Perten was established in 1962 in a garage in Stockholm. Today, the office is located not far from there, and the company’s products are sold right around the world under the name PerkinElmer. Optronic can look back on a successful collaboration, which has now led to a whole new generation of process instruments based on spectroscopy.
“We may work unusually closely together, but this is a success factor that we have developed over the years,” says Magnus Lindgren, Product Manager at PerkinElmer.
In 2014, PerkinElmer acquired the then Perten, which sells instruments and associated services for the high-tech analysis and quality control of food, cereals, flour and animal feed. Perten has a history of developing innovative products that have become industry standards on a number of occasions, and the company is now a world leader in a number of product niches.
Optronic has acted as a production partner since 2008, as well as being involved in the development work. This has resulted in various generations of analytical instruments, for example, as well as two process instruments that are used directly ‘inline’.
“With its expertise in the fields of optomechanics and specialist assembly, Optronic has enabled us to industrialise and manufacture our products in larger volumes,” says Magnus.
PerkinElmer uses advanced near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy technology in its sensors. There are a great many applications for sensitive and accurate instruments, which are used around the world for the measurement and analysis of food.
The latest addition to the product range is an entirely new version of the process instrument DA 7350, which is used e.g. in flour mills and pasta factories.
“We have a long history of working together, and it therefore feels positive for our collaboration to continue with a focus on growth and a long-term approach. The second generation instrument project has been running for a number years, and the fact that we are now able to start up series production is a milestone for all of us and confirmation that our collaboration has been successful,” says Mikael Westergren, Sales and Marketing Manager at Optronic.
Flour mills are one potential user of the highly accurate process instruments, although oilseed and maize processors are also major customer groups. Other market areas include food products such as dairy and meat production.
The advantage for end customers is the ability to measure continuously and in real time. They can then regulate their manufacturing process automatically and optimise as necessary, e.g. governing a drying process to achieve the correct dry-matter content. Large natural variations occur when using organic raw materials, perhaps depending on whether the crop has grown on the northern or southern side of the valley or the amount of rain it has been exposed to.
“During the process, it is possible to measure to ensure that the end product is as uniform as possible so as to remain within the specifications, of course, but also to produce as efficiently and at as low a cost as possible.
Those customers who try out our instruments realise that they become dependent on the important information to which they gain access. Many describe this being as an invaluable help when it comes to optimising manufacturing,” explains Magnus.
The instruments have achieved their best sales in China and Europe, usually to large production facilities. A factory that extracts oil from soya beans also extracts soya flour, which is sold as a protein-rich raw material to animal feed producers. The ability to optimise the protein content in real time facilitates optimisation within set limits, as well as an increased yield of the raw material.
“If the factory is paid well for the by-product, this makes a big difference to their finances. They can earn a million dollars a year by optimising protein levels,” says Magnus.
This is also a great help for pasta manufacturers working with a sensitive raw material. If you happen to make pasta outside of the raw material’s tolerance limits, everything in the machine has to be discarded – if pasta is too dry it becomes too brittle, and if it is too wet this leads to a poor shelf life.
“Our NIR instrument measures the ingredients before mixing the dough and shaping the pasta. In this way, the dough mixture can be adjusted to ensure that no problems arise. For a pasta manufacturer making 15+ tonnes of pasta an hour, having to discard the end product means big money – a small problem could cost up to SEK 100,000,” Magnus explains.
In all environments where flour and cereals are processed, there is a risk of explosions due to the dust that is formed. For this reason, some of PerkinElmer’s products have to meet the current ATEX requirements.
Since 2012, Optronic has been an ATEX-rated manufacturer for PerkinElmer, which involves rigorous rules and guidelines at every stage. Optronic is required to be able to produce each ATEX stamped product so that it is exactly the same as the original master, which has been tested in Borås by RISE.
“Before we were awarded the certification, we had to type-approve each instrument, which was both expensive and time-consuming. As we did not have the procedures in place, we developed a process model alongside Optronic that was so good that we only needed to have the processes audited, and this has been a big deal for us,” says Magnus with satisfaction.
RISE audits the process once every 18 months. Optronic has far-reaching responsibilities – they also have to ensure that their subcontractors do not make any changes whatsoever without prior approval. Every component has to be identical to the specs, and this applies to everything from the screws and the o-rings to the glue and the packaging material. Each product is also traceable in the event any incident should occur.
“The hygiene requirements have been formalised over the past decade – they have always been high, but customer demands and more formal requirements have become much more common worldwide. China has recently introduced design and manufacturing regulations for equipment in the food industry, and the requirements in Europe have been developed as well. In this respect, too, it is essential for Optronic to be able to guarantee uniformity as regards the design and quality of its deliveries,” says Magnus.