NIR; spectroscopy; IR spectroscopy; sugar; confectionery; quality control

Chapter 16

NIR for quality control of sugar confectionary saves the holiday season

📁 Case overview: There’s a real emergency at the sugar confectionary factory. The analyzer used for monitoring of quality of ingredients and the final products has broken down and production of sweets has been brought to a halt. Will Nancy Beef’s ambitious plan to use NIR for quality control of sugar confectionary save the client from certain doom or will his dreams turn to dust? Read on to find out.

Shallot Holmes is busy calling the detectives one by one, waking each of them up from a deep winter slumber. But it’s a real emergency. In no time, the detectives are dusting off the first snow off their boots and gathering at the fireplace of their cozy office to warm their frozen hands as they wait for Shallot Holmes to arrive himself.

They don’t have to wait long. The detective bursts in through the door, letting in a new breeze of fresh chilly winter air. He shakes off the snowflakes from his coat, then thoughtfully watches the white powder settle at his feet.

He looks at Nancy Beef and informs her that, no, this will not be a case about flour milling, but they will be dealing with a white substance indeed.

One of the biggest producers of sugar confectioneries has had their quality control analyzer malfunction essentially bringing production to a halt. Needless to say, this was nearly a nightmare before Christmas scenario. For obvious reasons, for confectionery manufacturers, Christmas and Valentine’s Day are the two most important business opportunities of the year. The panicked client had reached out to the detectives and here they all are, gathered together in an attempt to pull him out of his deep troubles.

Nancy Beef immediately volunteers to lead this case. Before anyone can agree or disagree, she already proposes her solution: an NIR analyzer directly online. The other are intrigued and quietly listen to her reasoning.

Pleased to have the floor to herself, Nancy Beef admits that every good steak likes to be followed by a worthy desert. Since she is more into sugar confectionery than, say, flour milling, so she knows a thing or two about the subject. She refers to one of her concise guides, mainly 5 steps on how to use NIR-Online in food production and decides to give her team a short overview to get them warmed up on the topic.

Firstly, Nancy Beef gives them a brief introduction into the sugar confectionery industry.

Sugar confectionery includes candy in variety of textures, such as soft, chewy, hard, and brittle. The main ingredients of sugar confectionery include sucrose, invert sugars and glucose syrups. Due to the immense variety of raw ingredients and final products, quality control of the complete manufacturing process is extremely important to ensure consistent quality and brand recognition by the consumer.

The confectionery industry is divided into three classes:

  • Flour confectionery – covers products that are made from flour and are baked
  • Chocolate confectionery – refers to cocoa mass/butter, mixed with sugar, milk powder and other ingredients for chocolate products
  • Sugar confectionery – includes sweets, candy, chewing gum, pastillage and other products made primarily of sugar

Sugar confectionery has a high caloric content, pleasant taste and smell and is easily assimilated by the body. The typical production process for sugar confectionery includes:

  • Dosage and mixing of the ingredients
  • Cooking
  • Extrusion
  • Cooling
  • Shaping

Eggcule Poirot is slowly getting hungry from this entire discussion on sweets. The hungrier he gets, the crankier, so he bluntly asks Nancy Beef to get the point. She gives him an icy stare in return, but agrees it is time to get to the specifics.

Quality control of candy manufacturing aims to produce a uniform product within specifications to ensure continued consumer desire and to control production costs. Process control for sugar confectionery often includes:

  • Evaluation of the raw materials (ingredients)
  • Monitoring chemical and physical characteristics of batches
  • Inspection of finished product before packaging

Because their client needs immediate results during his quality control, Nancy Beef suggests for the team to install NIR-Online process analyzer throughout his production chain. NIR-Online process analyzers, based on diode array technology, can be used to continuously monitor and document the ingredient composition at critical points along the process. Key parameters such as moisture, fat, sugar, carbohydrates can be simultaneously and accurately measured within seconds. Indirect parameters, such as water activity, firmness or texture can often be analyzed with the NIR system as well.

Lieutenant Cornlumbo claps his hands in excitement. He loves NIR as much as Nancy Beef does. Shallot Holmes is also pleased with the plan and the detectives rush off to the client with their proposal. The client is happy with the solution and his production and quality control processes are soon up and running again to make sure everyone’s sweet needs are met this holiday season.

Shallot Holmes, ever the scientist and businessman, suggests to his team to use the occasion to also collect some data for their case files as evidence for future clients.

After getting permission from the client, they decide to obtain some results from the cooling step of the production step where they can demonstrate that the candy mass is monitored and documented in a standardized, fast, simple and reliable way.

The NIR-Online process analyzer installed at this step is an NIR + VIS sensor with a wavelength range of 400 to 1700 nm. The measurement principle of the system is diffuse reflection. The system is installed with a weld-in flange. An over-belt installation is also possible.

In no time, the team receives the data they are looking for based on the chewy candy mass they are sampling:

ParameterRange (%)Standard error of calibration (SEC)
Protein0 - 2.00.04
Moisture5.0 - 10.00.10
Total acids0.1 - 2.00.10

They are happy to confirm that the online NIR system is perfectly suitable for accurate measurements of protein moisture and total acids in sugar confectionary. Other parameters they could monitor additionally included sugar, carbohydrates and colour. The detectives can now clearly demonstrate, also to future clients, that NIR-Online process analyzers can simultaneously measure multiple parameters of chewy candy.

Instant results allow customers to make appropriate adjustments to process variables in case of out-of specifications, hence saving production costs and production time. Consistent quality control also ensures product specifications and consumer expectations are met.

Shallot Holmes is so pleased with his team’s work, he buys them each a bag full of candy. A few groan and comment about their waistlines, but Eggcule Poirot already stuffing sweets in his mouth. If you can’t enjoy some treats over the holiday season, when then?