Increasing Plant Efficiency with NIR Moisture Measuring

Minimizing cost and increasing efficiency: both manufacturers and producers have this forefront of their agenda, especially in today’s economy.
By Adrian Fordham | April 28, 2021

Minimizing cost and increasing efficiency: both manufacturers and producers have this forefront of their agenda, especially in today’s economy. Knowing where improvements can be made and implementing increasingly lean operating procedures creates immediate process line results.

Moisture and wood fuel biomass are vital to each other for minimizing cost, proper operation of biomass boilers and genuine fuel load assessment. Near-infrared (NIR) technology is a great noncontact way to measure moisture content, as well as improve the product and overall efficiency of the plant.

Moisture control becomes crucial in wood and biomass products, as excess moisture has impacts that not only affect the product but also the equipment, energy usage, production efficiency downtime and more. Wood fuel boilers are optimally designed to operate with fuel of a limited moisture range content. Fuel outside of the tolerated moisture range of the boiler can lead to multiple inefficiencies, increased emissions and even control system error. Knowing and maintaining the moisture content is essential to production efficiency and provides multiple immediate benefits.

Minimizing cost is a top priority for producers, and thoroughly evaluating methods of reducing waste can reduce wasted efforts, wasted product and wasted energy. Introducing lean manufacturing principles can allow the operating personnel to hone-in on best practices and top product quality. With implemented moisture monitoring, processing and manufacturing, plants can save significantly in little time. Wood fuel is purchased based off weight, which is very susceptible to moisture changes, making it critical in product energy savings. High moisture content of incoming fuel results in overpaying for wood fuel, as well as increased energy for dryer operation.

Moisture control technology in pellet plant operations is a crucial component of proactive avoidance of quality control issues. Overdrying a product can cause a dusty, ambient environment, and potentially, a fire. Moisture control systems not only provide immediate cost savings and product quality, but positively impact the safety of the plant as well. Pellet plants often see dry conditions that can create sparks and other fire-causing issues; implementing a system to measure moisture in multiple points of the production process can greatly reduce this risk.

Dry products create avoidable risk, as do products that are too wet. The pelletizer requires a tolerated moisture range to ensure the proper efficiency of the machine. Excess moisture can cause the pelletizer to malfunction, resulting in significant product loss and downtime on the production line.

Moisture control provides immediate results in reduced transportation costs stemming from excess water, less wear and tear on equipment from ash and dust buildup, and prevents blockages on the conveyor that could require a boiler shutdown. When it comes to challenges faced by plant operators, moisture detection and control are crucial steps. If there is no current method of moisture measurement in the production process, a big opportunity for increased efficiencies is being missed.

Installing NIR moisture sensors throughout the process makes consistent moisture measurement easily achievable. Proactive, immediate adjustments are made to ensure optimal manufacturing by line personnel while monitoring the process anywhere in the facility. Each phase of the manufacturing process runs more efficiently with accurate moisture content. Identifying and using the best methods can lessen common problems, including warping, claims, checks and excessive transportation costs.

Why Near-Infrared?
Multiple moisture detection methods exist for industrial processing but not all technology is created the same.

Radio frequency, weight loss and probe methods involve various factors for consideration, as they can sometimes provide more of an educated guess than a reliable measurement that can be repeated.

NIR technology is different than others, as it does not require contact with the product at all—in fact, it is measured approximately 4 to 12 inches away from the product. Very simply, NIR spectroscopy and imaging provide fast, nondestructive analysis of the chemical and physical information in the product. When light hits a product, it interacts in various ways—transmitted light will pass through, while backscattered light will reflect from the product back to the sensor. Absorption is key to the NIR analysis.

With implementing an NIR moisture sensor, wood and wood fuel product manufacturers can adjust moisture levels on real-time information, lowering raw material and fuel costs while achieving yields and more uniform products. NIR offers clear advantages over the traditional methods, the most important being ease-of-use, elimination of hazardous chemicals and increased efficiency of product testing.

Contract: Adrian Fordham
President, MoistTech Corp.
[email protected]