Spectrophotometric Color Measurement Assures Milk Quality and Safety

My great-grandfather owned and operated a small dairy farm in Vermont, and so I grew up hearing stories about dairy cows. His father before him had owned the farm, and so he grew up milking, feeding, and otherwise tending the dozen or so cows they kept at any given time. Through all this, he apparently got to know these cows very, very well—the way a sommelier knows their wine, the way a falconer knows their birds. He would, of course, drink their milk every day, and would amaze my grandmother by drinking a glass and saying things like “Buttercup’s in a good mood today,” or “Dandelion’s been out in the brambles, you should check her for ticks.” According to my grandmother, the old man’s milk-sense was never, ever wrong. If you gave him a cup of Ballerina’s milk and told him it was Bluebird’s, he’d take one look at it, then tell you-you were a liar. The man knew his milk.

 

cow
Buttercup says moo. Image Credit: Flickr User U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC BY 2.0)

 

Milk Color Factors into Consumer Choice and Brand Identity

 

Dairy farming isn’t the same as it used to be. There aren’t many dairy farmers left who can tell the cow from the milk. But what hasn’t changed is that a good look at a glass of milk can tell a person a great deal about that milk’s properties. Food safety regulations have proliferated prodigiously since my great-grandfather’s time. As a result, putting milk to the test isn’t just a farmer’s pastime anymore. It’s an essential element of the quality control processes of any milk producer.

 

The color of milk is important to producers for a number of reasons. Most directly, milk color is an important factor in consumer’s buying decisions. If a milk appears unusually colored to a customer, they will likely conclude that something has gone wrong with it and choose a different carton. This, then, becomes a question of brand identity as well. Customers who notice off-color milk from a specific brand will be less likely to purchase from the same producer at a later date. One bad carton of milk can have a ripple effect, disturbing a producer’s sales on an ongoing basis.

 

jug of milk
Off-color milk can drive consumers away from your brand. Image Credit: Flickr User Health Gauge (CC BY 2.0)

 

Instrumental Color Measurement Detects Milk Spoilage

 

Furthermore, discolored milk is indicative of age and spoilage1. As milk sits in storage, even at refrigerator temperatures, psychrotrophic bacteria that survived pasteurization can multiply and spoil the milk. Color can also indicate acidification2 of stored milk, as well as the effects of light-induced oxidation.

 

Severe cases of discoloration can be detected by the naked eye. Moderate discoloration can be detected by the trained eye, like my great-grandfather’s. The beginning stages of discoloration are subtle enough to go unnoticed until the spoilage has become more advanced. No matter what the stage, human observation is subjective. This poses difficulties when creating scales and standards to assess the changes in milk color.

 

As a result, many milk producers have turned to spectrophotometers. These color measurement instruments can quickly and accurately identify a milk sample’s color. Then they assign it a numerical value that can be repeatedly compared to an established standard or other samples. This allows for a greater level of control over the quality of milk products. Even companies operating facilities on opposite ends of the country can be certain their milk all measures up to the same, established standard.

 

Reflectance Spectrophotometry Ideal for Milk Measurement

 

While many methods of spectroscopy exist—raman, NIR, and transmission, to name a few—the milk’s color can be verified with one of the simplest: reflectance. Exactly like it sounds, a reflectance spectrophotometer bounces light off an opaque liquid (or solid) and measures the wavelengths of the light that is reflected back. Doing so permits an operator to observe color on many scales, including CIE L*a*b*. Milk samples measured this way can be compared to pre-programmed standards. This allows operators to quickly and simply discover any deviations from the appropriate color.

 

With over six decades of experience developing reflectance spectrophotometers to measure opaque liquids, HunterLab has honed its products to precisely match the needs of milk producers. Not only do our instruments generate fast, accurate measurement results, our sample holders are designed to accommodate your vials and cuvettes. To learn more about how spectrophotometers can help milk producers keep their milk up to standard, contact our friendly, professional sales force today.

 

 

  1. “Characteristics of Milk,” http://www4.ncsu.edu/~adpierce/u03_characteristics_milk.pdf
  2. “Color Changes of UHT Milk During Storage,” 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705541/
Measuring Color and Haze in Liquid Pharmaceuticals Protects Patient Health

 

The color of liquid medications can have a big impact on how patients perceive, experience, and take medications. | Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

Last winter, in the midst of my worst cold of the season, color-coded mediation led me astray. Dazed, I reached into my medicine cabinet and popped a blue liquid-filled capsule out of its packaging, ready to get some symptom relief and finally be able to rest. But that’s not what happened. Rather than falling into a deep sleep, I felt jittery with unwanted energy and paced around my house in the early hours of the morning, unable to stay still. Sure, my cold symptoms were held at bay, but what I needed was rest. Confused, I returned to the medicine cabinet and took a closer look at the box of cold medicine. It was then that I saw the blue capsules were for daytime while the pale yellow capsules were for nighttime, the polar opposite of my feverish assumptions. That sleepless night made me appreciate the value of logical and correct medication color more than ever before.

 

Since the 1970s, pharmaceutical companies have increasingly recognized the value of color in medications. | Image Source: Pexels user freestocks.org

The Value of Color in Pharmaceuticals

 

Until the mid-20th century, virtually all pill pharmaceuticals were white and all liquid pharmaceuticals were clear.1 But in 1975, the introduction of soft gel capsule technology made it possible to produce vibrantly colored medications for the first time and the idea took off. Today, pharmaceuticals, particularly liquid forms, come in an endless array of hues.

 

This emergence of pharmaceutical color isn’t just about arbitrary aesthetics. The color of medication matters and it matters in multiple ways:

 

Shaping Patient Perception

The color of medication can have a significant impact on the expectations consumers have regarding efficacy and performance. A 2015 study published in Food Quality and Preference found that white headache medications were perceived as the most effective by respondents, while light green medications were assumed to be the least effective. Respondents also reported that they perceived red and light red pills to be the most stimulating and they expected light blue pills to have the most pleasing taste. Some also reported that they expected red and blue pills to be harder to swallow than pills of other colors.2 As such, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly interested in creating medications that enhance consumer perception through the creative use of color.

 

Shaping Patient Experience

Not only does the color of medication affect people’s expectations, it also affects what they actually experience. As Jill Morton of Color Matters notes, “Patients respond best when color corresponds with the intended results of the medication.” For example, blue sleep medications help people achieve better quality sleep than medications of other colors, even if the ingredients are identical. Thoughtful selection of medication color as it relates to each specific medication is, therefore, paramount to optimize efficacy and create the best possible user experiences.

 

Promoting Adherence

Colors can act as visual shortcuts to identifying pharmaceuticals, helping people who have difficulties reading labels or who are dealing with multiple medications easily pick out a particular medication on sight. As the population ages and comes to depend on a growing number of daily medications, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly implementing color-coding strategies in both packaging and in the design of the drugs themselves to facilitate adherence and minimize medication errors. Researchers have also found that maintaining consistency between brand name and generic medications is critical to decreasing rates of discontinuation, putting new pressure on manufacturers of generic drugs to prioritize the aesthetics of their products.[3. If Color or Shape of Generic Pills Changes, Patients May Stop Taking Them,” July 14, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/if-color-or-shape-changes-patients-more-likely-to-stop-taking-much-needed-drugs/2014/07/14/60e687f4-0b8c-11e4-8341-b8072b1e7348_story.html ]

 

syringe with blue liquid
HunterLab’s Vista allows for simultaneous color and haze measurement, simplifying quality control procedures. | Image Source: Flickr user Sean Michael Ragan

 

Simultaneous Color and Haze Measurement

 

Liquid medications present opportunities for rich colors that enhance patient perception, experience, and adherence in ways we could not have imagined a century ago. The important roles served by these colors mean that color monitoring must be a critical component of quality control efforts throughout the manufacturing process. Spectrophotometric color measurement offers the best way of analyzing color behavior at all points of production quickly and easily. By capturing objective color data and instantly alerting you to unwanted color variation, you can ensure that only correctly colored pharmaceuticals are released into the marketplace. As a growing number of consumers come to rely on color-coding, this is essential for protecting public health and preventing medication errors as well as fortifying brand image.

 

But color is only part of the equation when it comes to liquid pharmaceuticals. Monitoring turbidity, or haze, is critical for creating medications with correct formulations and desirable physical attributes. Not only can the presence of haze point to a potentially dangerous process error such as incomplete dissolution, it can also compromise consumer confidence and cause confusion for those who rely on visual identification. As such, haze measurement is an essential part of quality control protocols. Today, advances in spectrophotometric technology allow color and haze to be analyzed together in a single measurement using revolutionary instruments such as HunterLab’s Vista. By measuring color and haze simultaneously, you can avoid time-consuming double measurements and reduce product waste. This is particularly important for those working with highly valuable, rare, or potentially hazardous materials, helping you minimize the number of samples necessary for accurate analysis and limit operator exposure to potent chemicals.

 

HunterLab Quality
HunterLab has been a leader in the field of spectrophotometry for over 60 years. Our renowned line of products has been developed in response to the needs of our customers in the pharmaceutical industry, helping us ensure that our technologies can be readily integrated into your quality control program. With the release of the HunterLab Vista, we are entering a new era of liquid color and haze measurement, opening up the door to more rapid, simple, and economical analysis. In doing so, we expand your ability to make innovative use of pharmaceutical color while safeguarding consumer health. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive range of spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services.

  1. “The Color of Medications”, http://www.colormatters.com/color-symbolism/the-color-of-medications
  2. “Assessing the Expectations Associated with Pharmaceutical Pill Colour and Shape”, June 2015, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095032931500138X
Vista Color and Haze Spectrophotometer Ensures Bottled Water Clarity and Color Quality

Have you ever been out in the wilderness and had to rely on natural sources of water? If you have then you know that it is a bad idea to consume still water that’s been sitting in a pond or a lake. The lower the elevation, the higher the chance of contracting a stomach bug. It’s prudent to treat any water from a stream or lake with an iodine tablet, but here’s the catch. Water that’s been treated with iodine looks far less appealing than the sparkling water that nature has offered up to you. It’s hard not to take a sip of it; though, in the end, you’ll be by your toilet regretting your life.

 

Watercolor, or the lack-there-of, has an effect on people’s perception of its cleanliness and drinkability.  That’s why bottled water manufacturer’s know how that their brand’s success relies on consistently providing customers with transparent and colorless products.

 

waterfall into a stream
But it looks so fresh and drinkable! Image Credit: Flickr User tobo

 

Perception of Cleanliness and Safety Is Essential for Bottled Water Manufacturers

 

When the public perceives that its water supply is not safe1 , it’s good business for the bottled water industry. Sales of bottled water spiked when Flint became aware of its contamination2. As fracking stirred fears of water contamination in Pennsylvania (spurred by an image of burning tap water in Gasland), residents began subsisting entirely on bottled water, for eating, for cooking, and even for showering. People buy bottled water because it is safe, and it is clean.

 

As a result, bottled water manufacturers have a vested interest in maintaining the public perception that their water is clean and safe. If contamination is perceived or discovered in a brand–if a customer noticed that one particular case of water was more yellow than others–that brand’s credibility would be in serious jeopardy. That’s why bottled water manufacturers rely on transmission spectrophotometers to ensure that their water seems safe to drink. As every company producing bottled water is essentially selling the same product—water is water—the strength of a company’s bottled water line is entirely dependent on brand credibility and customer loyalty. To endanger either is to endanger the entire product line. By testing the color and haze of their water before it is bottled and distributed, manufacturers can ensure their credibility.

 

bottled water
Bottled water must maintain an impression of cleanliness and safety to remain competitive. Image Credit: Flickr User Techmsg (CC BY 2.0)

 

Vista Ensures Water Color And Haze Conforms to Quality Standards


Transmission spectrophotometers assess the color of transparent or translucent liquids by passing light through a sample and measuring it on the other side. Like the human eye, they record color as a function of the full spectrum of visible light. Any tint in the water can be rapidly detected. From there, the issue can be isolated, the root cause discovered, and the process corrected. This ensures that all water leaving the bottling plant is “water white.”

 

Of course, color is not the only indicator of water quality. Clarity is of equal importance. Any particulate matter affecting the transparency of water will be noticed by customers. Whether or not these particulates pose health hazards, the sight of them alone will drive customers to a clearer brand of water. Naturally, bottlers employ haze measurement instruments as well as spectrophotometers to ascertain the quality of their water.

 

Traditionally, these have been separate instruments, requiring quality control technicians to subject each sample to two separate tests. However, HunterLab has recently introduced the Vista, a transmission and haze spectrophotometer, which is the first instrument capable of measuring color and haze simultaneously. By measuring both at once, this instrument cuts measurement time in half frees up valuable benchtop space in the laboratory and reduces the ongoing costs of ownership by halving maintenance costs. To learn more about how the Vista can improve the quality assurance processes of your bottled water plant, contact the experts at HunterLab.

  1. “America’s Tap Water: Too Much Contamination, Not Enough Reporting, Study Finds.” 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/us/tapwater-drinking-water-study.html?module=WatchingPortal&region=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=thumb_square&state=standard&contentPlacement=19&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2017%2F05%2F04%2Fus%2Ftapwater-drinking-water-study.html&eventName=Watching-article-click&_r=0
  2. “Flint water crisis fast facts,” 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/
Spectrophotometric Monitoring of Color Consistency Solidifies Brand Identity
camera
Choosing the right color palette for your brand can be vita l to your success. Image Source: Flickr user peace6x

 

Color is all around us. It is part of virtually everything we see, informing our experiences day in and day out in. And on January 20, 2017, the politicians in Washington D.C. wanted to inform your experience of them. Trump in his red tie, Obama with his in blue, Hillary, Ivanka, and Tiffany in white, Michelle in crimson, and, of course, Melania in her sky blue. These colors weren’t accidents, but deliberate choices driven in part by the desire to shape public perception using color psychology.

 

“Colors and brands are very important [for all politicians],” says Dr. Dong Shen, professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design at California State University.1 Shen explains that the inaugural color choices, particularly for the women, were designed to tap into our shared sense of meaning, one that goes beyond red for Republican, blue for Democrat. Melania’s blue, she believes, symbolizes loyalty and trust, while Michelle’s red reflects fire, passion, and sensitivity, although her choice of a more subdued crimson shade signals that she is no longer center stage. Purity was the message sent by Ivanka and Tiffany’s whites while Hillary’s was one of healing. Through their respective shades, these women invited us to see them in particular ways, introducing (or re-introducing) us to their “brands” and sending us messages about their values and identities.

 

Clothing, however, can be changed. If you make a misstep you can just try something new next time. Choosing the right color to introduce a product brand is a far more complex operation, which is why companies go to great lengths to select appropriate color palettes for their brands. “Color is one of the biggest factors that marketers and designers take into account,” says Rose Leadem of Entrepreneur. 2 Color allows you to speak for your product without saying a word, offering a way of instantly “conveying meaning and message” to connect to consumers on a deeply visceral level.3 And deploying color psychology is no easy task; as Leadem explains, “Perception of color can change based on a person’s age, gender, personality, income, and other factors, which means marketers must understand who their target audience is and how they wish the brand to be perceived.” This often means countless hours of research, design work, and testing in order to come up with the right shades.

 

But choosing the perfect color palette for your brand is only the first step. The colors chosen must be reproduced exactly again and again in order to create a cohesive brand identity and fortify that identity through repeated exposure to consumers. Spectrophotometric color measurement is a vital part of that process, ensuring perfect color matching regardless of the material with which you are working.

 

The Importance of Reproduction

 

Color is widely recognized as the most important aspect of a product’s branding materials, as it is the one that is most readily remembered by consumers and instrumental in guiding consumer perception. Iconic brands have perfected this art by creating a strong color scheme. They do this by exposing the public to that scheme again and again and again, until the colors and brands become interchangeable. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Tiffany & Co. have all been wildly successful in this endeavor and can be identified based on color alone in the same way we can identify a Louboutin shoe by its red sole. The colors themselves have become icons, standing in for the brand as a whole – it’s not just red, it’s Coca-Cola red. It’s not just robin’s egg blue, it’s Tiffany blue. Recognizability, then, depends on exact color reproduction to cement the relationship between the product and color in the minds of both current and potential customers. In order to strengthen that connection and encourage instant identification, your chosen shade must be represented each and every time the consumer encounters your product regardless of what form that encounter takes, whether it’s on product labeling and packaging, advertising, or signage.

 

coke bottles
Spectrophotometric color measurements gives you the highest level of insight into color behavior, allowing you to match color and appearance in disparate media. Image Source: Flickr user SoxFanInSD

 

Creating Color Consistency

 

Historically, color consistency has primarily been evaluated via visual inspection. However, the human eye is inherently a subjective evaluator, prone to inaccuracies that compromise the ability to maintain truly consistent color. Spectrophotometers, however, offer a sophisticated, objective way of capturing color information without the vulnerabilities inherent to the human eye. As such, companies across industries rely on spectrophotometric instrumentation to monitor color behavior throughout the production process, ensuring batch-to-batch and lot-to-lot consistency.

 

But what is truly remarkable about spectrophotometers for the purpose of branding isn’t just that they measure color in one type of material. Rather, spectrophotometers are capable of measuring color and appearance in all material forms, allowing you to create color consistency across media with disparate optical properties. From flat, matte papers to translucent plastic films, spectrophotometers offer a range of optical geometries to ensure you have the ability to analyze color quality and product appearance across your entire product line and throughout your packaging and marketing materials. Sophisticated software packages like Easymatch QC facilitate this process, giving you the data you need to produce exact color matches and instantly alerting you to unwanted variations. As a result, you are easily able to quarantine any defective product that may compromise your color/brand strategy and prevent its release into the marketplace.

 

The HunterLab Difference

 

HunterLab has been a pioneer in the field of color measurement for over 60 years. Throughout that time, our advanced technologies have helped our customers create and solidify their brand identities through smart and consistent use of color. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of spectrophotometers capable of analyzing virtually any material performing in even the most challenging conditions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned instruments, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services.

 

  1. “The Color Psychology Behind Inauguration Fashion”, January 21, 2017, http://www.abc10.com/news/local/the-psychology-behind-behind-inauguration-fashion/389407249
  2. “The Role of Color in Branding”, December 10, 2016, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/286324
  3. “Color & Branding”, 2012, https://www.colormatters.com/color-and-marketing/color-and-branding
Spectrophotometers Help Control Deodorant and Antiperspirant Stick Color Consistency

For the last thirty-five years, my aunt and uncle have been building a life and love together. By now, their patterns are long established. Settled and in their grooves, they resist any change that might disturb their comfortable routines. The last time I visited was evidence of this; I listened to them argue for a solid hour over a stick of deodorant. My uncle insisted that my aunt bought the wrong stick. My aunt insisted it was the same. My uncle disagreed. My aunt refused to go back to the store. My uncle refused to put on the deodorant. My aunt insisted he use the deodorant because it was the same. My uncle insisted it wasn’t, and that if my aunt wanted him to wear deodorant, she needed to go back to the store to get the right kind. My aunt refused but insisted he wear the deodorant. They repeated these points until it was time for lunch.

 

Deodorants on a shelf
Instead of choosing from dozens of brands every time they go to the store, customers often default to the same deodorant over and over again. Image Credit: Flickr User Clean Wal-Mart (CC BY 2.0)

 

Color Consistency Is Essential to Maintaining Deodorant Brand Loyalty

 

Consistency is important to people purchasing consumable products. Over the course of years of repeated purchases, customers grow accustomed to the particular brand they’re used to purchasing. They know which stick of deodorant they like. Instead of making a new decision every time they go to the store, they choose the same stick over and over again.

 

For deodorant manufacturers, this is a double-edged sword. Cutting one way, this means that brand loyalty will be strong and that customers can recur for decades. Cutting the other way, this means that the product must always be consistent. Changes to the formula of a deodorant or antiperspirant stick will be noticed by consumers. If the product they’re purchasing no longer seems to be the product they like, they may rethink their decision and switch to a different brand.

 

Manufacturers are aware that the color of a stick of solid deodorant is determined by the addition of a few colorants late in the mixing process, and that it has little to do with the efficacy of the product. The average customer, however, only sees the finished product, not the process. To them, a difference in a stick’s color is more noticeable than other changes in formula, and an indicator that other changes may also have occurred. In short, to a customer, two sticks of deodorant that are exactly the same except for color are two entirely different sticks.

 

woman putting on deodorant
Not all customers understand the intricacies of the formulation—or usage—of deodorant & antiperspirant. Image Credit: Flickr User Toby Bradbury (CC BY 2.0)

 

Spectrophotometers Deliver Repeatable Color Quality Control Results

 

So, color consistency is a serious concern for manufacturers of solid deodorants and antiperspirants. That’s why rigorous color quality control and quality assurance processes have been implemented across the industry. In company quality control laboratories, manufacturers test each batch of deodorant with spectrophotometers to ensure that the final color meets standards before it is shipped. They also conduct quality assurance studies using spectrophotometers to ensure that their processes consistently result in correctly colored deodorant.

 

Spectrophotometers are essential instruments for color quality control. By measuring light reflected off opaque substances, such as deodorant, they can generate objective, repeatable reports on that substance’s color. These instruments are significantly more effective than human observers. Human observation is subjective, varying from person to person and from day to day. Humans can also be thrown off by differences in lighting, which spectrophotometers control for with standard illumination settings. Finally, while humans lack specific language for describing small color differences, spectrophotometers generate numerical results. These numerical descriptions allow manufacturers to establish precise tolerances for acceptable deodorant color, that are repeatable across an enterprise and over decades.

 

With over 65 years of experience developing spectrophotometers to measure the color of deodorant and other products, HunterLab intimately understands the industry’s demands. Whether you’re considering upgrading outdated color measurement technology or improving your color quality control process, HunterLab has the experience, tools, and knowledge to help. To learn more, contact the color measurement experts today.

 

Reading the Leaves: Spectrophotometers Can Identify Oxidation Stages of Tea Leaves

I’m from Massachusetts, where we pride ourselves on having started the Revolution. Among the most prominent and colorful of Boston’s escalating acts of disobedience was the Boston Tea Party. Like it is today, tea was huge deal back then. It was consumed on a daily basis by an overwhelming percentage of colonists. In Boston, a thriving port, the importation of tea was big business. So, when the King imposed a hefty new tax on tea, it not only disrupted the lives of everyday colonists, it threatened their livelihoods.

 

In revolt, Bostonians blockaded the harbor and refused to allow the unloading of tea. Dressed as natives, a group of patriots boarded three British ships and dumped around 92,000 pounds of tea into the harbor. These actions energized Boston but angered the King. Tensions rose. Soon, in Lexington, a shot was fired that was heard around the world. The founding of our nation was steeped in tea.

 

Ship in harbour
No taxation without representation! Image Credit: Flickr User Lee Wright (CC BY 2.0)

 

Spectrophotometers Assess the Oxidation of Tea Leaves

 

In today’s world, more than coffee, more than beer, more than Coca-Cola, tea is King (it sure isn’t George III anymore). Having played a major role in global affairs for centuries, tea still thrives as the second most consumed1 beverage in the world, behind water. The resulting enormous volume of tea grown, imported, and processed requires highly efficient processes. Fast, reliable quality control is essential for manufacturers, to keep deliveries on time and up to specification. That’s why manufacturers often rely on spectrophotometers to quickly and accurately assess the color of their tea leaves.

 

Manufacturers measure the color of their leaves because color is indicative of the oxidation stage of a tea leaf. The oxidation of a tea leaf2 indicates of the final properties of a cup of tea, including color, flavor, and caffeine content. This is because all tea is made from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Green tea, black tea, white tea, and red tea are only differentiated by the preparation of the leaf.

 

So, manufacturers can reliably distinguish types and batches of tea leaves by measuring their color. This ensures that their batches have been processed correctly. Finally, it guarantees consistency batch to batch over commodity-scale quantities and decades of production.

 

Without accurate, objective analysis, manufacturers will lose revenue. Batches of tea that fail to meet client standards for consistency and quality can be rejected. Repeated failures can cause clients to begin looking for other manufacturers. Likewise, failing to detect a processing error, such as a mistake in drying temperature or timing, can damage entire batches. It’s unlikely any single error will be harmful to a manufacturer as losing 46 tons of tea, around $1.7 million in today’s dollars, was to the British East India Company. Over years, a manufacturer’s small losses can easily add up to a greater total amount of lost tea than in the Boston Tea Party. To avoid this, manufacturers use spectrophotometric analysis to eliminate measurement errors. It’s easier than going to war.

cups of tea
Different levels of oxidation result in different types of tea. Image Credit: Flickr User H. C. (CC BY 2.0)

 

Instruments Improve on the Human Eye in Tea Leaf Color Quality Control

 

These crucial color assessments are most often performed by instrumental analysis. More ably than the human eye, spectrophotometers assess color by measuring the light reflected from objects. Tea color quality control requires discerning slight differences in color for extended periods of time.  Unlike the human eye, whose objectivity is variable, spectrophotometers perform objective, repeatable measurements based on controllable instrumental variables. As a result, they are more reliable than human observers. For accurate color measurements of tea, we recommend using directional 45°/0° reflectance geometry.

 

Instead of relying on comparisons to printed scales, spectrophotometers allow manufacturers to compare tea leaves to digital tolerance standards. These standards can be programmed into the machine itself. Portable instruments can take many readings each minute, and rapidly determine whether the tea meets standards. These readings can be assessed separately or averaged together. The speed and ease of this method have allowed manufacturers to easily incorporate it into their processes without sacrificing efficiency.

 

HunterLab has been building spectrophotometers for over 65 years. In that time, they have worked extensively with the tea industry, and have developed measurement devices ideally suited to the needs of tea manufacturers. To find the perfect solution or upgrade for your manufacturing process, contact the experts at HunterLab.

  1. “Tea Fact Sheet,” 2017, http://www.teausa.com/14655/tea-fact-sheet
  2. “What Is Oxidation?” 2012, https://www.worldoftea.org/tea-leaves-oxidation/
Coffee Roasters Can Use Spectrophotometers to Determine Color on SCAA Roast Scale

My sense of taste lacks distinction. I get the broad tastes alright—sweet, bitter, savory, sour—but after that, it’s all greek. As a result, I tend to doubt that the differences in flavor the informal sommeliers of my acquaintance swoon over are as strong in the mouth as they are in their minds. So, when my friend told me he could taste the difference between cups of coffee so distinctly that he could match a series of cups to their respective beans, I said, “prove it.” That weekend, we brewed eight cups of coffee from eight different roasters. I kept a bean from each bag for him to match the cup with. After a short sip from each cup down the line, he puzzled for a minute, tried a few cups a second time, then matched the cups to the beans. He got them all right. “How did you do that?” I asked him after I settled the cash side of our wager. He was, of course, only too happy to tell me—at length.

 

coffee beans
The color of coffee gives clues to its flavor profile. Image credit: Flickr user Olle Svensson (CC BY 2.0)

 

The Color of Coffee Can Display its’ Flavor Profile

 

The color of a coffee bean can say a lot. Different colors come from different roast durations. Minute differences in roast can have outsize effects on coffee’s flavor, acidity, body, and aftertaste1  So, determining the exact color of a coffee bean after a roast can tell a manufacturer a great deal about what the coffee will taste like.

 

For the average coffee drinker, telling a coffee’s attributes from the color of its roast is a neat party trick,  It’s a way to show off to their friends that they’ve read about the eight strictly defined SCA color grades, Very Light to Very Dark—a way to build up self-esteem. In short, the stakes are low. For a manufacturer, however, the SCA color grades are their brand. It’s why people buy their coffee. Keeping color consistent is essential to retaining customers. In short, the stakes are high.

 

unroasted coffee beans
Coffee beans are green, and without much flavor, before being roasted. Image Credit: Flickr User Jessica Spengler (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

SCAA Scale Is Used to Classify the Colors of Coffee

 

That’s why coffee roasters rely on the SCCA scale to rate the color of their beans during the production process. By matching the color of a bean to a printed sample, they can determine within a reasonable margin of error whether each batch has been properly roasted.

 

This method has its drawbacks, however. To start, exact color matches are difficult between textured materials. The differences in surface texture of coffee beans and vinyl printouts affect human color perception. Also, human beings are inherently subjective at assessing color. Color perception differs between different observers, or even between the same observer at different times of day. Sample preparation and measurement can cost manufacturers valuable time if they are not done properly. Saving data from tests takes up even more time, as it must be initially recorded and then entered into one or more data storage systems.

 

Spectrophotometers Can Measure Coffee on the Agtron Scale

 

To correct this, many coffee roasters have turned to using the HunterLab ColorFlexEZ Coffee spectrophotometers to determine the color of their roasted beans. These instruments measure color with extreme precision and can be delivered programmed to display their results according to the SCAA scale. HunterLab even invented the HCCI (Hunter Color Coffee Index), with input from roasters worldwide, to improve upon the SCAA scale.  By using instrumental measurement, they eliminate the subjectivity inherent in human observers. The data can be transferred easily from these machines to a central location, such as a hard drive or the cloud. The machines take fast, reliable measurements, and samples can be quickly prepared, and a single measurement can report the SCAA number, Roast Classification, and HCCI number.

 

HunterLab has over 65 years experience developing spectrophotometers for industry use. Working extensively with coffee roasters, we’ve developed the ideal instrumental solution for coffee color analysis, the ColorFlex EZ Coffee Spectrophotometer. To learn more about how the ColorFlex can help keep your roasts consistent, contact the experts at HunterLab today.

 

Color Quality Control for Traffic Signs Can Be Accomplished with Spectrophotometers

My driving habits changed when I got my commercial driver’s license. I started parallel parking like I was shooting pool. I slowed way down. And I started paying much more attention to traffic signs. Large vehicles react more slowly than smaller ones. An accident involving a large vehicle will be more serious. To drive safely, I needed to make decisions well ahead of time. With my attention divided between the condition of my vehicle, other vehicles, pedestrians, road conditions, and navigation, I needed to quickly and easily identify traffic signs. Color differences and reflectivity of signs made this possible. Without them, the roads would be far less safe to drive.

 

yellow signs
Warning signs are color coded to keep motorists safe. Image Credit: Flickr User Jay Galvin (CC BY 2.0)

 

Retroreflective Sheeting for Traffic Signs Must Meet Federal Color Standards

 

For this reason, traffic signs must conform to the standards established by the Federal Highway Administration1 regarding color and reflectivity. So, manufacturers of retroreflective sheeting for traffic signs must meet rigid color control standards. Whether supplying client companies or the next division of a vertically integrated company, color quality control is an essential stage of traffic sign manufacturing.

 

This is a matter of simple dollars and sense. In either case, rejections at delivery costs more than problems corrected on the production floor. Not only are time and materials wasted, but so are delivery costs and the energy needed to run the machinery. For busy shops, the capacity lost to rework comes with an opportunity cost as well. That time could have been used to fill a new, profitable contract.

 

Highway signs
Highway signs must conform to federal color standards. Image Credit: Flickr User Doug Kerr (CC BY 2.0)

 

Spectrophotometers Accomplish Objective Color Assay

 

Fortunately, the color standards do not rely on subjective, human analysis. When it comes to communicating precise differences in the shades of objects, human language lacks the necessary precision. To improve on our imperfect color description abilities, scientists back in the early 1930’s developed a method to correlate the human perception of color to the instrumental measurement of light in terms of the primary colors Red, Green, and Blue.  This allows an instrument to measure reflected light and provide numerical coordinates. As a result, acceptable tolerances for the colors of traffic signs can be objectively quantified.

 

Few people would claim to be able to look at a color and describe it numerically. A spectrophotometer is designed to do exactly that. As each sheet is extruded, spectrophotometric analysis can determine whether or not it will meet color tolerance standards. If sheets that do not meet standards are being produced at a growing rate, despite adherence to established formulas, managers should inspect their process to discover the problem. Doing so can lead to increased efficiency or adjustments in formulas.

 

old stop sign
Looks like someone was in a hurry. Image Credit: Flickr User GizmoDoc (CC BY 2.0)

 

Choosing the Right Instrument for the Job

 

The effects of texture play a large role in spectrophotometric assay. With retroreflective sheeting, the 45/0 geometry is the prescribed method and the ColorFlexEZ has been chosen by many manufacturers to check their production. The ColorFlexEZ has built in the special retroreflective trapezoidal acceptance tolerancing capability.  

 

With over sixty years of industry experience, the technicians at HunterLab have worked extensively in the color measurement of reflective materials. To learn which spectrophotometer would be best for your process, contact the experts at HunterLab today.

 

  1. “STOPsigns and More Product Info,” 2017, http://www.stopsignsandmore.com/t-product-info.aspx
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