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How optical sensing delivers solutions to industrial customers

Dr Steve Buckley, Business Unit General Manager for Applied Systems at Ocean Insight, shares his insights on the many ways spectroscopy and optical sensing technologies can be used to help customers solve measurement challenges across diverse industries and applications.

As a former academic and photonics industry entrepreneur, I’ve focused in my career on applying spectroscopy in novel ways, which makes what we at Ocean Insight call our “Systems” business both near and dear to my heart. 

Ocean Insight is one of the pioneers of miniature fiber optic spectroscopy, originally operating as Ocean Optics. As miniature spectrometers and other photonics technologies have become more accessible and commonly accepted across the analytical instrument landscape, these tools have migrated from research labs in academia to R&D facilities and industrial settings across the corporate universe. 

Optical Sensing Solutions in Industry
As we’ve observed over the years, while spectrometers and imaging systems are used in research and science in novel ways, the discovery process that starts in those labs doesn't have to end there. And for many companies it doesn't. 

Today, manufacturers seek to capitalize on spectroscopy or spectral imaging technology to understand more about their processes – to find a solution allowing them to produce a better product, improve quality, or develop a more streamlined or reliable process. Maybe it's a biopharmaceutical process looking at endpoints or the progress of a reaction. Or maybe it's a manufacturer using imaging technology on a conveyor belt to find defects in or grade a specific product.

Perhaps not well known until recently is that spectroscopy and imaging can be integrated into industrial processes at the component, subsystem and turnkey system levels. At Ocean Insight, we deliver both complex, complete solutions and subsystems to customers. We have a full stack of engineering capabilities geared toward providing that finished product.

The spectroscopic subsystems we build for customers can take a variety of forms. Typically, they comprise the spectral engine, the interconnect, the analysis method, the computational engine that gives you the answer, and then some interface between our system and a PLC or other control that provides feedback to the process. 

Our engineering team is flexible in the way that we implement such solutions. Also, we do a lot of OEM work where we are inside our customer’s product – i.e., our technology is integrated into the customer’s device -- but the customer retains the look and feel of the product. So, Ocean provides both industrial solutions and more commercial solutions. 

Application Knowledge and Technology Range
Many of our industrial customers are aware of our expertise in the basics of spectroscopy, but don’t realize that we have the application ability that’s necessary to provide a full solution. 

Maybe one of the best examples of this is our ability to communicate with a PLC and to use machine learning to translate spectral data into actionable answers. We have robust machine learning tools for industrial situations that can really make the difference for the customer who does not want to interpret complex spectra, but wants a simple red light-green light answer, a determination of concentration, or some other criteria. 

Also, each customer’s measurement challenge requires a different optical sensing technique, depending on various criteria including technical feasibility, physical limitations and environmental conditions, and even development timelines and budget considerations.

A Solution for Every Problem
One of the things that is so interesting is the spectrum of problems that we see, and discerning the ways we can apply our spectral knowledge to solve them. As we’ve built up a toolkit of technologies and know-how over the years, this has allowed us to play in lots of very interesting places and helped us provide effective solutions when we see new problems. 

One thing that makes us excited to come to work every day is the variety of problems our customers bring to us and the variety of solutions that we provide for them. There's nothing more energizing than providing successful solutions to customers in a variety of industries, whether it's pharma, chemical manufacturing or medical and life sciences. It's a real pleasure to work with people from all walks of life and in all different kinds of application domains. That's one of the compelling reasons that our talented engineers and solution providers come to work every day energized to do our best for our customers.

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