Industry 4.0 & IoT, ERP

Industrial robots help with waste sorting

Sophia Chrenko07/30/2020

The labor that once had to be done by hand is increasingly being taken on by robots. In future, robotic assistance will become increasingly important. In fact, it is already a staple feature of many industries. Examples include welding robots in the automotive industry, medical robots that assist with surgery and patient care and robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers for personal use.

The waste management sector also benefits from the use of robots. Most of all, they’re used for sorting waste. How does it work? Find out in this edition of our blog!

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Why sort waste?

Properly separated fractions with few contaminants are a central component of environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient waste management. In order to recover the purest materials possible, it’s important to first sort the waste prior to any recycling or energy recovery operations. Ideally, this should start with private individuals and companies separating their own waste, which makes the final sorting process at the disposal and recycling plants a lot easier. For more on that, check out our post on the 7 myths about waste separation.

Sorting by robot

The leading manufacturer of industrial robots for the waste management industry is ZenRobotics. The ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) is the first robotic sorting system in the world used for separating waste into different fractions. This robot was developed in order to make waste sorting much more efficient while reducing the associated costs. The ZRR marks the next generation of recycling.

Of course, sorting waste poses quite a few challenges, particularly for industrial robots – waste streams are mostly heterogeneous. Not only does their composition vary, but so do the characteristics, shapes and sizes of the waste. Dirty surfaces make it harder to identify materials and assign them to waste categories. The random positioning of objects on the conveyor belt also makes waste streams difficult to sort. With software perfectly adapted to the robot hardware, utilizing material and surface identification algorithms as well as artificial intelligence, these industrial robots can take on multi-tasking operations and revolutionize waste sorting.

In order to identify waste objects and materials, the system employs a combination of different sensors technologies and cameras. A near-infrared spectrometer identifies the materials, a 3D laser scanner detects the location and position of the objects, a camera picks up shapes and textures, and a metal detector is used to find magnetic components. The data obtained in this way is sent to a control software program. Based on artificial intelligence and the use of “machine learning” algorithms, the software is able to identify individual objects and calculate the optimal pick-up sequence for sorting.

One robotic arm is able to sort four different fractions simultaneously. Multiple robotic arms can be connected up in sequence in order to sort multiple fractions or speed up processing times. If need be, the robots can also be “taught” new fractions.

For COSMO CONSULT, innovative solutions and future-proof technologies are the key to efficient waste management – especially in times like these, when waste streams are changing rapidly.

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The digital future of waste management 

The disposal and recycling sectors are continuously striving to evolve and improve. That’s why they're eager to try out new ideas and often implement them with great success, the use of industrial robots being a prime example.

Just as important for these sectors is the path to and through digitalization and getting started on that path as early as possible. It’s a challenging task, but our industry experts are here to help. Our specialized employees have many years of experience in the disposal and recycling industry. With our industry solution, cclenviromental services, COSMO CONSULTis ideally equipped to help you on your path to a digital recycling future.

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Author:
Sophia Chrenko
Consultant, Operations