From Smartphones to Smart Spectrophotometers: How Smart Technologies Are Changing Color Measurement Workflows

HunterLab smart spectrophotometer
The Vista spectrophotometer includes a smart touchscreen display that requires very little operator training. Image Source: HunterLab

We rely on our smartphones for just about everything, from navigation to communication. Messaging apps and texting allow us to instantly talk to everyone from our closest friends to distant relatives, all without ever leaving the house. News and entertainment are just a few taps away, and we have the ability to research any subject imaginable within seconds. All of this is made possible in part by intuitive interfaces and operating systems that make it easy to use this advanced technology on a daily basis. In this sense, smart technology blends seamlessly into our lifestyles, both becoming part of our everyday routine and making that routine easier than ever.

Just as smartphones have changed the way we communicate and interact with the world around us, smart spectrophotometers are changing the possibilities of spectrophotometric color measurement and revolutionizing operators’ work styles. Smart screen displays, advanced data management software, and network communications have made smart spectrophotometers easier to use, enhancing usability of data and efficiency of color analysis.

However, while there have been significant advances in smart spectrophotometer technology, many operators still use outdated instruments. Using a spectrophotometer without state-of-the-art features is a bit like being forced to make calls from a rotary phone—outdated technology slows down workflows and leads to manufacturing inefficiencies and errors. This is why you should consider making the switch to smart spectrophotometers in your lab. Smart technology improves productivity, data management, and operator learning curves, allowing you to maximize your operators’ time and, ultimately, produce higher-quality products.

the Aeros smart spectrophotometer
Smart spectrophotometers like the Aeros improve workflow by speeding up the sample preparation process and making it easier to record measurements. Image Source: HunterLab

Supporting the Needs of Industry 4.0

Although spectrophotometers have been around for nearly 80 years, the spectroscopy industry has historically struggled to keep pace with modern technological advances, typically relying on decades-old designs. After all, UV/VIS spectrophotometers still use the same light-based color measurement methodology as the earliest instruments did in the 1940s and some manufacturers have barely looked beyond the basics of that technology since. However, while light-based color measurement is the foundation of spectrophotometry, the introduction of smart technology is now improving the way these instruments operate. These innovations are already having a positive impact across industries, from renewable energy to pharmaceuticals, enhancing the way work is done and how products are made.1 The future of spectroscopy is promising, and smart technology is spearheading this progress.

The advantages of smart spectrophotometers are particularly significant as we enter the age of Industry 4.0, an era in which computers and automated technology will take over tasks normally performed by human operators.2 This revolutionary era will make it far easier to consistently and correctly implement rigorous color quality control processes necessary for product development and manufacturing; by automating some of the tasks your operators usually perform using smart spectrophotometers, you can bring Industry 4.0 into your lab. This has important implications for the future of manufacturing, but can also have a significant immediate impact.

One of the primary challenges manufacturers often face is that the data you gather from your spectrophotometer can’t be immediately acted on. Instead, you have to spend time manually inputting your data into your data management system or learning management system (LMS). You also have to analyze this data through a statistical process control (SPC) protocol, which takes time and significant effort while opening up the door for operator error.

Smart spectrophotometers solve this problem by integrating the data you collect into your LMS, SPC, or data management system automatically. Your operators won’t spend time manually entering data into your system, as the instrument can upload every measurement into the system with the touch of a button. This means that your color measurement data will not only be accurate, it will also be actionable. For example, your instrumentation can immediately identify when your sample falls outside of color tolerance and send this information securely through your network so that your operators can decide what to do next. In doing so, operators can focus on preparing samples and taking appropriate action when needed rather than wasting hours entering numbers into the system and comparing results to existing color indices. This is just one way operators will find that smart spectrophotometers make their daily tasks much easier, and they’ll feel as though their time is valued and respected. Meanwhile, accuracy, efficiency, and consistency are markedly improved, significantly enhancing the overall production process.

Smart spectrophotometers prove that Industry 4.0 is already here, and you should take advantage of what these technological advances have to offer.

touchscreens facilitate workflows
Touchscreen displays offer clear instructions, making data management a simple process for operators. Image Source: HunterLab

How the HunterLab EasyMatch Essentials Product Line Improves Workflow

Right now, the most advanced smart spectrophotometers in the world are the HunterLab Aeros, the Vista, and the Agera. What makes these spectrophotometers “smart?” They all use HunterLab’s state-of-the-art EasyMatch Essentials software, intuitive high-resolution touchscreen interfaces, and advanced communication connectivity, including Remote Access Support services.

The advanced touchscreen interfaces of the Aeros, Vista, and Agera make it easy for your operators to capture measurements. The displays walk operators through every step of the process from start to finish, and you can customize your workflow and save your display preferences, measurement options, and color standards for each product or asset that you test. The EasyMatch Essentials software also allows you to choose how your data appears on the spectrophotometer’s smart screen; whether you need to see the data in a spreadsheet or represented in graphic form as color, spectral, or trend plots, the software will display your data directly on the screen and gives you the ability to send these spreadsheets or graphs over your network for long-term storage and integration with your LMS. You can also choose to display a simple pass/fail for the sample or simulate the sample’s color on the screen. You have complete control over how your data is viewed, making color information more accessible and usable as operators customize data display to their unique needs.

Of course, one of the greatest benefits of smart spectrophotometers like the Aeros, Vista, and Agera is that they come with HunterLab’s proprietary Remote Access Support (RAS) services and advanced network communications. If you need to update your software with the latest patch or you have a question about the operating system, you can contact RAS for help directly through your spectrophotometer’s display. A support expert will access your instrument remotely to make any necessary updates or troubleshoot problems. To ensure privacy, communications include strict security measures, such as encryption and authority checks; even if you work with sensitive or proprietary information, you can safely send data over the network using smart spectrophotometers. Moreover, this state-of-the-art technology allows you to share your data over the network by email or the cloud, giving you more data collection options than a traditional spectrophotometer.

Taken together, advanced software, touchscreen displays, and over-the-network services lead to more effective workflows because they improve productivity and lessen learning curves.3

Productivity

Smart spectrophotometers automate some of the tasks that operators normally perform themselves. The less time your operators spend updating a spectrophotometer’s settings, adjusting the sensor, uploading data, or troubleshooting problems, the more time they can spend on other, more productive tasks. This improves workflow, as operators can measure a greater number of samples during their shifts or focus on refining the manufacturing process to ensure reliable color results from batch to batch. This is especially useful for Just-In-Time manufacturing, as you can produce a greater number of products each day while still testing every batch thoroughly for color consistency.

Operator Learning Curves

Smart technology can significantly lower the learning curve for your operators. One challenge of using a new technology or instrument is that you have to spend time training your operators how to use it. With RAS, experts are available to immediately answer all of your operators’ questions, giving them instant access to expert advice. Moreover, the intuitive touchscreen display walks your operators through every step of the sample measurement process. You won’t have to spend hours training your operators, minimizing interruption to their workflows as well as reducing risk of operator error to ultimately enhance efficiency.

Ultimately, adding a modern smart spectrophotometer to your lab means the future is truly at your fingertips.

HunterLab Innovation

Are you prepared for Industry 4.0? If you’re ready to use the most advanced smart spectrophotometer technology in your lab, contact HunterLab today. Our line of smart spectrophotometers improve workflows, enhance data management, and allow you to make the most out of your color quality control process. The Aeros, Vista and Agera spectrophotometers are designed to measure the color of a variety of samples using state-of-the-art software, touchscreen displays and flexible, adjustable measurement ports. These instruments will help you create high-quality products and will help you prepare for the future of spectroscopy.

  1. “Trends in Spectroscopy: A Big-Picture Look at Recent Innovations and Future Directions”, March 1, 2015, http://www.spectroscopyonline.com/trends-spectroscopy-big-picture-look-recent-innovations-and-future-directions
  2. “What Everyone Must Know About Industry 4.0”, June 20, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/06/20/what-everyone-must-know-about-industry-4-0/#559625ac795f
  3. “Using Workflow to Improve Production”, September 23, 2015, https://www.automationworld.com/article/industry-type/all/using-workflow-improve-production
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