timely because of growing demands for efficiency and sustainability in feed production. In this quest, feed producers and farmers need actionable insight if they are to make significant gains. 


Toward this goal, Nutreco has developed a solution called NutriOpt™. This can be described as a suite of integrated digital solutions and services to support farmers with nutritional knowledge, improved animal diets and optimal animal performance. Among the many advantages of NutriOpt is the possibility for nutritionists to tap into a nutritional database that helps to formulate feed products for optimal diet and growth performance. 


By replacing various tables and manual records, the database makes it simpler for nutritionists to gain insights and decide the optimal use of ingredients in relation to the available raw material. And it is here that the data from the networked NIR instruments add value by providing a continuous flow of relevant information on both ingredients and various sources of raw material. “Basically, we are providing a tool for formulation to help the nutritionist to make the calculations and to make the right decisions,” says Peter. 


“It is also an economic tool,” he adds. Specifically, the data is valuable when the nutritionist is deciding which source of raw material to use, for example, whether to use one source of maize or another. Aspects such as the price and the quality in relation to the cost of ingredient elements can all be factored into the decision-making process. 

FOSS is not only a supplier of instruments, but a strategic partner and provider of software
and networking know-how


Connectivity extending the boundaries  
Technology developed by FOSS has played an important role in providing the platform for the success of NutriOpt. “FOSS is not only a supplier of instruments, but a strategic partner and provider of software and networking know-how,” Peter explains.  


Central to the collaboration has been the development of digital solutions developed by FOSS, which provide an open platform for all analytical instruments with features for ease of integration. Advantages include optimal access and management of analytical data on single or multiple instruments and across sites, from any location. For instance, managers can monitor that instruments are operated in compliance with standard operating procedures and they can perform remote updates on calibrations from their desktop. Data is always secure with automatic backups of settings and analytical results. 


With such a solid platform, the Nutreco network of NIR instruments is growing quickly, not only with traditional benchtop NIR instruments, but also with hand-held devices used on the farm. These are particularly valuable for dairy farmers and farm nutritionists by giving them a quick picture of nutritional aspects of silage when deciding total mixed ration. 


The development of the Nutreco network gives a clear indication of the gains that can be made throughout the supply chain through optimal use of materials for consistent quality feed performance. What’s more, as soon as new instruments are ready to join the network, it is a quick and simple operation to connect them and equip them with up-to-date calibrations for testing feed and ingredients. “It is easy to connect an instrument and upload calibrations from the central location,” concludes Peter Bom. “The whole system becomes more agile.”

More information about digital solutions here