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Building the model
The challenge was how to distinguish individual objects despite being dirty, smashed, or torn within a very cluttered environment. We solved this by developing AMP Neuron™, our AI platform. Using advanced computer vision and machine learning, the platform trained itself by processing millions of material images. It teaches itself to look for different visual attributes such as size, color, and texture. Learning from experience, it gets better and better, while identifying more specific material categories.
Now we could identify distinct materials with AI and discern what to do with each fraction, guiding robots to sort at a much faster rate than a person with greater accuracy and consistency. This also gave us the ability to capture data on an entire material stream, providing transparency for operations to make informed decisions about their facility.
From the lab to the field
With support from the Carton Council and Alpine Recycling of Denver, we put our first robot in the field. It wasn’t easy. We quickly found hazards for the robot, like 5-gallon buckets, or plastic bags. Key to our success was having total control of our technology stack so we could quickly improve without impacting facilities.
We focused on making installation, maintenance, and scaling robotics within a MRF as easy as possible—with little downtime or need for a costly facility retrofit. We designed our system to drop into the same space as existing sorting stations to prevent major facility changes. This helped make the technology affordable and accelerate the return on investment for our customers.
Our applications accelerated. We took on more installations and improved our system performance. We’ve reached very high purities in difficult applications, achieved pick rates over 80 picks/minute per robot, and expanded in new industries like construction and demolition, e-waste, and more.
From learning to scaling
Now in 2019, it’s been exciting to see industry acceptance and the excitement that AI and robotics brings. We see this with larger deployments of robotics and with our customers finding ways to deeply deploy the technology into their operations.
A main example of this is the use of AI for operational monitoring to identify the same material a person can see. By installing an AMP vision system, a facility knows exactly what’s happening at that location. They get alerted if material volumes deviate from what’s expected, monitor quality, and also alert for hazards. The industry wants this tight real-time operational control, but previously didn’t have the capability. With our vision system, now it does.
This excitement has been validated by our investors as they see the new opportunities created by technology in the recycling industry. Our investment has come from Silicon Valley-type investors interested in robotics and AI and impact investors focused on the circular economy. We know that despite systemic shocks (due to commodity fluctuations or otherwise), recycling is a dynamic and vibrant industry. Our investors share our vision that AMP’s technology will be a solution to many of these industry-wide challenges.
Growing the AMP team
The demand for our robots meant we had to scale operations to manage installation and training across the U.S. and internationally. We began to build beyond our team to include operations professionals. We needed team members who understood MRF operation. We brought on leaders with deep experience in the industry, like Robb Espinosa, to help us achieve this goal.
Robb and his team have been instrumental in creating a culture of operational excellence and process rigor. This operational performance has been essential: we live or die based upon the success of our AI and our robots. Particularly as a new entrant to the industry, we must have leading support and must ensure that our customers are able to extract the value that this technology promises.
Just getting started
We must provide the highest performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness to thrive in a competitive marketplace. We’re committed to innovation and expanding the use of this technology. This can be seen in our recent expansion to C&D with our partner Ryohshin and into e-waste with ERI.
We’ve also introduced the AMP Insights™ data management system. This monitors the material stream, allowing recycling plants of all sizes to begin operating like advanced manufacturing facilities where processes and outputs are closely monitored to ensure output quality. It’s also able to measure outbound material streams to ensure they meet stringent requirements.
The AMP system does not replace traditional technologies like screens, magnets or optical sorters. Rather, it enhances them through the data feedback loop and the application of robotics to automate the rest of the operations.
There are several other developments we’re working on, and over the next year we’ll be excited to show what they are.
A vision forward
As a company founded on innovation, we’re committed to developing robotics, AI and superior systems integration to advance the recovery of valuable raw materials, to improve how plants function, and increase the revenue that can be generated from these complex recycling processes.
We see a future (and it is happening fast) where facilities are increasingly automated at low cost, reducing operational friction, and creating even more value. We also see the potential for new types of high-value commodity categories created as our AI becomes precise down to the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brand level and even the UPC and SKU level. And as our technology constantly adapts to new material types in the stream, even more value will be created for the circular economy and its stakeholders.
Facility operators are innovating along with us and adapting quickly to the rapid, fundamental changes concerning the economics of recycling. There has been a lot of press commenting on the challenges that the recycling industry is facing—even to the point of predicting its demise. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, our industry is changing. But it is doing so through innovation in technology, process, and economics. These changes present opportunities for our industry across the board. We’re excited to continue bringing new technology that will aid the transformation of our industry and contribute to the success of our customers.
Waste Connections CEO on temporary leave
Waste Connections Inc. of Ontario, Canada, has announced that Ronald J. Mittelstaedt, its chairman and CEO, will take a temporary leave of absence to address health matters affecting him and his family.
Until Mittelstaedt's return, Worthing F. Jackman, the company president, will assume the duties and responsibilities of the company's principal executive officer. Michael W. Harlan, the company's lead independent director, will preside at all meetings of the board of directors until Mittelstaedt's return.
The announcement comes shortly after the company released its fourth-quarter earnings for 2018, which Mittelstaedt said “exceeded expectations.” Its fourth-quarter revenue was $1.26 billion, up from $1.16 billion in the same period the prior year.
Waste Connections is an integrated solid waste services company that provides non-hazardous waste collection, transfer, disposal and recycling services in mostly exclusive and secondary markets in the U.S. and Canada. Through its R360 Environmental Solutions subsidiary, Waste Connections is also a provider of non-hazardous oilfield waste treatment, recovery and disposal services in several of the most active natural resource producing areas in the U.S., including the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford Basins. The company serves more than 6 million residential, commercial, industrial, and exploration and production customers in 41 states in the U.S. and six provinces in Canada. The company also provides intermodal services for the movement of cargo and solid waste containers in the Pacific Northwest.
NWRA announces Hall of Fame inductees
The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), Arlington, Virginia, has announced the 2019 inductees into its Hall of Fame. They are Clean Energy Vice President of Solid Waste Ray Burke; Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Inc. (MIRA) Senior Vice President/Managing Director Paul Mitchener; Waste Industries CEO and Chairman Ven Poole; Advanced Disposal COO John Spegal; and retired Republic Services Senior Vice President Jim VanWeelden.
The NWRA board of trustees selected the hall inductees from a list of distinguished finalists submitted by the NWRA awards committee.
“We had many well-qualified nominees this year, and that is a testament to the men and women in our industry. The NWRA board of trustees did not have an easy assignment. I congratulate our 2019 inductees on their achievement,” NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith says.
These industry leaders were selected based on scores in five categories: recognition in the industry as a founder, pioneer, visionary or icon; enduring legacy and impact of contributions to the industry for a minimum of 25 years; steadfast values such as integrity, respect, courage, mentorship, volunteerism and inclusiveness; inspirational leadership as a service provider or supplier, or on issues important to the association; and active industry engagement and indisputable reputation as an ambassador of the industry.
“This was a challenging task. We had so many incredible candidates to choose from, all of whom are dedicated to our industry and have given so much of themselves to it. These five that we selected represent the very best in our industry. I offer my sincerest congratulations on their selection to the 2019 Hall of Fame,” says Ben Harvey, chairman of the NWRA board of trustees.
The hall inductees will be recognized May 7 at WasteExpo 2019 in Las Vegas during an awards breakfast.
About the inductees
Ray Burke: Burke is the vice president of solid waste at Clean Energy, Costa Mesa, California, and a member of the board of directors of Clean Energy Renewal Fuels. Burke also co-founded the Garbageman's Invitational Charity Golf Tournament. Burke has been a leader in the expansion of natural gas in the waste and recycling industry, NWRA says. In the 1990s, Burke installed the first natural gas fueling station in the country. Burke and his family actively support several charitable organizations in their community, including the Alzheimer’s Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.
Paul Mitchener: Mitchener is the senior vice president and managing director of MIRA of New York City. Mitchener has been active and supportive of the NWRA safety committee and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) committees. NWRA says he has been an innovative leader for almost 40 years, supporting the next generation of industry leaders. Mitchener started in the industry in 1982 in the United Kingdom, and since then, has worked on projects or managed operations in over 50 countries.
Ven Poole: Poole is the chairman and CEO of Waste Industries, Raleigh, North Carolina. Poole joined Waste Industries for the first time at age 12 painting dumpsters and washing trucks. He returned to Waste Industries in 1990 as the risk management director after working in the aerospace industry as an engineer. From 2001 to 2009, he helped lead the acquisition of 150 companies as vice president of corporate development. Poole also co-founded the Waste Industries Full Circle Project, a charitable giving effort through which Waste Industries engages in its corporate philanthropy efforts.
John Spegal: Spegal is the COO at Advanced Disposal, Ponte Vedra, Florida. He is a recognized leader in the industry by his peers, personally engaging in many important industry initiatives, NWRA says. Spegal currently serves on the NWRA board of trustees and has been actively involved in issues that impact the association and industry. In the mid-1990s, Spegal was instrumental in the development of a strategy for the privatization of one of the largest cities in North Carolina, which has become a model for the industry. Spegal is also a leader in his community, founding and supporting literacy programs for solid waste drivers and volunteering with local organizations, including the Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity and K9s for Warriors.
Jim VanWeelden: VanWeelden retired this year from Republic Services, Phoenix, as senior vice president. He is considered one of the architects of the modern waste disposal business, entering the industry at a young age helping his father with the family disposal business. He was the original champion for being a good neighbor, according to the NWRA, as it was important for landfill operators to be responsible members of the community. VanWeelden was active in his community, dedicating time to the Boys Club, coaching AAU basketball teams and being actively involved in his church.
SWANA collaborates to bring safety decals to waste trucks
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, announced it is collaborating with Marietta, Georgia-based BrandArmor to include new safety decals on the back of waste and recycling collection trucks. BrandArmor has created large SafetyFirst Prismatic Reflective caution decals, which include the familiar warning to “Slow Down to Get Around.” The reflective decals will be visible from up to 1,800 feet at night and can help warn drivers to reduce their speed when approaching these vehicles.
“I am very excited about these new stickers, which are much larger and more visible than most of the ones currently in use,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman says. “Motorists continue to drive into the back of industry trucks or strike collection workers with disturbing frequency. The added visibility will make it virtually impossible for a motorist to legitimately claim he or she did not see the truck in the event of a collision. I urge fleet operators to purchase these safety stickers.”
Slow Down to Get Around (SDTGA) is a national safety campaign that reminds motorists to drive more carefully when near waste and recycling collection vehicles. Being struck by a motorist is a leading cause of death for waste and recycling collection employees and, with proper awareness, can be preventable.
SDTGA is also the name commonly applied to legislation that requires motorists to slow down or move over when passing waste and recycling vehicles in the process of collection. Twenty-two states have enacted some type of SDTGA law to help protect solid waste workers out on the route, and several others are considering similar bills.
With a number of recent industry fatalities, SWANA has been emphasizing safety at the chapter and national levels in both the U.S. and Canada. SWANA hopes these decals will help reduce the number of incidents in which motorists collide with industry vehicles or employees.
The stickers carry a five-year replacement warranty, which will make it possible to track and compare accident rates with vehicles that do not have the decals. SWANA members will be able to purchase the decals at a discounted price online.