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Robot Picking: innovation at the service of sorted waste collection

Artificial intelligence and robots to maximize recyclability

In order to foster circular economy solutions aimed at recovering and re-using waste as a new material, it is vital to be able to count on homogenous flows by reducing impurities and contaminations as much as possible. 

The constant progress in artificial intelligence and precision robotics can help in the development of increasingly advanced solutions with which to hone the sorting of waste flows directly at the waste treatment facility. Thanks to these technologies, a three-fold target can be met: improving the quality and purity of material sent for recycling/recovery; reducing the cost of labour currently required for manual sorting; increasing safety for the workers themselves. 

In line with our constant interest in adopting useful and sustainable technologies, we started an innovation project designed to test the use of robotic sorting solutions (picking).

NEW TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY 

The sorting of waste in treatment facilities is currently carried out manually by workers who perform this activity continuously for many hours each day. The work, as well as being tiring, does not always produce the best results, given the inevitability of human error. 

A ROBOT AT WORK IN SORTING SYSTEMS

We developed an ad-hoc system of robotic picking for the sorting of waste arriving from city markets and large-scale retail outlets. The system trialled was designed as a low-cost solution using both open-source technologies and those already available on the market.

The system comprises a visual component, capable of recognising different types of material, and a robotic arm that can intercept and lift material as it passes along conveyor belts inside the treatment facility, adapting itself to the different sizes and other material characteristics.

GREATER PRECISION, MORE RECYCLING

The picking system offers many advantages:

  • Improvement in safety: by enhancing the working conditions of those involved on waste sorting lines
  • Increase in revenue: optimization of the sorting process with possible maximization of volumes of material with a high market value, in addition to the possibility of keeping the sorting plant running for more shifts every day of the week
  • Greater precision: increase in the recyclable materials that are recovered 

OPTIMIZATION OF TIMES AND COSTS, TO THE ADVANTAGE OF THE ENVIRONMENT

The pilot project was successfully concluded, demonstrating that the robotic systems can function as fast as or faster than an operator while maintaining a comparable level of precision in terms of the picking up and recognition of the material. These results are such as to justify continuation of the development and implementation of the robot picking solution in other facilities and on other material flows.

Innovation projects for the Circular Economy