ZenRobotics: Automated Sorting of Recyclables

Automation is hitting all sectors of the economy, and the recycling industry isn’t an exception. ZenRobotics has introduced automated sorting technology to MRFs around Europe and the U.S., specializing in recycling Construction and Demolition (C&D) generated waste. The Finnish based company utilizes AI technology, which has up to a 98% purity rate in separating out large materials such as Wood, Bulky Plastics, Ferrous Metals, Cardboard, and Stone at various material grades in quality. As stated by VP of Operations for Plexus Recycling, ZenRobotics’ U.S. based sales partner, William Hancock, the algorithms are the “secret sauce” teaching the robotic sorting arms size, shape, density, and infrared frequency. These are the techniques the computer uses to identify material crossing the conveyor belt even as new ones are introduced to the process continuously. Not only that, but the robots can be programmed to choose more valuable commodities to optimize profitability. As materials pass, the program can prioritize which materials to choose within its limited picking speed.


ZenRobotics also offers a reporting tool feature that complements their sorting hardware. The online reporting tool is available using a PC, tablet or smartphone, and can give the user instant excess to the inbound waste stream’s raw data and analysis on the ongoing composition. This is waste characterization at a major scale and sheds light on the material at an almost census level, which provides invaluable information to the controlling MRF. Thank goodness technology wizards haven’t come up with a robot that can accurately sort wet waste yet, or I’d be plum out of a job. Check out the technology’s user interface below:


Although, for those individuals who have already, or soon will lose their job, this technology isn’t very popular. There is some discussion whether this kind of technology should be shelved due to its power to erase human jobs on the sorting line. Arguments on both sides follow the standard rhetoric, except for the fact that the solid waste industry happens to be the sixth most dangerous industry in the U.S. economy based on work-related fatalities. To recycling processors, safety is a central concern. No facility wants to be in the news for a work-related death or experience an accident on-site. Therefore, ZenRobotics boasts that their sorting arms virtually eliminate all risk of accident by taking humans out of the equation. Contamination levels are also minimized by eradicating any mis-throws by workers who are experiencing apathy or fatigue, and the processing can continue 24/7 rather than in 8-hour shifts. The end product is much cleaner and this particular blogger can get behind anything that makes recycling more profitable and desirable for the end-market.

For a cool video of the robots at work click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1gO6Qsb6tQ



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