The Color of Control
For plastics processors, a big part of surviving in tough economic times involves getting finished parts to the customer, fast. But if the colors are off, you'll wish those parts hadn't gone out in the first place. The latest developments in color matching technology can help.
November 1, 2010 by Mark Stephen, Editor
Efficient plastics processing is all about control. Part parameters, temperature set points, cycle times — they should all combine to make the perfect finished part, every time. The obverse is that if something — anything — is off, the part won’t cut it. Adding to this, you’ve got to spot those bad parts before they go out the door, and defects aren’t always obvious to the naked eye. Take color, for example. A shade or hue that’s fractionally off can be almost impossible to spot by even the most vigilant shop floor operator. That’s why color matching equipment and software stand as part of the last line of defense against shipping bad products to your customers.
And yet only one-third of the manufacturers that need to maintain tight color tolerances do so with instrumentation. With competition on the rise during tough economic times, though, using color matching equipment probably makes better sense than ever. Ready to take the plunge? Here’s a look at some of the latest, all designed to put the kibosh on off-color parts while satisfying a growing demand for user friendliness.
SPECTROPHOTOMETERS: BIG WORD, BIG ROLE
Portable spectrophotometers provide a fast, handy way to troubleshoot color problems on the factory floor. To this end, X-Rite Inc. has unveiled a new family of multi-angle spectrophotometers. Called the MA94, MA96 and MA98 spectrophotometers, the units are improved versions of the company’s popular MA68II device, according to Brian Teunis, X-Rite’s product manager. “The new units offer better data repeatability, a more robust method for measuring flexible or curved surfaces, and can also help manufacturers identify and maintain the color quality of parts that may originate from different production lines,” he said.
The MA94 is designed for color measurement of flat, flexible and curved test surfaces by using three pressure sensors that indicate to personnel that they’ve positioned the instrument correctly for readings. “The MA94 illuminates test surfaces with a tungsten halogen module and takes readings from five aspecular angles in less than two seconds,” Teunis said.
The MA96, meanwhile, has all the features of the MA94, but takes measurements from six aspecular angles, Teunis continued, to provide additional information for collecting data on effect paints and coatings.
Finally, the MA98 is a 31-point spectro-photometer designed to measure effect paints for research and development, process improvements and product refinements. “With 11 sensors and two illuminators, the MA98 can detect characteristics of effect paints that the other instruments miss entirely,” Teunis said.
The SPECTRONIC 200 spectrophotometer from Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is a successor to the company’s familiar SPECTRONIC 20 and GENESYS 20 devices, and is intended to provide fast scanning without the need to connect to an external computer. The onboard controls and full-color display reduce bench space requirements and offer an intuitive navigation experience similar to a cell phone — an interface that’s easy to learn, the company said, even for inexperienced users.
User friendliness is further emphasized by features such as the removable sample compartment and integrated cuvette rack shelves. Corrosion-resistant, it allows for easier cleaning compared to legacy and competing instruments, as the sample compartment can be removed and rinsed in a sink. Results are displayed on a full-color LCD graphics screen with variable-angle positioning, providing improved clarity of information display. And for users of the instrument’s predecessors, the SPECTRONIC 200 offers what’s described as an easy upgrade path by including user interface emulation modes in its on-board software platform.
Konica Minolta Sensing Americas, Inc. (KMSA) recently introduced its CM-5 benchtop spectrophotometer, a direct replacement for the company’s CT-300 series. Described as an accurate, standalone instrument that doesn’t require a PC, the CM-5 has a top port design intended to support the measurement of solid objects. “Unlike other benchtop models, the CM-5 has a transmittance chamber that slides open to allow relatively large samples to be tested without having to be cut or destroyed,” said Neil Howard, technical sales with KMSA representative Folio Instruments.
Here, too, user friendliness is a key feature. “To assist operators in setting up the CM-5, KMSA has included a simple software wizard that allows them to select from reflectance, transmittance and petri dish mode, and then guides them through each step to ensure proper setup,” Howard said.
But spectrophotometers aren’t the answer for every color measurement application. Color matching software also plays an important role, and — as with spectrophotometers — new software offerings are designed to double down on user friendliness.
Datacolor’s new, next generation TOOLS 2.0 color quality control and management software, for example, is designed to quickly and easily create color measurement files and establish pass/fail criteria. “The software navigation has been significantly streamlined, enabling users at any experience level to create customized reports and screens for viewing data, as well as configure forms for printing data,” said Vincent Lequeux, director of product management with Datacolor’s industrial business unit.
Features of the new TOOLS 2.0 include configurable user interface, layout and workflow, that adapts the data presentation and program function-access per individual user or customer demand results using customized software configurations; complete backward compatibility for minimum learning curve and continuous productivity; and a standard, integrated Datacolor ENVISION component that offers accurate on-screen color and appearance.
Datacolor has also unveiled the new Guardian instrument monitoring technology and unique predictive maintenance program for its high-end spectrophotometers. According to Lequeux, the Guardian software automatically sends test results to the so-called Datacolor Guardian Sentinel server, where it’s reviewed by the assigned Datacolor technician to assess each instrument for any troublesome trends. “The end goal is to anticipate possible failures and allow Datacolor users to implement proactive service before an instrument color drift adversely affects production,” Lequeux said.
Cognex Corporation recently introduced In-Sight Explorer 4.4 for its In Sight automated vision inspection systems. Explorer 4.4 is said to add new color tools, improved calibration and expanded data access within the company’s EasyBuilder configuration software. According to Narayan Subramanian, product marketing manager at Cognex, Explorer 4.4 includes new color tools in EasyBuilder that simplify the process of color training. “Trained colors can now be shared among multiple tools, and new application-specific color tools make the task of solving color applications easy and flexible,” he said.
Explorer 4.4 also offers more powerful distortion correction for line-scan cameras, improved 32-point calibration in the In-Sight spreadsheet, and more calibration options with EasyBuilder with easier access to pattern, blob and edge data. “In-Sight’s EasyBuilder configuration software helps users of all experience levels to quickly set up their entire In-Sight application without needing programming or spreadsheet knowledge,” Subramanian continued. “With the Explore 4.4 upgrade, In-Sight vision systems can be easily integrated with any factory network or automation control system.”
As you can see, it looks like the equipment and software suppliers have set the bar fairly high for color testing and matching. Now, if only they could rid the world of white shoes and socks worn with white shorts…
BYK-Gardner USA (Columbia, Md.); www.byk.com/instruments; 1-800-343-7721
Cognex Corporation (Natick, Mass.);
Shelley Industrial Automation (Toronto); 416-447-6471
Rotalec Group (St-Laurent, Que.); 514-341-3685
Datacolor (Lawrenceville, N.J.); www.datacolor.com; 609-924-2189
Prism Instruments (Pickering, Ont.); 888-717-7476
Konica Minolta Sensing Americas, Inc. (Ramsey, N.J.); www.konicaminolta.us; 201-236-4300
Folio Instruments (Kitchener, Ont.); 800-683-6546
Thermo Fisher Scientific (Nepean, Ont.); www.thermofisher.com; 613-226-8874
Geneq Inc. (Montreal); 514-354-2511
Hoskin Scientific Ltd. (Vaughan, Ont.); 905-333-5510 (Vancouver); 604-872-7894
X-Rite Inc. (Grand Rapids, Mich.); www.xrite.com; 1-800-248-9748
Manutrol Inc. (Montreal); 514-489-4144