Tuesday, June 26, 2012

IRRI moisture tester commercialized

After discussions with several electronics manufacturers in the Philippines, Cambodia, and India, IRRI finally found an industry partner to commercialize the low-cost IRRI moisture tester.

Many inquiries and orders for the previous version showed that the moisture tester has huge potential to finally provide affordable means to measure moisture content in village postharvest operations. Farmers will benefit from making more informed decisions regarding safe storage. By being able to quantify the moisture content, they will be in better negotiating positions when they sell their paddy to traders.

Compared to previous versions, which were made by two small cottage industry-type workshops in Los BaƱos, Philippines, the new unit is equipped with improved electronics and manufactured using state-of-the-art processes by Nanodevice Technologies, Inc., an electronics manufacturer in Manila. Manufacture quality is therefore greatly improved. The company also applies quality control procedures and provides a warranty, which was not the case with the older units.

The moisture tester is kept as simple as possible to keep cost down and, hence, does not have a digital display. Three small lights indicate whether the paddy needs to be dried (above 14% moisture content), is safe for storage for milling purposes (12-14% moisture content), or is safe for seed storage (less than 12% moisture content). Within a range of 10-16%, the moisture content can be determined within a 1% range by observing the pattern of the lights. Accuracy within this range is comparable to that of a digital resistance-based moisture meter that typically costs USD 200-400.

It is always a big challenge to take the next step from having viable research results towards a commercially viable product because of the initial investment needed for adaptive R&D needed for mass production. With the moisture tester, IRRI faced a chicken and egg problem: manufacturers of electronic equipment shy away from these investments if they do not have proof of an available market. To develop the market, on the other hand, one needs a certain amount of initial units to demonstrate its potential.

By pooling resources from the IRRI Postharvest Project (funded by the Asian Development Bank), Irrigated Rice Research Consortium's Postproduction Workgroup (funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), and other sources, IRRI was able to place an initial order of 350 units. This enticed Nanodevice to do the adaptive R&D to replace expensive circuits imported from developed countries by cheaper components from China and redesign the electronics for a more automated production.

Due to the small volume of the initial order and the development cost, the price tag is still relatively high. The 350 units will be used strategically to further develop the market for a bigger-sized order. Some units will be sold at the IRRI Riceworld Bookstore at a subsidized price of $55, maintaining the price of the previous version. According to some initial quotations for further orders, however, the price will go down to around $35 once orders reach 10,000 units. Further streamlining and improvements (e.g., investing in a mold for a custom housing) could lead to an even lower price.

Individual units for demonstration and evaluation purposes can be purchased at the IRRI Riceworld Bookstore. For bulk orders, please contact Nanodevice Technologies, Inc. (Unit 104 Oxford, #20 Evangelista St., Santolan, Pasig City, telephone numbers +63 2 477 1379 or telefax +63 2 470 6485.

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