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Robots put to work on scrap

Australia – Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales believe that they have automated the process of disassembling liquid crystal display (LCD) screens for recycling.

The team has programmed industrial robots to learn and memorise how screens are designed, remove the display and printed circuit board without damaging them, and apply this knowledge to unfamiliar models such that they continue to work quickly and limit mistakes.

‘We’ve successfully proven that you can teach a robot to disassemble LCD screens,’ says Professor Sami Kara. ‘They break one or two but then they learn, and they don’t make the same mistake again.’

The robots would be especially helpful for limiting human exposure to potentially toxic materials used in electronics, according to Kara. And he thinks the approach could be adapted for recycling other products such as lithium batteries. Proven in the lab, the technology is now ready for industrial trials.

Additional robots could be incorporated into the set-up to handle e-scrap as it is loaded or unloaded from a robot performing disassembly, notes Kara. ‘You could isolate them in a cubicle, dump the screens in, and have them work 24/7 non-stop,’ he says.

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