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What it Means to Measure Color "Inline"

Posted December 02, 2019 by Greg Stehn

X-Rite’s inline color measurement solutions help industries manage color as the product is being made. Inline systems monitor products as they are produced and alert operators as soon as color begins to move out-of-spec so corrections can be made before the product is wasted.


The ERX145 spectrophotometer mounted on a traversing beam is automatically measuring the left, middle and right side of this sheet during production.

Each X-Rite inline color measurement system uses a non-contact spectrophotometer and ESWin software. Depending on the application and needs, a system may include a moving frame or robotic arm to position the spectro. Although they work as standalone units, X-Rite’s inline solutions can communicate with process control systems to provide color measurement data, or dye pump controls for real time Closed Loop Color Corrections. A system may also receive signals about events such as reel/sheet changes, machine stops or meter counts. Networked data allows you to share color standards and measurements among systems and at different locations.

Today we’ll look at how industries such as paper, textiles, plastics, glass and automotive are using X-Rite’s inline measurement solutions.

Paper Industry

To keep color and brightness constant throughout production, X-Rite’s inline paper color measurement systems span the entire process, from laboratory measurement to pulp, wet sheet, and measurement before reel up. The ColorXRA 45 (pulp color) or ERX40 (pulp brightness) spectrophotometer is mounted in a stainless steel box to measure color inline, while ESWin Closed Loop Color Control software records the quality of the run and alerts the operator of any deviation.

For laminated paper, a measurement on the wet paper is used before drying because the wet paper has a good correlation to the finished product, especially when the paper will be laminated on wood.

The most common measurement point in paper manufacturing is just before reel up, when the finished product is measured and compared to the lab results. If there is any color deviation from the standard, automatic closed loop color control will keep the color constant, plus help shorten startup and transmission times by approximately 50%.

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This system includes inline measurement just before reel up to measure the color, opacity and content of optical brighteners on white or colored paper.

An inline system provides control for all paper and board types, including infinite layer color, opacity and whiteness/brightness, and can be installed on any machine and easily connected to a DCS-system. The complete installation typically takes two to three days, with only two hours of machine downtime.

Coil Coating

The color and gloss of coil coated products must be uniform across the length and width of each coil and conform to precise standards. Achieving this perfection requires accurate measurements in both the laboratory and during production; which can be especially challenging for projects containing different batches with various color adjustments. With X-Rite’s coil coating color measurement system, the ERX145 non-contact spectrophotometer is mounted on a traversing beam to automatically measure left, middle and right side. With a 30mm aperture, wavelength interval of 330 nm to 730 nm, and optical resolution of 1 nm, it offers excellent inter-instrument agreement and monitors temperature to identify thermochromaticity. To measure gloss, the GlossFlash 6060 spectrophotometer can be mounted alongside it. Learn more about X-Rite inline solutions for coil coating here.

Automotive Industry

Closed Loop CarFlash Measurement System

The CarFlash non-contact multi-angle spectrophotometer is an automated system designed to collect colorimetric, gloss and orange peel data on painted materials such as car bodies and bumpers on the manufacturing line. By integrating this unit with an industrial robot, color quality can be controlled and managed earlier in the production process on the manufacturing line and with greater repeatability and efficiency. 

Plastics Industry

Reflectance Measurement System

Color is becoming increasingly more important in plastics, and in both the automotive and furniture industries, tolerances continue to get tighter. An inline system can keep color on target, shorten transition times, and help operators react to color changes faster. With X-Rite’s reflectance measurement system, the ERX50 or ERX130 spectro is mounted above the web at a distance of 10 or 300 mm on a customized measurement frame. ESWin software controls the instrument and displays the measurements as a trend diagram for operators to monitor.

Inline Plastic Pellet Measurement System

Synthetic pellets must adhere to rigid tolerances and remain consistent throughout production. Instead of correlating pellet color deviation to the extruded plaque, X-Rite offers a way to measure directly during each run to detect issues earlier and reduce waste batches. The ERX130 system is usually installed above the separation sieve behind the granulator. Since it measures color continuously, issues can be reported to the machine operator when there is still time to make corrections.

Inline Transparent Film Measurement System

For transparent films, color, visual light transmission and haze are extremely important and must be monitored throughout the production run. X-Rite’s inline transmission measurement system can help operators continuously monitor and correct even slight changes immediately. The ERX55 spectrophotometer is mounted in a C-frame on a linear track on the production machine. ESWin software controls the instrument, the measurements and the movement of the linear track. The color values, correlated haze and light transmission are displayed on the screen as a trend diagram to keep operators up to date.

Glass Industry

Inline Glass Color Measurement System

Multiple silver layers on glass panes add functionality to architectural fronts and are state of the art in architectural design. Low-E glass or solar protection is used all over the world to save costs for heating or cooling houses. However, glass is a non-scattering product, which makes it a challenge to measure. X-Rite’s inline glass color measurement system uses a non-contact spectrophotometer to measure the production of non-scattering samples, like glass panes, directly on the production machine. The ERX54 or ERX56 illuminates the pane with a certain angle and measures the reflected light at the other side in the mirror gloss; allowing even functional layers, like low-E or solar protection, to be measured and quantified. The spectral curve, which is measured and displayed, provides detailed information about the reflectance from 330 up to 1000 nm. Transmission can also be measured.

Textile Industry

X-Rite’s inline carpet measurement system delivers continuous color measurement and quality reporting for production and laboratory measurements. The inline system can be used as a stand-alone unit or with a traversing beam for side-to-side monitoring. Color deviations can be detected and visualized in machine and cross direction to proof the quality of the produced goods. Runs can be qualified and sorted in different qualities to ensure a homogenous appearance within one shipment.

Laboratory EN471 High-Visibility Clothing Color Measurement System

The color of high visibility warning clothing needs to be controlled not only during production, but also after washing. To secure the visibility of the people wearing that clothing, the color must be in within tolerance for the DIN EN471 specification. Because of the fluorescent colors, the physical illumination has to be adjusted to CIE D65 not only in the visible range, but also in the UV area below 400 nm. By measuring UV included and excluded, the built-in Xenon flash lamp of the ERX30 spectrophotometer is adjusted to the CIE D65 standard.

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