Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) play a crucial role in processing waste, as they are responsible for sorting and separating the various types of materials found in waste streams. In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) robots in MRFs has emerged as a promising solution for reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of waste sorting. In this article, we will explore how AI robots are being used in MRFs and the benefits they offer in terms of cost and efficiency.
What are AI waste-sorting robots?
AI waste-sorting robots use artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and sort different types of waste materials. These robots are designed to help automate and optimise the waste sorting process, which can be time-consuming and expensive for waste management facilities.
The robots use a computer vision system and deep machine learning to identify and classify different types of waste, including plastics, metals, paper, and organic waste. This information is then sent to a robotic arm, which picks the classified items, before sorting them into their designated bins.
How is AI being used to enhance MRF efficacy?
Artificial intelligence is now being used in a variety of industries, including waste management, but how is it used to enhance the efficacy of MRFs?
Firstly, a branch of AI known as computer vision can be used to identify recyclates in waste streams. Following this, AI robotics take on the role of sorting and separating the recyclates so they can move on to the next stage of the recycling process.
In practice, this means that mechanical pickers physically move recyclates from one location to another, based on the information generated via computer vision.
When paper and plastic waste is placed on a recycling conveyor belt, it can be scanned with computer vision and each piece of waste identified and categorised according to its composition. Then, an automated sorting solution, such as a robot uses this data to determine which items to pick up and where to put them and, once the waste stream has been sorted based on material and composition, a recycling baler can be used to prepare the recyclates for transportation.
What Are the Advantages of Robotic Sortation?
Integrating new technology into material recovery facilities can streamline operations and enhance productivity. Robotic sorting, in particular, offers a variety of benefits for MRFs, including:
Accurate sorting is vital for an MRF, regardless of the sorting methods and solid waste treatment equipment utilised. Traditionally, picking and sorting is done manually at MRFs, but the level of accuracy offered by AI sorting robots means that many MRFs are switching to more technological solutions.
By using computer vision to identify recyclates, more accurate picking can subsequently take place. For example, Recycleye Vision is capable of identifying unlimited classes of recyclates. With this level of data available in near real-time, waste streams can be sorted with increased accuracy via integrated robotics solutions.
As you might expect, increased accuracy on sorting lines equates to higher purity outputs. This has a direct effect on the revenue generated by MRFs and enables sorting facilities to increase profitability.
As our recent case studies show, Recycleye Vision and Recycleye Robotics increased purity by 8% on an aluminium line, taking the output purity to 93% and increasing the value of this output by 20%. Similarly, a Recycleye waste-sorting robot increased purity by 12% on a fibre line, taking the output purity to 97%.
Capable of delivering 33,000 picks over a 10-hour period, Recycleye Robotics highlights just how impactful AI robotics can be at MRFs. Furthermore, the enhanced accuracy delivered by computer vision and AI sorting equipment ensures that the increased productivity equates to higher profitability too.
When Bryson Recycling integrated Recycleye’s waste-sorting robotic system at its MRF, it benefited from a 10% increase in the output of its paper line. With an average of 55 picks per minute and 99% purity on a split-stream plastics line, it’s easy to see how AI robotic sorting equipment can increase productivity and maximise performance.
While manual pickers typically work a 10-hour shift at MRFs, a robotic recycling sorting machine can operate for an extended period of time. As a result, recycling facilities can effectively operate around-the-clock to maximise productivity and increase outputs.
Reliability and Consistency
Optimal accuracy and increased productivity need to be reliable and consistent if MRFs are to generate long-term benefits and, fortunately, robotic sorting delivers the dependability and stability required.
Once an AI robot has been incorporated into an MRF’s waste sorting line, it will operate in accordance with specified algorithms and require minimal maintenance. With no ongoing training requirements or high level of turnover, AI sorting equipment can quickly become integral to operations and deliver enhanced performance at a lower cost than alternative methods.
Workplace safety is a major priority for any employer but it’s particularly critical in environments like MRFs, where industrial equipment is routinely used. If MRFs increase their utilisation of automated equipment, like robotic sortation solutions, they can decrease reliance on manual workers, thus limiting the number of people operating in close contact with industrial equipment.
Additionally, the consistency and routine operation of robotic sorting equipment allows for enhanced predictability and reduced risks in potentially dangerous areas. On an aluminium line, for example, the ability of AI sorting robots to detect high fire-risk canisters ensured they could be removed prior to processing and, therefore, improve on-site fire safety.
Increasing the profitability of MRFs with artificial intelligence
Recycling equipment suppliers have routinely introduced new technologies to the industry. From recycling balers and compactors to driers and crushers, the advancement of technology has consistently enhanced the waste management sector and enabled MRFs to operate with increased safety, accuracy and productivity.
However, the introduction of artificial intelligence and robotics has the potential to revolutionise the industry once again. With 100% sampling accuracy and rapid-pick operations, AI enhances every aspect of the picking and sorting process. This gives MRFs the opportunity to optimise performance, maximise output purity and increase the value of their sorted materials.
Furthermore, the option to retro-fit Recycleye Vision and Recycleye Robotics to existing waste streams in MRFs ensures that both new and existing recycling facilities can benefit from the latest AI waste-sorting solutions.