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  • Infrared Grain Analyzer Goes with the Flow

Photonics Spectra
Dec 1999
Laurel M. Sheppard

Knowing the exact quality of grain can increase profits for farmers. Corn containing a high oil content and wheat with a high level of protein can demand higher prices. Current methods of measuring oil and protein content, based on reflected near-infrared light, require benchtop instruments that can cost up to $60,000 and need frequent calibration. Because these stationary instruments measure small samples taken from a single load, the results only indicate how well those samples represent the entire batch.

A better system would allow grain to be continuously measured during harvesting, permitting separation of high- and low-quality grains into bins directly from the combine. Continuous measurement could also reduce sampling errors and help control protein content by adjusting fertilization programs.

A near-IR grain analyzer developed by Textron Systems could make this possible for combines manufactured by Case IH Advanced Farming Systems. Prototypes of the grain analyzer have performed successfully in field and laboratory trials during the last three years and have shown that a crop can have a wide range in quality.

Stationary infrared lab instruments qualify whole batches of grain based on a few small, representative samples. An onboard sensor from Textron Systems could analyze grain during harvesting and allow a higher-quality product to be sold separately. Courtesy of Case IH Advanced Farming Systems.

The unit is the first in a family of rugged, inexpensive spectrometers developed by Textron. It combines a near-IR sensor and optics into a compact solid-state unit able to withstand harsh industrial environments at a cost below $10,000. The sensor shines the light through a sapphire window on a grain flow and measures the reflected wavelengths. From this, an onboard computer calculates protein or moisture and oil content based on mathematical models customized for the grain of interest. Grain composition data are displayed and stored in real time on a unit in the combine's cab. Analysis of the onboard system's results have correlated well with those taken in laboratory tests.

The instrument's accuracy and life span are still under evaluation, and it is being tested in different locations on the combine, according to Mark Goldstein, Textron Systems' director of commercial products. The grain analyzer can also easily be adapted for use on storage elevators, feeding systems and processing plants.

Other systems based on this technology will eventually be developed for quality control in the pharmaceutical, petroleum, food processing, and wood and pulp industries.

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