The Max-AI autonomous quality control (AQC) from Bulk Handling Systems (BHS). The equipment combines an artificially intelligent vision system that recognises recyclables and a robotic sorter to grab and place them into the proper chutes.
The equipment is able to pick up to six items at rates of 65 picks per minute.
Why did you buy it?
This equipment is so new to the industry that nothing compares. Whereas optical sorters use vision systems to identify recyclables, they sense by material type or colour: metal, different grades of plastics, wood, fibre and so on.
Optical sorters separate high volumes of material, normally by making one decision at a time – for example, PET plastics are ejected and then aluminium by another piece of equipment.
The Max-AI sorts in the QC role of a manual sorter but with superior speed, accuracy, safety and endurance – we could employ it over multiple shifts.
Max-AI technology also recognises the material with neural network technology: like facial recognition for recyclables. This means it is not as limited as an optical sorter in terms of what it can eject. For example, Max could separate trays from bottles that are made of the same material.
What was your criteria?
The equipment replaces two manual sorters, who will be moved to other positions, and will add a technology position to our staff. With high rates of employee turnover in this field, Max will help us to maintain consistently efficient operations.
How did you research your purchase?
We met Steve Almond of BHS at RWM 2017, where we looked at the Max-AI and we also did some research through the internet. We have always been aware of robotic systems and believe the industry will go down this route.
With no other company in the country having made the move into this process, we decided to make a flying visit to the US and look at Penn Waste, where the first Max unit was installed. We were very impressed with the performance, as is Penn Waste.
How many options did you consider and what were they?
This is a new, ground-breaking technology without comparison.
What did the equipment have to achieve?
The Max-AI AQC needs to perform as well or better than our manual sorting alternative.
Were there any other considerations to the purchase?
We are always looking for the best equipment solutions to service the needs of ourselves and our customers. That means finding the highest value and best use for the recoverables that are sent to our plant and in the most cost-effective way possible.
It is also important to our stakeholders that we minimise what is sent to landfill. This equipment checks all the boxes.
How does the equipment fit in with your company’s future plans?
The successful deployment of this technology could lead to further automation of our operations. Our vision is to have a fully autonomous sort line.
Is the equipment future proofed?
The Max-AI AQC is flexible – the AI can adapt to changing material streams, based on material mix and type (new containers, the rise of flexible packaging and so on).
Updates are made remotely, so we are not stuck with old technology. If a person can identify a material type, so too can Max.
We can also adjust prioritisation decisions based on end markets. For example, if one plastic becomes more valuable than another, that is a simple adjustment to Max to change the priority.
Jamie Smith is the general manager at Green Recycling.