There are changes in WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) processing taking place right now, many of which are shifting away from traditional, labour intensive, inefficient, and mostly manual processes to the utilisation of automation and intelligent robotic solutions for materials recovery from WEEE.
The drivers for this shift, which have, to date, primarily been the antonyms to the above adjectives, namely, modern, lean, efficient and developing processes with a lower labour demand, have now been joined
The world of manufacturing has benefited from the advance of automation and robotics with safe, fast, customisable, and fully automated processes used in the assembly of many of the day-to-day gadgets used today.
For WEEE management, automating non-homogenous processes come with their own challenges and are not always simply a matter of buying off the shelf. Manufacturers are now faced with problems such as reduced reliance on labour and adhering to social distancing in the workplace. When searching for the best process that will benefit them, automation is rising as a ‘must have’, rather than a ‘would like to have’. WEEE Management will benefit tremendously from flexible automation trialled and tested in manufacturing.
Along with this, more is being done to try and efficiently unlock the valuable resources in WEEE. Automation is one answer to the development of new ways to process WEEE more effectively with greater recovery of valuable raw materials.
Within automation, Intelligent flexible automation disassembly is the technology that is taking an ever greater role in solving WEEE processing problems, adapting to the shortcomings of traditionally used technologies, be they manual dismantling or mechanical methods based on shredding, and multi-stage separation of materials.
A Quick Look At General Waste...
General Waste Management requires a lot of sorting of household and commercial waste. AMP Robotics are the leader in the supply of intelligent robotics systems to the waste management industries and are at the forefront of the trend toward automation for worker safety and operational continuity for what is classed an essential industry. Interest in their automated solutions has increased in the past few months as, as low paid already difficult and unpleasant jobs, have the additional fear of infected materials needing to be sorted as well as difficult implementation of social distancing.
The advancement in Artificial Intelligence and deep learning (able to learn and remember misshapen / squashed / dirty items) is what sets the current crop of automated systems apart from what we had before.
Now, Back to WEEE!
Manual disassembly is a very adaptable way of processing the wide variety of different electrical and electronic equipment waste. It is also the method which has a high recovery rate (important within compliance of treatment standards such as WEEELABEX) of raw materials. However, manual dismantling has a high cost in more than just hour rates, it is highly labour intensive and requires direct human contact with waste. Manual dismantling is based on removing the components from the devices and separating these by material composition. Manual component extraction, removing hazardous and valuable components which must not be processed together, is often the precursor to mechanical treatment of waste.
Mechanical treatment of waste is based on shredding and granulating processes, followed by magnetic separation and further processing to obtain clean, pure fractions. Significantly, this results in smaller and smaller fractions where economical continued separation requires huge volumes and separation systems and has a significant energy demand.
Intelligent Robots, Flexible Automation and dismantling will become to change, for certain WEEE types, as recyclers chose alternatives to traditional technologies, (shredding and manual processing). They combine the advantages of traditional technologies in being able to adapt to various WEEE types and obtaining high purity of removed raw materials at minimum energy demand. The additional advantages are the significant increased processing capacity with no human contact with hazardous waste.
Robotics applications in waste dismantling are being continuously refined. As a reverse of the manufacturing process (by robots) the ‘how-to’ information is to hand. The challenge of WEEE returns. Automating the processing of damaged, squashed, and broken items, remains as the significant differentiator between clean-room assembly and waste dis-assembly.
Clean plastic, different grades of circuit board, cabling and metal are the valuable fractions which will be generated.
How? It is a matter of choice.