Two decades of analytical instrument design excellence

Cobalt has worked with Agilent for over 20 years, bringing to life cutting edge analytical technologies with sophisticated, user-centred design.

Agilent and Varian were both born from the same Stanford/San Francisco base from which the world’s IT industry grew.  In fact, the first products Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard created were analytical instruments, and Steve Jobs’ mother worked at Varian’s Palo Alto site which still makes NMR instruments today.   

Today Agilent is a truly multinational group producing a range of chemical analysis instruments that can be found everywhere from industrial mine shafts analysing mineral purity, pharmaceutical research labs assisting with R&D or out in the fields of various industries detecting soil, air or water impurities. 

Locally to Cobalt, Agilent’s Melbourne site is the group’s global HQ for R&D spectroscopy-based technologies.

Multiple instrument development projects

Cobalt has worked on over 20 different instrument platforms, for sites based in Australia, US, Europe and Japan. Some of these projects include:

  • 7700 ICP-MS: One of the world’s most accurate, user friendly mass-spectrometers. 
  • 4100 MP-AES: A robust, adaptable spectrometer designed to accept a range of accessories for increased flexibility.
  • 4300 Handheld FTIR: A revolutionary compact handheld infra-red spectrometer which allows instant on-location analysis.
  • Cary 7000 UMS: A research grade spectrometer with multiple sample accessories.
  • Cary 60 UV-Vis : A spectrometer designed for easy assembly and use.
  • Cary 630 FTIR: A multifunctional spectroscope with five interchangeable modules for broad sampling.
  • Varian 600-series FTIR:  A combined spectroscope and microscope.
  • Varian 900-series HPLC: A modular liquid chromatography instrument platform


  • Customers have consistently cited the instrument design as a significant contributor to market acceptance and user experience
  • Instruments have received numerous design awards, including a Best In Category at the 2014 Good Design Awards
  • Our designs have been recognised by specific science-industry awards
  • Cobalt has assisted with dozens of Agilent’s distinct instrument product lines, which are all linked by a cohesive design language


  • Annual instrument sales of almost US$2 billion
  • Agilent is in the top tier of the world’s largest life sciences and analytical instrumentation companies
  • Recognised as the industry leader in several segments in which it specialises such as spectroscopy and chromatography
  • Operates manufacturing and R&D across the globe and recognises R&D and design as key drivers of its business.


  • Design strategy
  • User Insights
  • Systems Design
  • Industrial Design
  • Scientific Instrument/Device Design
  • Form models
  • Product Engineering
  • Prototyping
  • Tooling liaison
  • CG visualisation

A broad number of Cobalt’s designers and engineers have worked on the numerous Varian-Agilent projects.

Core Attributes

Over this long relationship, one point holds true for the products we’ve developed with Agilent-

The user is central. Both Cobalt and Agilent believe that the user experience should be a key focus of their instruments. Examples include:

  • Usability: When working on the 600 series FTIR Spectrometer we identified that technicians accessed the instrument cover and microscope lid most regularly. These were designed to be removable without the use of tools, saving technicians’ time.
  • Ergonomics: Aiming to reduce fatigue experienced by technicians testing hundreds of samples a day, Cobalt gave special attention to the 7000 Universal Measurement Spectrophotometer’s door action. Placed to have maximum accessibility without unnecessary reaching, friction hinges prevent it slamming closed on the operator’s fingers.
  • User experience: Physical ‘touch points’ are a unique and tactile place to convey the values of a product. We express the values of quality and precision by designing handles in machined stainless steel, such as in the Cary 60 UV –VIS.
  • Exterior finish: Taking full advantage of the complex parts that can be produced with injection moulding, Cobalt worked with Agilent on their Cary 60 UV-VIS Spectrometer to create a casing which is fastener free and suitable for rapid assembly. The final design features complex surfaces restrained within conventional overall forms, expressing intelligence and technology without clashing with its conservative setting.
  • Interior excellence: With its five interchangeable testing systems, the Cary 630 FTIR required careful engineering at each of its interface surfaces. Balancing the weights, input requirements and sizes of each module proved a challenge, but after an intensive prototyping stage Cobalt was able to find a solution. The final unit contains a compact rail system capable of aligning and supporting each unit whilst being robust enough to withstand the wear and tear of everyday usage. 

Cohesive design language

As Agilent has continued to grow and expand their product lines, Cobalt has worked beside them to unify their products under a common user experience and visual language. Working against the utilitarian and dated design of traditional lab equipment, Cobalt has given rise to a generation of contemporary, accessible machines.

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