How This Processor Does Color Right

A film extruder shares some of its insights.

Does it pass the eye test? No doubt, technology for evaluating, feeding, and measuring color has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years. But even those manufacturers equipped with the latest technology sometimes rely on the sharp eye of a seasoned veteran to help ensure the parts they make hit the color spec each and every time.

Take The Haartz Corporation, for example. This manufacturer, whose roots can be traced to 1897, extrudes film from a wide range of polyolefins, PVC, and thermoplastic polyurethanes at its  plant in Acton, Mass., and at other locations around the world. 

This film is subsequently vacuum formed into door and instrument panels, seat backs, consoles, and a range of other interior and exterior parts for luxury cars. It also supplies film for non-automotive applications. Haartz runs hundreds and hundreds of different colors. “We run dozens of different shades of blacks, when you take into account the different grains and the fact that even the color ‘black’ is different from one OEM to another,” states Susan Parisi, Haartz’s color team leader.

Haartz certainly approaches color management scientifically. Its lab is equipped with the latest color-measurement tools, states Parisi. As a Tier 2 supplier in automotive, Haartz is also keenly aware that its customers’ processes can influence the color of its film products, so it has vacuum formers and a slew of molds that it uses to allow it to mimic its customers’ processes. And while Tier 1s might be its customers, Haartz also keeps the line of communication open with OEMs. “Quite often the feedback we get is ‘the color is too warm,’ or ‘I’m looking for something that is cool and clean.’ Those are abstract terms, of course,  so my team and I make technical decisions to meet those requests.”

Haartz is also a big believer  in working with its suppliers to identify opportunities for improvement to make each partnership stronger.  Parisi reports that “Haartz utilizes sophisticated tools in combination with extensive experience to ensure we are working with the best suppliers and meeting our customer’s target.  We are currently in the midst of a full evaluation that will continue to improve our products.”
But this commitment to technology and sound color-management practices does not come at the expense of the eye test.  

Ken MacLeod, Haartz’s chief colorist, has been evaluating color for about 40 years, and while he values high-tech instrumentation he trusts his vision more. “I just don’t always trust the numbers because many factors can affect them. In fact numerical readings sometimes don’t give us the end result we need.” But the eye test itself is subject to many influences and requires careful training, MacLeod cautions. “Everything from the color you are wearing to the angle you hold the material can affect color perception, so educating another person on the nuances of color takes time.”

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