4 ways digital color workflows help with onboarding new suppliers and improve your supply chain.

X Rite Adby Matthew, Industry Today
Matthew Adby

By Matt Adby, Director, Regional Consumer Products & Materials, X-Rite

For 18 months, brands and manufacturers have faced high shipping costs, port delays, lack of delivery drivers, and manufacturing site closures. Both brands and manufacturers are now rethinking their supply chain strategies to keep production lines running, employees working, and retail outlets stocked.

Brands and manufacturers that rely on one single supplier or country for materials are now onboarding new suppliers to help fill gaps. In some cases, brands are even looking at reshoring their manufacturing. While getting a new supplier up and running can take months, leveraging digital workflows can help streamline this process.

Consider the importance of accurate color in your manufacturing and supply chain. Color accounts for 60% of acceptance or rejection in production. If the color isn’t right, the product won’t pass quality control and will be rejected. Materials will end up scrapped or reworked, which shifts production schedules. This has a ripple effect across your entire supply chain and causes added delays.

Implementing a digital color workflow can have a big impact on your supply chain’s resiliency by enabling you to onboard new suppliers faster.

4 Ways Digital Color Workflows Help with Onboarding Suppliers

1 – Simplify Color Communication

Costs are always tight in manufacturing.  Getting color right begins with how color is communicated. Often a color needs to match across different types of materials and between multiple suppliers. If you are only using physical standards to communicate and evaluate color across the supply chain, you are creating and shipping as many physical standards as you have materials and suppliers.  That’s increasingly expensive and time consuming.  Mistakes here create inefficiencies, rework, and delays. Is each supplier using the most up to date physical standard and evaluating color using the most up to date procedures?  How do you know?

Digital color communication based on spectral data removes the subjectivity to ensure all suppliers use the same digital standard. A digital standard is a color identified by a name and the underlying spectral and appearance measurement data.  It also helps quantify a color’s identity based on the type of plastic, gloss or surface reflection, special effect additives, and more.  Transmitting, storing and updating these digital standards is far faster, easier and less expensive than their physical counterparts.

Including digital color specifications along with supporting information such as measurement device conditions, measurement size, illuminant and other spectral component information in the bill-of-materials (BOM) sets a clear standard and requirement for ALL suppliers. Establishing a digital standard early in the design and production process enables new and existing suppliers to immediately use the information in color formulation and quality control processes.

2- Formulate Colors Faster

Whether onboarding a new supplier or preparing for a new product introduction with an existing supplier, formulating the right color quickly shortens production times and saves money. Digital color standards make it easy to begin formulating color without waiting for physical standards to be shipped. Digital standards directly integrate with formulation software, making it easy to identify the best recipes for plastics, coatings, textiles, and inks.

Using a connected digital color workflow gives suppliers additional control over productivity and profitability. Today’s formulation software, such as X-Rite Color iMatch and InkFormulation, calculate recipes that use the colorants/inks suppliers have on hand and give the option to include leftover materials to work off wasted material from past jobs. When supply chains and budgets are tight, reusing old stock is an efficient and sustainable way to produce accurate colors.

3- Minimize Physical Samples

To ensure accurate color, the supplier sends samples to the customer for approval. This is expensive, time-consuming, and wasteful. With a digital workflow, samples can be shared digitally, and suppliers can create the color plaque or sample once an accurate formulate is created. By measuring the sample with a spectrophotometer, suppliers can ensure it is within the color tolerance established in the bill of materials and send the digital tolerance data to the customer for approval. This digital workflow eliminates the expense of travel and shipping samples back and forth and can save days, even weeks, in a production schedule.

4- Virtually Prototype

As companies onboard new suppliers or explore new formulations using available materials, it is important to replicate a color sample on a prototype.  However, this does not have to be a physical prototype. Advances in color and appearance technology enable suppliers to transform spectral data into virtual material samples for paints, plastics, metals, fabrics, and meshes. Tools like the PANTORA desktop application allow suppliers to capture spectral and appearance data using existing X-Rite spectrophotometers and turn it into a digital material twin.  With the software, companies can import measurement data and store, manage, view, edit, and create AxF files that they can then render as virtual materials for 3D design, production, and quality control teams. The system can even replicate how a sample or digital phototype will look under different lighting conditions. With virtual prototypes, brands, designers, manufacturers, and suppliers can easily visualize color on any sample, regardless of size or location, in real-time and around the world. This allows companies to innovate and accelerate the design to manufacturing process.

Tools like PANTORA also allow suppliers to create sizeable digital material libraries by combining sample attributes.  Want to see that red leather material in grey or orange?  No problem.  These files can then be shared with customers and used to render product designs in yet unseen spectral color and total appearance accuracy. This can strengthen the manufacturer-to-supplier relationship while streamlining developing cycles.

Digital Color Workflows help with Supply Chain Resiliency

As brands and manufacturers continue to work through ongoing supply chain challenges, consider whether there is room for improvement in your color workflow. Shifting color communication and evaluation from a physical reference to a commonly-known digital value can make a big impact in onboarding new supply partners.

With a connected digital color workflow, manufacturers can establish clear color standards and requirements and suppliers have accurate specifications to work efficiently and confidently without traveling or sending physical samples. This results in precise color the first time for a faster, more efficient and resilient supply chain.

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