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Smart sorting robot stood out at Pollutec

Almost 70 000 industry professionals visited Lyon for Pollutec, the leading trade show in France. They witnessed the latest innovations from 2 200 exhibitors covering recycling, clean energy, waste, water and air management.

For most, Pollutec was a milestone in a strange time as the international event was the first big opportunity to share best practices in the aftermath of Covid-19 shutdowns. It was heartening to see a total of 623 new products unveiled at the show.

There was also a special route dedicated to the circular economy which included 372 stands. Another route called ‘Sustainable Cities’ showcased 380 projects from around the world. Around 30% of the exhibitors came this year from outside France and countries particularly well represented were:

  • Germany
  • UK
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Luxembourg
  • China

More embrace robotics

A show-stealer was definitely the MAX AI robotic sorter by Bulk Handling Systems. ‘We’ve had lots of people of all ages stop by ever since the show started,’ exclaims sales manager Daniel Damman. ‘Youngsters and engineering students especially have taken a liking to the machine, asking tonnes of questions and following the robotic arm’s movements across the belt. It’s wonderful to be back at a trade show with such a large and dynamic demonstration that shows you how the system works in real time.’

The sorting unit can sort virtually any type of material. During the live demonstration, it was programmed to pick up high density polyethylene (HDPE). Damman says the task of giving the machine proper instructions on what to sort and how fast to operate (the robot averages about 60 picks per minute) can easily be underestimated.

‘It takes our crew a couple of weeks to train the artificial intelligence system what it needs to do. We build a dedicated neural network for each robotic sorter, even if we only use it for showcase purposes.’ For that reason, the machine is ‘going on tour’ after Pollutec and will be on display at Ecomondo in Rimini, Italy and during the Plastics Recyclers Europe Show in Amsterdam. ‘Who knows where the robot will travel in the new year?’ Damman adds with a laugh.

He observes that interest in robotic sorting grew during the pandemic. ‘It makes sense, seeing as recyclers were concerned about the safety of their manual workers. The global health scare also made recyclers realise that robotic sorters don’t get sick – ever. They work, no matter what the circumstances.’ Across Europe, several orders were placed to have the MAX AI unit tackle medical waste which includes face masks and syringes.

Damman isn’t afraid of competition: ‘Robotic sorting is the future, it’s that simple. I’m glad that recyclers are finally embracing this technology now. Of course, that comes with a fair share of copycats. But we know what our machine is capable of.’

UK firm Recycleye has recently raised £3.5 million in a new round of funding.
The team aims to scale-up operations and help get robotic sorting to the next level.

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