Following an extensive evaluation exercise with UK supplier Adept Scientific, NorthWest Analytical’s (NWA) SPC (Statistical Process Control) software, NWA Quality Analyst, has become an integral part of ABN’s raw material and finished product quality effort, adding significant benefits to the company’s customer relations as well as providing cost reductions and more effective use of time
Being part of a large company (ABAgri), which has a diverse variety of products covering a large market, ABN is conscious of its regulatory obligations as well as its hard-earned reputation. Product quality and consistency are two vital ingredients in the company’s output.
ABN aims to be the supplier of choice of the British pig and poultry industries by providing innovative feed solutions to meet the needs of their customers.
Rodger Morris, finished product quality manager, is responsible for all aspects of quality control and microbiological monitoring. “In the past,” he says, “experience, knowledge and simple averages were the tools of the trade along with a good eye. However, understanding changes in raw materials, eg wheat and barley, due to climatic and seasonal conditions, has become a significant part of the job.”
The method of using simple averages is no longer up to the standard and statistical techniques have become much more a part of the job. “Geographic variations can affect protein, oil and, therefore, energy value – among other things, we need to be able to advise customers of the analysis of raw materials and finished feeds to give them confidence in what they are buying.”
Automated comparison of results
Ensuring that the products are fit for purpose requires the recording of hundreds of data values (a precursor to adopting SPC), and a complex management matrix has been used, but this remains costly in terms of man hours.
Since the summer of 2008, Morris, with a close team, has introduced NWA Quality Analyst to handle the statistical inputs and outputs involved. ABN currently has a three-user licence and is converting to an SQL database to replace the spreadsheet-based system used until now. As part of the implementation, some customers will have the ability to use the system remotely.
The software provides automated comparison of results versus targets for such parameters as protein, oil, moisture, minerals and microbiological components. Implementation has already provided improved management of out-of-specification events and performance and has had a significant positive impact on time and, therefore, effectiveness.
As with all processes at ABN, the procedure adopted for choosing suitable SPC software was thorough and precise. “With very demanding internal and external customers and stakeholders, we needed to be sure that we were buying into something that would accomplish our immediate aims and cover all foreseeable eventualities,” continues Morris.
Main software criteria
Starting with the basic ‘how do we use statistics?’ Morris and his team evaluated all available systems and invited two suppliers to make recommendations.
Among the main criteria were ease of implementation, ease of linking to LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Systems), ability to link to SQL databases and relevance to ABN data and techniques. Ease of use was also a major factor.
“In addition to meeting all the obvious criteria, NWA Quality Analyst appealed because the people at Adept were able to show the benefits of stronger links with users and customers through online access,” enthuses Morris.
In the final analysis, it was not only the product but the quality of the people that persuaded ABN to go with the NWA software. “Adept’s approach was professional and efficient, their personnel proving knowledgeable and willing to help throughout the sales and implementation phases,” says Morris. He points to the initial presentation and subsequent speed of response as highlights of the Adept service and this, allied with the product’s superior qualities, “makes a compelling case for considering NWA for any SPC application.”
Morris is now looking at NWA Quality Monitor and NWA Quality Analytics Server software to complement NWA Quality Analyst and is happy to report that Adept Scientific is an “important part of the ABN business.”
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