MoistTech Corp.’s sensors and gauges focus on the near-infrared (NIR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum to measure and control moisture from lab to line. Although the discovery of NIR is attributed to William Herschel in the late 19th century, the first industrial application wasn’t until the 1950s.
In 2003, a group of industry veterans got together to start MoistTech in Sarasota, Fla., where they decided to take NIR technology to the next level. “Recognizing such products already exist, our goal was to create not just another NIR moisture gauge, but to analyze the deficiencies of existing gauges and incorporate customer feedback and new technology available together with our extensive knowledge into a superior sensor design,” the company says.
One of the company’s engineer directors made a “leap in the technology” by developing a multiple filter gauge that compensated for drift, President Adrian Fordham says. “A technology that, combined with all the digital electronics and software, we leapt ahead in performance,” he adds. “In the past, we couldn’t measure certain products like coal, charcoal or other non-reflective products, but with today’s technology and components we can.
“That was a big step for us to be able to measure the hard-to-measure products using our multi-beam technology,” Fordham notes.
MoistTech manufactures non-contact online sensors with hundreds of measurements per second for thousands of applications in the animal and human food, chemical, mineral, paper, renewable energy, textile, tobacco and wood industries. The company offers a no-drift optical design to ensure the accuracy and repeatability needed without temperature control to keep stable. There is only a one-time callibration needed for the company’s sensors that allows operational personnel to confidently make immediate process adjustments based on real-time measurements.
“Most other methods are in contact with the product, which causes the sensors to wear out, so our sensors are non-contact,” Fordham notes. “Each sensor is customized to the application. They are the same designed but packaged differently. For example, we can’t use glass over food products.”
Realizing the Benefits
The biggest benefits MoistTech customers realize with its sensors are energy reduction and drying control. The large paper manufacturers, for example, control moisture at 4 or 5 percent to avoid curling. The pharmaceutical industry uses powder to make tablets and without the right dampness it will not compress correctly, but too much moisture creates a sticky powder.
“Quality and energy savings is a big focus for our customers,” Fordham says. “The energy savings is significant in the reduction of over-drying.”
A typical cigarette is about 15 percent moisture in addition to other additives, for example.
The tobacco industry maintains that 15 percent moisture to ensure the tobacco goes into the cigarette easily, stays fresh and still burns. “Many large tobacco manufacturers make about 400 million cigarettes a day and must maintain a moisture range of 15 to 16 percent,” Fordham explains. “Not only is it about quality, but in the case of tobacco, moisture is money and one additional percent of moisture can cost an enormous amount of money.”
MoistTech’s food moisture sensor calibrations, measurement wavelengths, algorithms and sensor optical requirements are pre-set at the factory. Accuracy can be expected to be 0.1 percent on moisture analysis involving dried products, and between 0.2 and 0.5 percent on higher moisture applications.
“In the case of crackers, food manufacturers strive to keep their products crisp and fresh at 1.5 to 2.5 percent,” Fordham explains. “Product can go stale quickly over 2.5 percent. In fact, a lot of foods if they go over a certain limit will get moldy and bacteria growing, which is why food is a big one to make sure you are nowhere near the critical points.”
MoistTech’s sensors take several hundred readings per second and manipulate the data electronically. The company spends a considerable amount of time on research and software development, Fordham says. “There’s a lot of work in the transmission of data – what we do with it, what they do with it – and we need to interface with all the systems in all the factories around the world,” he adds. “A lot of our R&D is in that area to make it better.”
MoistTech is operating leaner today with an in-house staff of about 20 as most of its components come fully completed rather than needing to be manufactured. MoistTech sources its components domestically. “We keep good control that way and we work well with local suppliers because we don’t keep huge amounts of inventory,” Fordham says.
The company has developed long-term relationships with a core group of suppliers for its critical components. “We want to keep our vendors happy so we can call up and get anything we want almost instantly. Everyone we know takes months to pay and we pay within four days – that’s the big incentive,” Fordham says.
The amount of applications MoistTech’s sensors can work in is almost limitless, Fordham says. “We are at a period right now that growth rate is about 50 percent and we are actually on an uptick this year with the economy,” he adds.
“At MoistTech, we are working every day to get our name out there more and more,” he adds. “Some of the industries we serve go up and down, but being in so many industries we always have something that’s growing and doing well.”