Advancing Laboratory Equipment
By ELIZABETH FUHRMAN
Ease of use and speed to market make progressive
laboratory technology appealing
including performance and accuracy, are persevering factors impacting
laboratory and testing equipment for beverages. Not a single beverage hits
the shelves without first undergoing extensive testing on the beverage
itself and its packaging. The necessary tests conducted for microorganisms
and product traits are standard, but lab equipment manufacturers are making
equipment that is not.
For Mettler Toledo, Columbus, Ohio, the parameters the
company is concerned with in the beverage laboratory are acidity (which
relates to taste), vitamin C content, density and refractive index, with
the last two tests relating to sugar content. Mettler Toledo’s Tore
Fossum, instrument technical manager, has seen the main advancements in
laboratory technology come from automation.
“The lab analyst’s task is made easier by
such advances as a one push-button titrator, automated sample changing and
combined density/refractive index meters with
automated sample changing,” Fossum says.
Acidity and vitamin C testing originally were
conducted by hand titration. Automated titration instruments today simplify
what was a complex, laborious task to a simple procedure, Fossum explains.
Fewer mistakes are made with new, easy-to-use equipment, and this means
more consistent quality and fewer rejects. “In the end, it means more
customer satisfaction and brand loyalty,” Fossum says.
Sugar determination also was previously tested by
manual hydrometer or pycnometer. Today, technicians use vibrating tube
digital densitometer and angle of diffraction digital refractometers. “Results are more accurate and precise, and
analysts have much simpler operational protocols to follow for
testing,” Fossum says. “The net result is that less time is
required for determinations, and product quality is better.”
Mettler Toledo developed a new entry-level titrator
line consisting of three instruments, the DL15, a basic endpoint titrator;
the DL22 Food & Beverage Analyzer; and the DL28 End Point/Equivalence
Point titrator. These tools offer effortless set-up and simple function
keypad with predefined formulas for routine titration and keep training
efforts to a minimum. Acid/base content determinations can be performed
with the DL15 end-point titrator. The DL15 is suited to provide an endpoint
titration or a pH measurement. Pre-defined methods for testing common acids
and bases, such as sodium hydroxide in process water or citric acid in
beverages can be done by simply choosing the method and pressing a key.
Additionally, the DL22 Food & Beverage Analyzer
includes methods with predefined parameters most commonly used in the
beverage industry. Salt content, sulfur dioxide in wine and vitamin C are
some of the pre-defined methods for beverage testing. Also offering
uncomplicated usage, the DL28 End Point/Equivalence Point titrator for use
in the water industry offers pre-programmed, commonly used methods in
addition to further customized parameter sets to fine tune analyses.
Performance and price are the two most divergent
trends developing in the laboratory and testing equipment marketplace. A
general decrease in the cost of routine instrumentation has continued
during the past two decades. The main thrust behind this decrease is the
drop in the price of personal computers that are required to control many
of these instruments, says Eric Bukowski, marketing specialist for Shimadzu
Scientific Instruments, Columbia, Md.
A secondary influence is linked to the natural
maturation process of many of the technologies. “Simply put, as an
analytical technique or category of instrumentation becomes commonplace,
vendors and manufacturers are forced to produce instruments with higher
performance at a lower cost in order to maintain their market share,”
Bukowski explains. “In general, the current laboratory
instrumentation in the market is more accurate, more sensitive, faster and
more flexible than instruments of eight to 10 years ago.”
Speed of analysis is often a consideration of beverage
companies. Speed is usually determined by instrumental run time, when in
fact, the rate-limiting step is more often caused by extensive sample
preparation routines, Bukowski says.
Spectroscopic analysis, such as ultraviolet visual
range near infrared (UV-Vis-NIR) and fourier transform infrared (FTIR), in
general requires fewer pre-treatment steps than the average chromatographic
method. In addition, the tests are widely considered to be non-destructive
sampling techniques. “Modern FTIR sampling techniques, such as an
attenuated total reflectance (ATR), can greatly reduce the time allotted to
sample preparation and are also considered non-destructive,” Bukowski
explains. “This specific accessory can be used for a wide variety of
samples such as liquids, powders, pastes, gels and solids.”
Technicians also are interested in the ability to
retrofit the basic bench-top instrument with advanced capabilities at a
later time. “Educated customers are often looking past their
immediate needs toward what their analysis needs might require in the
future,” Bukowski says. “These future considerations often
carry considerable weight in their decision-making process.”
In the beer industry, hops acid analysis has always
been crucial for macro-beer brewers. Specifically, alpha-acids, beta-acids
and reduced isohumulones in brewing hops are of particular interest for
analysis due to the roles they play in providing bitterness and aroma to
the beer. The change in the American beer market toward micro-brewed beers
has led to smaller companies investing in laboratory equipment to perform
these measurements, Bukowski says.
“The needs of these customers are remarkably
different than their macro-brewing competitors,” he explains.
“They very rarely have a dedicated chemist on staff to carry out the
approved AOAC and ASTM measurement methods.”
For hops acid analysis, Shimadzu Scientific
Instruments offers software that can input the routine calculations. This
allows for the analysis to be performed by someone with little scientific
training or experience.
For the wine industry, spectroscopic analysis
traditionally has revolved around elemental analysis of components such as
calcium and iron. The commercial evolution of fourier transform near
infrared (FT-NIR) instrumentation has created a renewed interest in
spectroscopic analysis within the winemaking community, Bukowski says.
“The latest buzz has been created by the ability
to quantitate multiple analytes from a single spectrum,” he says.
“The Shimadzu IRPrestige can be set up to develop NIR methods to
quantitate such parameters in wine such as ethanol, sugars and acids. The
vintners on the cutting edge of the technology are incorporating
fiber-optic probes into these analyses as well.”
Ease of use
Beverage manufacturers often develop a great-tasting
new product formulation in the lab. But when it comes time to process the
beverage using FDA processing standards, the flavor can be lost. The
formulation then needs to be changed to produce the product characteristics
the company wants it to possess after it has been processed.
MicroThermics, Raleigh, N.C., specializes in
continuous development processing, which enables companies to process in
their laboratories. Technicians develop a formulation and can manufacture 2
gallons of the product the way it would be produced industrially.
MicroThermics normally runs 13 to 17 different
products in a day whereas a pilot plant could only produce two or three in
a day. MicroThermics actually scales up and scales down thermal processes,
and builds equipment based on that research.
For beverages, products can be heated on a continuous
basis in two ways. One is through a heat exchange or indirect heating,
which is the most popular heating method used industrially. Another method
is called steam injection in which a technician pumps the product and
injects steam into it, which causes the temperature to go up. But the
technique also adds water so it dilutes the product. To cool the product
back down, processors use a vacuum cooler and draw steam out of the
product. For soymilks and products that contain substantial amounts of
protein, the proteins can burn on the wall of the heat exchanger so
injection heating must be used.
With steam injection commonly used worldwide and
gaining popularity in the United States because of the advent of
high-protein drinks, MicroThermics designed a Direct Indirect processor
that can perform both processes in the laboratory. From a simple tea or
juice to milk and soy drinks, the equipment allows processors to operate in
the laboratory with one piece of equipment.
To further provide operators with ease of use,
MicroThermics has integrated a new touchscreen PLC into its indirect
processor. The PLC has a menu that walks the operator through how to set up
the equipment for different types of processes. It walks technicians
through equipment start-up and what to do at each phase. It allows an
untrained operator to run the equipment through about 35 indirect heating
The company also has developed miniature production
plants that are suitable to be used for high-value, low-volume products
such as microbial media. In the beverage industry, the system may be
integrated with a filler for test market samples. The research equipment
runs normally between 1 and 2 liters a minute. The mini production systems
can be set up to be filed with the FDA.
“Coming out with the Direct Indirect processor
and the PLC will allow researchers to get their
products to market faster,” says David Miles, vice president of
MicroThermics. “Instead of having to make 30 gallons of each product
and going to pilot plant and having the support staff for a pilot plant,
this technology really shortens that cycle. You are now using a smaller,
more educated staff, because the researcher can run the equipment that
tells them what to do next.” BI