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Finland presents eye-opener in black plastics sorting

More than one million tonnes of black plastic scrap are wasted in Europe every year due to the lack of ‘suitable’ sorting equipment, says Finnish tech company Specim. Since the material has a value of EUR 600 per tonne, it sought a solution to recycle this tricky waste stream.

Even the most modern sorting technology struggles to detect the pigment in black plastics, says Specim ceo Tapio Kallonen. He proudly presented his company’s ‘breakthrough’, the FX50, at the annual expo organised by Plastics Recyclers Europe in Amsterdam earlier this month. Kallonen was referring to Specim’s custom-made mid-wavelength infra-red (MWIR) camera.

Black plastic products come in all shapes and sizes…

Its vision is a step up from near infrared (NIR) sensors used in most recycling lines as the camera offers 100% imaging coverage. The FX50 ‘can see the invisible’, Kallonen teases. The equipment works in a line-scan mode and collects hyperspectral data in the medium wavelength infrared region 2.7-5.3 μm. Such a set-up realises ‘high-speed, accurate and efficient’ sorting of metal scrap as well as plastics, the ceo explains.

The material identification result, pixel by pixel, is available through a standard interface to commercial machine vision systems. Data analysis results are directly communicated to the sorting machines, such as robots or air jets, through existing commercial software.

The sorting software ensures all data received from individual Specim cameras can be compared and different units in one system work ‘seamlessly’ together, Kallonen says. Extending the system by adding cameras is easy, he adds, as ‘there is no need for calibration’.

Specim is based in Oulu, in the heart of Finland. The company develops various robotics and spectroscopy solutions and created the black plastics sorting camera ‘specifically with heavy-duty industrial environments in mind’.  Finland currently recycles approximately 15% of its household plastics.

Specim is eager to take FX50 on a world tour. After Amsterdam, Kallonen says the next stop is Las Vegas for the Waste Expo from 7-9 May, with the company at booth 5110.

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