Why an in-line solution costs more than a bench-top?

Are you considering an in-line sensing solution?
Here are some reasons why they cost more than bench-top devices.

Many of our customers have 15-20 years experience of the benefit of measuring colour in Automotive manufacturing, Coatings, Food Processing, Plastics, Building Materials and many more applications.

At first, customers were hesitant to adopt this new non-invasive, affordable and reliable light based method of not only measuring colour precisely, but also authenticate raw materials, verify inputs for continuity and also predict how a colour will behave under different light sources.

However, by the end of the year when annual certification is required, these hesitant customers are reluctant to send the instrument to our service department as they do not think they could go a day without one.

What different colour sensing instruments are available?

For the last two years, we are getting more and more inquiries for in-line colour measurement and due to this we thought that it is important to understand the differences between an in-line system and a bench-top or portable instrument in the laboratory.

Here is a quick definition of the different devices that can be used to monitor colour:

  1. Bench-top instrument – Typical laboratory instrument for an accurate measurement of a few grams a day. The samples are sent to the laboratory for measurement and analysis. Quality is checked based on the size of the sample and production changes can be made with this data.
  2. Portable instrument – As accurate as the bench-top version but these instruments are portable meaning that the instrument can be taken to the factory or to a customers site. Once again, quality is checked based on the size of the sample and production can be altered
    depending on the results.
  3. At-line Bench-top instrument – A more affordable and robust version of the typical bench-top laboratory model situated at the production level allowing measurement samples to be taken off the production line and measured using the instrument. Samples can be measured as frequently as required 24/7.
  4. In-line solution – A colour measurement system that is integrated within the production process. This system continuously generates results and data allowing the manufacturer to verify every single gram of production to defined parameters. Results are instant and continuous allowing for production to be altered as soon as possible.

While colour measurement instruments like Spectrophotometers, whether portable or bench-top, all have a similar price point, in-line solutions are often more expensive. The question is why?

Why do In-line solutions cost more than bench-top devices?

  • Bench-top instruments measure only a small part of production. The size of the sample is limited to the capacity of the instrument.
  • Results from the laboratory are often delayed and waiting for these delays to make decisions can lead to more waste.
  • Typical Spectrophotometers are not suitable for the manufacturing environment. Reliability of the results can be influenced by other factors such as temperature or humidity.
  • Less data is received and collected from bench-top instruments and often the data does not represent what is actually happening to a whole batch in production.
  • In-line solutions are monitored by machine operators and production supervisors.
  • In-Line reports results instantly and continuously in a format that is easy to interpret for factory workers and machine operators.

    In-Line Data

Initially a customer might that an in-line solution does the same job as a bench-top or portable instrument and so do not always understand why these solutions are more costly to implement. In fact these solutions offer a whole lot more:

  1. In-Line solutions measure and monitor the process continuously. This gives the manufacturer comprehensive information about what is happening in the processing all the time.
  2. Immediate feedback is received on changes made to production and the effect of dosing. Once a change is made during production, the effect of this change can be picked up quicker than if a sample then needs to be taken to the lab.
  3. In-line solution is built into a sealed, controlled environment with constant temperatures and conditions
  4. In-line is always on duty and can be integrated into the stops and starts of processing without individual management.
  5. In many processes having continuous colour and chemical concentration measurement data can lead to better understanding of the process for continuous quality improvements. This includes processing equipment wear, temperature profiles, color recipe changes, dosing accuracy and repeatability. These typically cannot be realized by laboratory bench systems because of the lack of continuous data.
  6. In-line systems are as robust as the the processing equipment that they are integrated into.

How do we decide whether to install a bench-top or in-line solution?

As we represent both traditional and in-line solutions suppliers, our customers migrate from one to the other, as over time, the value of the data of an in-line solution far outweighs the extra cost.

Both retailers and consumers are demanding that all of the product is safe and will have an expected outcome. “Artisan” market foods are well and good, but when the weekly grocery shopper sees a row of produce and one bottle has darker contents than another, they don’t think “Artisan” or “Craft”, they think. “Which of these products is the right one? or Are both of these products the same quality?”. Unfortunately, there is no answer while they stare at the shelves and simply move to another brand where all the products seem to be the same and portray a set quality standard.

The types of losses that companies might experience in this case is hard to calculate and can simply be put down as loss of brand reputation. We can assume that this would equate to millions but it is hard to accurately quantify.

Companies also face the risk of potential litigation is a contamination is present and that contamination was not detected. Once again, the costs involved here could be millions of Rands.

Finally, if you are checking a sample portion of the entire batch, how can you be sure that the whole batch indeed meets the required specifcations? By not checking the whole batch, and every gram in a batch, companies could end up disposing of product because errors were not detected and corrected early enough.

Ask yourself or the CFO or Accountant about the costs of these risks and also known losses and wastage and you can easily conclude whether an in-line solution is the best for you? If the solution is more expensive than the problem then the decision is easy.