Quality Control Management of Insect Production

As the insect industry continues to develop, quality control has caught the attention of many insect producers. Cogastro, recognizing its importance, has applied a framework within software to help achieve an industry standard. This paper will explain the stages of companies within the insect industry, how quality controls should be tailored to fit not only the business model, but the product of the company. Companies may also learn the foundations of quality control that may apply to any use case and learn the most essential metrics for further analysis.

What and Why?

Quality Control is when multiple variables, like hatch rate and insect size, are monitored at once and the data is used to quickly evaluate and troubleshoot situations accordingly. The goal of quality control is to provide a stable and predictable production yield. In addition, these same quality control metrics are also used to improve the methodology. Controlled experiments are conducted when a single variable is evaluated and these results are then tested in a production setting with the goal of optimization. Method improvement and quality control may overlap at times within some insect production companies because they may still be in search of a stable production model and need to adjust certain parts of their process accordingly.

Most insect companies move through 3 phases of Quality Control:

Exploration Phase – In this stage, companies begin to better understand their insects, lifecycle and needs. In the exploration phase, establishing quality control metrics help to identify a baseline and starting point. Then it becomes possible to measure small improvements and successes to compare the results against industry standards to better determine anomalies. 

Pilot Phase – The data results are taken from the exploration phase and applied to the pilot phase to develop a profitable business model. Optimizing your environmental factors using technology, constantly improving internal controls, processes, and quality control metrics, will allow you to see correlations that may be investigated later. In this phase, improvements can be seen and applied to further optimize operations.  

Commercial Phase – Here, the goal is to ensure a stable and efficient production model that provides a predictable and consistent outcome. Quality control, in the commercial setting, evaluates multiple variables to identify issues and intervene if necessary to avoid a decrease of production. Quality Control metrics are essential tools that allow for deeper analysis and troubleshooting to resolve any issues that may arise.

What Quality Control Metrics Should be Applied to Your Company?

The end goal of insect production and its end products should drive the Quality Control metrics and approach in order to achieve the desired goals. There are four common types of areas that have been seen across the insect industry to date and we will describe the Quality Control metrics in more detail.

  • Production of beneficial insects: companies selling live insects to perform a particular job, the quality control metrics should focus more on behavioral criteria. For example,it is important when releasing sterile males that they fly far enough and live long enough to meet up with their female The quality control criteria that should be monitored as part of this process is longevity, flying and mating outcomes along with sterility. The same quality control factors apply to the production of beneficial insects. One should ask, “What metrics should be monitored and applied to this process for my insects to achieve the desired outcome and for the business to succeed? In this example, longevity of your adults and measuring their flying abilities is the most important quality control factor; whereas their mating success may not be as important criteria to the outcome of the end product.
  • Production of insect biomass, whole larvae or insect-based protein and/or lipids: Another group of insect production companies are focused on producing some sort of insect biomass, either whole larvae or insect protein and/or lipids. The quality control criteria monitor feed conversions and biomass composition to determine the basic protein and fat content and it may also dig deeper into the amino acids and fatty acid profiles. Since the end products will be used as feed or food, the quality control metrics should work to eliminate contamination of the insect biomass and feed formulation. Another important factor to consider is the shelf life of the end product
  • Bioconversion of waste: For companies seeking  to process waste, feed conversion is an important metric to monitor. A high feed conversion rate is the main goal of this type of business model and use case. 
  • Production of livestock : The last category are production facilities that sell a certain stage of their insects to other farms, such as eggs or pupae. The most important quality control metric in this example is to monitor the hatch rate of the eggs, or the pupation rate of the pupae produced.

All these examples discussed herein breed and rear insects as part of their business models, however, some quality control metrics are more important than others depending on the intended end product use.. Below we will discuss a baseline of quality control metrics that reflect this shared commonality.

Back to the Basics

Basic quality control is monitoring your insect colony, understanding what the “normal” should be for your use case and when something deviates from this “normal,” establishing internal control actions accordingly.    

Most insect breeders seek the highest possible yields in the least amount of time while maintaining standard quality controls. There are three different groups of metrics to review quality controls:

Quantity: Number of Insects,

Size: How large your insects grow and

Time: How long does it take each stage of the insect life cycle.

When you review these three basic groups together as one data set, there are a lot of very interesting metrics that are worth monitoring in every facility.

Quantity

The insect rearing is a numbers game. One of the main advantages of rearing insects is its high densities, and it would be unfortunate not to use this ability to your benefit. To maximize the yield during the rearing process, it is important to understand how to keep as many insects alive as possible. And to do this, it requires a full picture of the population numbers and its outcome throughout each stage of the life cycle. Using comparable units makes this easier: #insects per bin, #insects per m², #insects per batch and #insects per day, etc. Frequently taking samples makes this process more reliable while  also ensuring the sample is random and large enough to derive conclusions from

Average insect weight=clean sample weight/sample count

Number of insects in unit= total weight in unit/average insect weight  

Once you know the number of insects that will grow within a particular time, you can start calculating their survival rates. Within a certain batch, how many neonates survived and made it into the prepupae stage?

Survival rate = (number of prepupae in batch/number of neonates in batch) *100%

The egg hatch rate shows how many eggs have hatched into neonates and the pupation rate shows how many pupae were able to successfully transform into adults. Both metrics are somewhat fragile and susceptible to changes; therefore, both are critical points to measure in any insect breeding facility.
For facilities that are still refinding their methodology, these metrics are useful to achieve a maximum of 100 percent. Applying experience and a more clear and transparent benchmark may also help the company set a realistic performance target.

Size

The weight of the individual insect is another very simple, yet effective way to gauge insect health. This metric, however, is much less clear cut in the sense that there is not a clear target to strive for. Can your larvae grow into 150mg? Or is it possible to reach 200, or even 250mg? Defining the targets are much more industry dependent and subject to trade off: costs, timeframe of rearing, energy and surface constraints, etc.
Weight conversion rates will show you how much insect biomass was generated from one stage to another.

Weight conversion rate  =weight of prepupae in batch/weight of neonates in batch

By combining individual insect weight with insect quantities, this provides the most important metric, the overall yield. When optimizing these metrics together, companies may maximize their yields while adjusting for factors that may lead to higher survival rates and lower average insect weights or vice versa. Another very interesting metric to keep an eye on is the feed conversion rates. This is calculated either on a wet or dry matter basis and this metric shows the quantity in kilograms of feed needed to create 1 kilogram of insect biomass. Looking at either dry or wet feed conversion rate depends on your product: is it wet biomass or live insects? Or rather dry protein meals and oils?

Feed conversion rate = weight of feed per unit/ weight of larvae per unit

Time

Time is the third parameter that is of great importance in insect production facilities. The quality control metrics above are only valuable in an industrial setting if analyzed within a timeframe. Did the weight conversion happen in 5 days or in 20? Did your insect reach an average weight of 200 mg in 1 or in 3 weeks? Is the hatch rate 30 percent after 1 days or 7 days?

When Things Go Wrong

Finally, it is important to consider the practical management of quality control. How to manage executing all activities, like taking samples, collecting data, monitoring the metrics, etc. Even more important, how to manage tasks when anomalies occur.

After identifying the quality control metrics that best fit your facility, these metrics will determine an acceptable data range to ensure a healthy colony and a stable production. Then regular sampling and monitoring will confirm the mean and confidence intervals of your range. 

When a quality control metric falls out of the range, a rigid diagnostic procedure will first be performed to troubleshoot the root cause. If one notices a low pupation rate for an example, the team must determine all possible causes and then check related data to find answers to act accordingly.

Once this root cause is discovered, the second step is to resolve the issue. For example, if your diagnostic procedure reveals low pupation rates were caused by high temperature, you lower the temperature.

The third step is to gauge the impact of this low pupation rate on your production yields. Do you have any backup of pupae? If you need to destroy  part of your colony, how does that affect your egg yield in the next couple of weeks? How does this lower egg yield affect larvae production? When will the dip in production occur? How many generations are affected?

The last step is to take actions to minimize the chances of any issues reoccurring . Do you need to buy a new temperature control unit? Do you need to change the standard operating procedures so there are more frequent temperature checks? Should the pupae be allocated over different units to spread the risk of all pupae being affected at once?

Conclusion

All insect companies will benefit from a well thought out quality control set up. A well tailored system of quality control measures will ensure steady production and help solidify your standard operating procedures and track growth. An inclusive diagnostic procedure helps minimizing risks of decrease in production or even colony collapse.

Cogastro helps you keep track of all important quality control metrics in insect production facilities and provides clarity and transparency about your populations health, growth and productivity. Even more,it is easy to set up and maintain schedules, documentation control of SOPs and track traceability through your system, ensuring a strong comeback when issues occur.

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