Munsell & Collaborative Testing Services - X-Rite

Munsell & Collaborative Testing Services - X-Rite

Munsell & Collaborative Testing Services

Every day around the world, laboratory technicians perform a bewildering

variety of tests on everything from the sugar content of wine to the unique

marks on a bullet found at a crime scene, all with the same intent:

Provide results that can be trusted.

But who tests the testers?

It’s taken for granted that laboratory technicians use best practices in the tests they perform, employing appropriate instrumentation

that is calibrated properly. But matters can become complicated when one lab has instruments made by

Company X yielding results that must correlate exactly with a different lab halfway around the globe using instruments

manufactured by Company Y to take its measurements. Billions of dollars of trade depend on everyone measuring to

the same standards and getting the same results.

That’s the market niche of Collaborative Testing Services (CTS) in Sterling, Va. A spin-off of the federal National Bureau

of Standards in 1971, CTS works with laboratories in 55 countries to ensure the use of best practices, appropriate equipment

and regular calibration to yield reliable and repeatable results. The firm seeks to assure agreement among instruments

that are used analyze elastomers, metals, container board, fingerprints, soil composition, fabrics,

plastics and other materials.

“We essentially treat laboratory results as high quality products,” said Christopher J. Czyryca, director of programs at

CTS. “Just like any other product, there are a lot of ingredients necessary for achieving high quality – everything from

how technicians are trained to proper calibration of the instruments.”

One significant area of business for CTS is assisting laboratories that measure the color and appearance of products. For

instance, hundreds of suppliers in industries as varied as plastic injection molding to fabric dyeing must measure the

appearance of their products and correlate their results to ensure parts match in color during assembly of vehicle

interiors or exteriors. Dye houses need to communicate precisely with clothing manufacturers to make sure ensembles

of shirts and pants match as the buyers intended. Consumers who are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes are

demanding consistent results in the color of appliances, cosmetics, paints, wallpaper, power tools, and a host of other


Munsell Marketing

“Even wines that are distributed nationally for consumption by a mass audience need to have consistent color and

clarity,” Czyryca said. “Color remains a key characteristic that people use to make purchasing decisions.”

When CTS itself needs color chips used for the measurement of color and appearance of paints, plastics and fabrics, it

turns to Munsell Color Services in Grand Rapids, Mich. to provide samples that are consistent and accurate.

Munsell Color Services manufactures paint chips that have color variation between samples of 0.1 ∆E, where 1 ∆E is

the industry accepted threshold at which a typical human can detect the difference in a subtle shade of color.

“Measuring plastics and textiles can be very challenging due to characteristics such as opacity, fluorescence and the

presence of optical brighteners,” Czyryca said. “Munsell provides color chips that are not glossy, very opaque and very

consistent from chip to chip. Because of the consistency, we have a good idea that differences in readings are due to

variables at the laboratory rather than the samples themselves.”

Munsell Marketing

Using specialized machinery that spreads paints precisely

on paper or vinyl substrates, Munsell Color Services

provides short-run sample cards and quality control tools

that corporations, government agencies, universities and

laboratories worldwide use to precisely represent the

correct color of everything from plastic injection-molded

housings to grades of frozen tomatoes. Going beyond

international, Munsell Color Services has provided some

out-of-this-world help for exact color matching: Cards

made for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space

Administration are used by astronauts in the International

Space Station to detect when they are dusted with highly

flammable rocket fuel.

“We have always considered it quite a feather in our cap

that supplying CTS essentially sets the standards followed

by laboratories around the world,” said Art Schmehling,

product manager for Munsell Color Services. Munsell

Color Services has been supplying color samples to CTS

and its predecessor organization for more than 30 years

– some samples harkening to the olive drab color of

camouflage paint and fabrics developed during World

War II. The company is now a division of X-Rite

Incorporated, the world’s largest designer and

manufacturer of color measurement instruments and

software solutions that are used in applications as wide

ranging as the graphic arts to the production of industrial

coatings. X-Rite technologies are used to ensure perfect

color matches by everyone from the world’s largest auto

makers to a local printing company.

Czyryca said inter-laboratory testing evolved from the

basic need in commerce for companies to agree on

common standards in weight, volume and other

measurements and the appropriate methods of

conducting measurements. “The last thing anyone

wants is for a supplier to send a railroad car full of

plastics to a plastic injection molder, only to have it

rejected because their instruments don’t agree on

whether the raw material meets spec or not,” he said.

The need for inter-laboratory agreement in color measurement

has accelerated due to three related trends:

acceptance of digital samples to approve processes,

movement of manufacturing overseas, and adoption of

lean manufacturing techniques. “It was much easier to

send a physical sample from central Ohio to Detroit to

approve a process than it is to send a sample from India

to China and then the United States for approval,” he

said. “And with lean manufacturing and zero-balance

inventories, now rejection of lots is much higher stake

proposition because companies don’t have six weeks

worth of inventory sitting on their shelves.”

Czyryca said laboratories in 23 countries contract with

CTS for a performance assessment of their instruments

that measure color and appearance. On a quarterly basis,

CTS sends two chips produced by Munsell Color Services

of a primary color and a slight variation of that color to

clients for measurement. CTS collects and conducts

statistical comparisons of the resulting data, then

offers remedies for readings that appear to be outside

of expected values. Colors of the samples are varied by

quarter because instruments generally don’t have the

same sensitivity of the same parts of the visible spectrum.

“Even though instruments are remarkably sophisticated

these days, they still share some fundamental roots of

disagreement depending on geometry and other

considerations,” Czyryca said.

For more information on CTS, visit the company’s

website at or write

Christopher Czyryca at or call


For more information on Munsell Color Services, visit

X-Rite Incorporated’s website at or

write Art Schmehling at or call


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