Designing the world’s smallest high-accuracy spectrometer

The Cary 630 FTIR instrument is the world’s smallest and one of the most accurate analytical instruments of its kind. The product is the culmination of an accelerated three-way global development programme between Agilent’s FTIR division in the United States, their Australian R&D site and Cobalt. We worked closely with the specialised US team based in Danbury, Connecticut, who had developed the instrument’s core mechanical, optical and electronics systems to an advanced level. Cobalt Design engineered the enclosure parts in a time-frame of only 6 months.

The Science

FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) spectroscopy is the leading lab-based infrared technique used to identify material and molecular compositions. The technique is widely used by food, drug, and cosmetic industries to ensure the quality of raw materials and finished products.

The Agilent Cary 630 FTIR is a versatile instrument with a patented infrared ‘engine’ that produces superior quantitative and qualitative data for routine analysis of solids, liquids, and gases. It has similar performance to many larger, traditional FTIR spectrometers but without the complexity, maintenance requirements or cost.

The Mechanics

In reality the instrument is a modular system allowing different uses and applications via each of the five interchangeable sample modules, including the unique capability of easy liquid measurement. These patented modules simply and positively lock onto the front of the main Engine component:

  • Diamond ATR: Chemical analysis of liquids, powders, pastes and gels.
  • Transmission: Classic infrared sampling interface, allowing measurement of solids, liquids and gases.
  • TumblIR: Single pathlength transmission for rapid analysis of liquids under ambient conditions.
  • DialPath: Rapid chemical analysis of liquids under ambient conditions, with three set pathlength and sensitivity levels
  • Diffuse Reflectance: Quantitative and qualitative measurement of powdered and solid samples.

The Cary 630 FTIR is computer-controlled using Agilent’s intuitive software enabling non-specialised users to operate analysis sessions.


  • Define a new design language for compact FTIR instruments
  • Package given/set components
  • Form to convey ‘smart’ technology and small size
  • Meet tight timing deadlines


  • Introduced new design language with simple tapering forms, and contrasting textures
  • Retained and enhanced small footprint
  • High gloss trim mouldings lift perceived value and functionality
  • Significant resolution of rear of instrument, de-cluttering cabling and indicator ports


  • Design strategy
  • Industrial Design
  • Scientific Device Design
  • Form models
  • Product Engineering
  • Tooling liaison
  • CG visualisation
  • Matt Reeves
  • Daniel Booker
  • Steve Martinuzzo

The Art

The instrument’s product design introduces a new level of expressive form, contrast and texture to an otherwise conservative category. Like a camera’s lens, the optical light path and length define the instrument’s form and functionality. The instrument’s advanced optical and mechanical architecture, along with the project’s tight time-frame presented to be both an opportunity and an exciting challenge for the Cobalt team.

The trim mouldings allowed the product’s design to go beyond simply being aesthetically appealing. For example, the Engine’s trim works to provide an air-tight seal in the main moulding. It also helps rationalise the rear face of the instrument which neatly integrates a humidity indicator window and cable entry points.

The Cary 630 was the first all-new instrument Cobalt helped design under the ‘Agilent’ brand, and so it sets a number of precedents in the application of form, colour and branding.  Strong initial market performance suggests the product will surpass our heightened expectations.

Related projects