Many MRFs across the UK were designed 10 or 15 years ago, and are now reaching the age where they need to be either replaced or require a substantial upgrade if they are to compete in today’s market.
When first built, such plants would have been cutting-edge. But there have been significant advances in technology since then, along with changes in working practices and much more stringent quality requirements from end markets with regards to reduced contamination.
With investment in new facilities slowing down and an increasingly competitive marketplace, for some MRF operators it really is a case of having to upgrade and automate to survive.
The primary reason behind an upgrade is nearly always the need to increase capacity and throughput to keep operating costs down and maximise profits. Plants have to operate longer hours and deliver higher throughput using reduced manpower.
And this is where automation comes in. Sorting technology can work faster and more consistently to deliver economies of scale. For MRF operators, it is all about getting the best price for the recovered material, and technology is the key to achieving this.
Upgrading an MRF does not come without its issues: space can be one of the main challenges. In most cases, it is unlikely that the original MRF would have been built with a later extension in mind. Trying to fit everything required for an upgrade into the footprint of an existing MRF can certainly prove difficult for plant builders.
Integration of the old and new plant is also a key consideration. When you need to add a new piece of equipment to an existing one, which may be from a different supplier, accuracy is key. Equipment needs to fit together to within 10mm, which would have been very difficult with drawings but is achievable with the use of 3D digital mapping scanning.
Using this process, data from the old equipment can be incorporated into the 3D design of the new plant to ensure they fit together exactly. The data from the scan can be directly integrated into Stadler’s 3D model to ensure that all equipment fits precisely.
Another aspect of upgrades that needs careful consideration is when a plant requires a control system update.
In some cases, the plant builder delivering the upgrade project will not have built the original plant. In this situation, it is worth considering replacing the plant’s entire operating system because having old and new controls operating in the same plant can present a number of integration problems.
Although the typical lifespan of an MRF is 10 years – depending on the type of material being produced – a well-planned and ex- ecuted upgrade can extend its life for another 10 years or more.
It is certainly an investment that will pay off in the long-term – something that more and more operators are recognising.
Trevor Smart, UK sales manager of Stadler UK
Before you start: key considerations for an MRF upgrade
- Ensure you are already maximising performance of your existing MRF before you begin any upgrade work
- Understanding your infeed material in-depth is vital
- Understand your end markets and their specific requirements
- Do not underestimate the amount of space required: include storage of raw in-feed material, space for processing equipment and storage space for the end baled product
- Do your sums: look very carefully at the finances and your business plan
- Do not underestimate how much time it will take for the upgrade: a period of shutdown will be essential
- Bring in the experts: collaboration is key to an effective upgrade