Co-Founder and Post-Doctoral researcher SG Papertronics B.V. and University of Groningen
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In the past decade, we have observed a tremendous growth of interest in food and beverage craftsmanship due to new trends for sustainability and eco-friendliness. This has resulted in numerous exciting initiatives in food and beverage production. However, these initiatives have limited resources and thus struggle to maintain consistently high-quality processing. Preventing losses, financial and otherwise, caused by unpredictable events such as microbiological contamination is often challenging. Traditionally, these problems are tackled by quality-control (QC) protocols embedded in the production process. However, the implementation of QC often requires trained personnel and professional analytical equipment, with associated costs well beyond the budgets of small entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is a great opportunity for the rapidly growing field of portable (bio)chemical analysis to step in and offer a viable solution for this market. However, tests are often developed for trained chemists who are capable of proper sample acquisition and data interpretation. We propose an alternative technology that can accommodate common colorimetric tests, in a portable format that can be used by non-chemists. Moreover, the technology provides shorter sample-to-answer times for samples collected and analyzed directly at the production site by the craftsman. To achieve this, we utilize a patented sample concentration technology that enables quantitative analytical tests with enhanced sensitivity, combined with a sample acquisition system and data interpretation software. The sample concentrator used in this work was developed by rapid prototyping with a stereolithographic 3D-printer. The concentrator cartridge consists of a sample acquisition module for volumetric sampling with subsequent liquid transfer to a porous particulate column packed into a 3D-printed cartridge. A series of branched air ducts embedded in the sample concentrator guide pressurized air from a simple gas supply to a selected region of porous membrane fixed into the bottom of the cartridge. Liquid samples are reacted with reagents in the 3D cartridge and then concentrated on the membrane through evaporation of solvent by the gas. Analysis is subsequently carried out by colorimetry. Integrated software analyzes the test results and compares it to results stored in our database, so that every craftsman can use our system without the need for extensive chemical training. Additionally, our cartridges provide these tests with better protection against contamination, with improved user-friendliness, and the possibility of combining multiple materials for one test. The described technology has been applied for QC testing in different branches of the food and beverage industry. Our technology contributes to the market of portable analysis because it provides a tool that can be applied outside an analytical laboratory, but with comparable results. This means shorter times between sampling and result, and, importantly, provides substantially better options for the small food-and-beverage entrepreneur to realize improved QC.