Quality is king when it comes to the output material recovery facilities (MRFs) are being called on to generate. Faced with shrinking global end markets, MRF operators are using advanced technology to help cut contamination rates and improve the overall quality of their bales. Two types of equipment that are on the front line of this battle are optical sorters and artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped machines, commonly known as robots.
While optical sorters have been used in MRFs for years, robotics are just now gaining traction with recyclers. Together, industry sources say these tools can greatly enhance a facility’s material recovery capacity, increase revenue and overcome human limitations in sorting.
Choosing the right equipment
A MRF operator should outline what the business’s goals are when considering new sorting equipment. Due diligence is required before purchase to assess how new equipment might help the MRF achieve these goals.
“The first step is to understand the capabilities of both an optical sorter and a robot,” Adam Lovewell, process engineer for Van Dyk Recycling Solutions, Stamford, Connecticut, says. “The second step is to evaluate where you need to replace equipment or manual sorting with automated sorting. And the third step is deciding how many picks per minute need to be made, what the picks are, and where they need to go.”
Nathiel Egosi, president and CEO of RRT Design & Construction, Melville, New York, says understanding the cost and subsequent benefits of an equipment purchase can be instrumental in helping decide the merits of investment.
“When considering capital upgrades, such as opticals or robotics, undertaking a costs/benefit analysis and return-on-investment calculation should be performed. One should take into account all relevant operating parameters including, but not limited to, feedstock quality and composition, throughput requirements (low, average and high throughout the day and year) and end product quality requirements,” Egosi says. “From these, an assessment of the efficiency increase(s) and cost implications can be determined, and from which, a decision can be made on where or how to start [incorporating new equipment].”
According to Egosi, an operator should ask the following questions before deciding on implementing new optical sorters or robotics:
- What am I trying to achieve, or what is the problem I need to solve?
- What are the risks of doing nothing?
- What are the potential rewards (e.g. operational, financial) of making a change?
- What are the conditions that need to be met to give the best chance of success by making a change?