As technology advances, the idea of robots becoming a normal part of our daily lives isn’t so far off. We have self check-outs at grocery stores, ATMs that withdraw our money, no-contact cash apps, electronic menus, and now a recycling equipment manufacturer has developed an automated sorting system that programs itself on a “loop” to sort different materials using AI technology.
Developed by Bulk Handling Systems, the sorting system uses temporary storage bunkers and conveyors laid out in loops to carry mixed containers through the AI-powered optical sorter multiple times. The computer automatically reprograms the sorter to pull out a different commodity with every pass until they have all been removed. The circular layout allows the robotic and optical sorter to do the work of multiple units without human QC.
Thomas Brooks, the chief technology officer for an Oregon-based BHS location said, “The concept…is this system has a volume of material that it’s basically able to continuously process and extract the different valuable commodities from that stream of material, until it’s basically extracted everything.”
The system, which is currently set up to serve as a single-stream MRF’s container line, can also target a single valuable commodity during multiple passes. According to Brooks, the mixed containers first pass under an AQC-2 dual-arm robot that pulls out fiber and other contaminants, afterwhich the containers enter a temporary storage bunker. The computer releases the material from the bunker when it is full, and a conveyor carries it to an optical sorter with an AI visioning system and near-infrared detection. He explained that the sorting robot’s visioning system analyzes the composition of the system and gathers data that allows the AI-powered system to decide how to best sort the material.
BHS sold the first of the container sorting loops to a Canadian MRF, and can sort 6.5 tons per hour. Because no human sorters are needed, the equipment can run almost 24/7, only requiring about two hours a day of maintenance time.
Brooks said “the beauty of this is it’s set up to run continuously, independent of what your manpower resources are.” He went on to explain that he has a “dream of a lights-out facility, where material is brought in, it’s all processed, processed material is run out the back, and you have one or two maintenance personnel that are running the whole thing. Some people tell me that’s a little bit of a pipe dream, and I’m ok with that.”