Tearing Down Barriers in Raw Material Identification Using NI LabVIEW

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"Cobalt uses LabVIEW at desks, in the laboratory, in production, and out in the field—and, most importantly, has three highly commercial products powered by LabVIEW in the pharmaceutical and security marketplaces."

- David Crawford, Cobalt Light Systems Limited

The Challenge:
Creating an instrument for measuring incoming raw materials quickly and noninvasively, without opening containers, using spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) technology.

The Solution:
Achieving fast, accurate material identity verification through opaque packaging in seconds without opening the packaging or relying on laborious sampling regimes.

David Crawford - Cobalt Light Systems Limited
Stuart Bonthron - Cobalt Light Systems

Cobalt Light Systems Background

Established in 2006, Cobalt Light Systems Limited (CLS) develops products that provide noninvasive, subsurface analysis. CLS products rapidly analyse and identify materials without changing the physical sample. The underlying technology, exclusive to CLS, was developed at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

CLS holds key patents for its underlying technologies, which can be applied effectively across multiple application areas and industries. CLS offers products for the pharmaceutical, security, research, and biological industries. Some of these products include a pharmaceutical high-throughput bulk measurement tool for tablets and capsules (TRS100), as well as a similar technology to RapID that recognises explosives in liquids, intended for air-travel security (Insight100).

Verifying Raw Materials Without Opening Containers

Regulatory authorities often mandate 100% inspection of pharmaceutical incoming goods verification. This is a significant challenge for quality control and a drain on resources, particularly when the container must be opened, as expensive sample handling facilities are required. This case study demonstrates a new approach where material verification is performed in the warehouse, without opening the container.

Incoming goods must be verified before they can be used in pharmaceutical manufacture. The most convenient place to do this is in the warehouse, shortly after unloading. Techniques based on spectroscopic methods, particularly Raman spectroscopy, are successful in performing this function, and their use is growing. However, spectroscopy is often limited if the container is not transparent. Thus, a wide range of products have to be tested by opening the packaging in a controlled area, typically a powder-sampling booth.


Figure 1. Sampling Booth


For most manufacturing plants, this is a significant task requiring large resources and expenses.

Nontransparent packaging requires cutting open the container and either inserting a near-infrared range probe or taking a sample for wet testing or infrared analysis. The container must be resealed using an approved sealing tag. The powder sampling booth must then be thoroughly cleaned before the next batch can be tested. The total process can add hours or days to the release of an incoming batch of materials, and may risk sample contamination.

Raman spectroscopy is a powerful tool for identification of materials and is widely used on opened or transparent containers.  There is a new variant of this technique called Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) which can be used to quickly probe through many common containers to identify the contents. Examples of these containers are plastic and multi-layer paper sacks, as well as plastic and glass bottles.

Introducing the RapID SORS

The RapID is a portable instrument that can identify raw materials in seconds. 



Figure 2. RapID


TheRapID hardware platform is powered by LabVIEW and third-party specialised Raman spectroscopy component instrument drivers. We used LabVIEW to create an intuitive and easy-to-use user interface (UI). RapID users can use the UI to configure the instrument settings to take measurements and apply signal processing. All data is stored in a local database. The LabVIEW Database Connectivity Toolkit was invaluable when it came to interacting with the instrument database. The software and database were designed to meet the stringent requirements of current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) and 21 CFR Part 11-compliant environments.

RapID is easily trained to verify a wide range of materials. The user simply pushes the probe tip against the container and pulls the trigger. The laser activates only when the probe tip is pushed against the sample; otherwise, pulling the trigger activates the integrated barcode scanner.


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Figure 3. Example Containers


Typical SORS measurements automatically complete within 5 to 10 seconds. Verification results are reported on the screen and by audio cues to maximise testing throughput.


Figure 4. SORS Scaled Subtraction to Extract Contents Signal


With RapID, users can rapidly develop production methods, quickly deploying new materials into production.



Figure 5. Easily Learn New Samples


RapID uses SORS to obtain a spectrum through the container and identifies the material using a library database. RapID is not supplied with a spectral library, as the container and contents need to be modelled together. Typically, this takes a few hours per container and is a one-time process completed by the user using a software wizard.

Compared to other measurement techniques, RapID helps customers save money.



Figure 6. Time Saved with RapID


One customer estimated a $75,000 savings per annum on a single product.

The LabVIEW Solution

CLS is a huge advocate of NI software. CLS maintains a strong legacy of creating systems using the LabVIEW development platform, including RapID.


Figure 7. CLS Product Development Timelines


NI offers excellent support to start-up companies such as CLS to encourage growth. CLS now employs five personnel with extensive software development experience using LabVIEW, which demonstrates the strong CLS investment and commitment to the LabVIEW software development platform.



Figure 8. LabVIEW Developer Growth at CLS


CLS uses LabVIEW at desks, in the laboratory, in production, and out in the field—and, most importantly, has three highly commercial products powered by LabVIEW in the pharmaceutical and security marketplaces.



Figure 9. Commercial CLS Products Powered by LabVIEW


The App Store revolution is sparking a widespread usage of apps and Add-Ons. This new approach has been adopted by National Instruments in the LabVIEW Tools Network.  


Figure 10. LabVIEW Tools Network


NI LabVIEW has been used by engineers from all over the globe for over 20 years. This has produced an outstanding developer community and fostered innovation into commercial software add-ons, enhancing the power of LabVIEW. The LabVIEW Tools Network, offering more than 100 add-ons and apps from NI and third parties, is a marketplace of free and paid add-ons and apps for engineers and scientists focused on accelerating code development. The LabVIEW Tools Network makes it easy to search for, browse, and download the right code, which is a massive time-saver.

The LabVIEW Tools Network provides a new way to help CLS develop software to create innovative products.

CLS uses VI Package Manager (VPIM) in software development. VPIM is a package management solution, or code distribution system, developed by LabVIEW experts at JKI. NI has adopted and backed the package format (the format used by VPIM) as the standard for distributing code on the LabVIEW Tools Network.

At CLS, we use these palettes extensively:

  • OpenG Libraries, OpenG
    • The OpenG libraries are collections of hundreds of open-source virtual instruments (VIs) created by the OpenG community.


Figure 11. Make Your Application Fit to the Largest Decoration


  • Moore Good Ideas (MGI) Library
    • The MGI Library is a collection of the VIs used most by MGI employees. Provided as a public service to the LabVIEW community, the library is free to use and distribute.


Figure 12. Basic Application Using UI Tools from MGI and OpenG


  • UI Control Suite: NI Theme
    • This custom control suite with an NI theme features new additions to the LabVIEW front panel control palette. Customized controls include graphs, charts, gauges, knobs, slides, and combo boxes. Use them in the front panel for a professional look and enhance the application UI.
  • UI Control Suite: System Controls 2.0
    • This control suite enhances UIs with additional system controls.

CLS has created a simple but attractive UI using the UI Control Suite: NI Theme package, specifically designed for a touch-screen interface.


Figure 13. RapID Application MAIN MENU Screen Using the NI Theme Package


CLS has also created more complex interfaces, such as the Material Identification Builder Wizard.



Figure 14. Material Identification Builder Wizard


With the Material Identification Builder Wizard, expert users can create a group of highly optimised measurements and apply complex signal processing, which will ultimately be used to build a detection model template for a sample. This detection model template is then validated and released into production. In the production environment, warehouse staff use it to screen incoming materials.

Not only is LabVIEW a great software development platform, but it also has a fantastic development community. The tremendous number of open-source tools found on the LabVIEW Tools Network saves CLS time and money.

NI events present a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Not only are these events a great place to meet and share ideas with other developers, they also provide free tasters to start your LabVIEW training journey, leading the way to NI LabVIEW Certification programmes.

CLS is also very fortunate to attend and present at both the RAL and Central South User Groups at Harwell and Newbury, UK. They are fantastic, inspirational groups that emphasize sharing ideas with a real sense of community.

Because of LabVIEW, RapID is an amazing commercial product that will revolutionize material identification through packaging, saving valuable time and money.

Author Information:
David Crawford
Cobalt Light Systems Limited
174 Brook Drive, Milton Park
Abingdon OX14 4SD
United Kingdom

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