Monthly Archives

December 2019

Scenarios definition by GAIKER

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GAIKER starts the definition of scenarios in which innovative pilot studies of the recycling of WEEE (Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment) based on human-robot collaboration will be demonstrated.

The continuous technological development has increased the types and amounts of electric and electronic equipment (EEE) that are used daily by both industries and citizens. Additionally, as result of their continuous improvement and evolution, the devices have shorter life cycles and rapidly reach the end of life stage and become waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) that needs to be properly managed.

The grouping of the waste equipment by homogeneous batches prior to its treatment, the depollution (safe removal of potentially hazardous components or substances), the reclamation of reusable parts or assemblies and the separation of recyclable materials in fractions generated after the treatment of depolluted equipment, are the main stages included in the management of those complex products. Important innovations have been implemented in these operations during recent years but still comprise many actions that require considerable amounts of manual labour and demand experienced and skilled workers that make physical efforts and execute repetitive movements.

In this context, the HR-Recycler Project, funded by the H2020 Program of the EU under GA 820742 and coordinated by the Greek CERTH (Centre for Research and Technology Hellas), was started in December 2018. Its objective is creating collaborative environments between human and robots, where the tasks associated to handling and processing of WEEE, as classification of units, dismantling and removal of parts or concentration of material fractions, can be shared. GAIKER, as a research organisation expert in the design, development, testing and assessment of new recycling processes, has initiated the definition of scenarios in which the management of WEEE, based on human-robot collaboration, will be demonstrated and assessed. That work will start with the detailed description of plants lay-outs, robots, movements, navigation routes and interactions with workers. It will continue with the technical validation to measure increases in efficiency and productivity and the social life cycle assessment (SLCA) to determine the benefit in terms of increase of job quality associated to the sharing of task between humans and robots.

Treatment of WEEE and market characteristics!

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Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is one the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, growing at 3-5% per year, with a generation above 12 million tonnes estimated for 2020. WEEE is a complex mixture of valuable materials that can cause major environmental and health problems if not properly managed due to their hazardous content. The improvement of WEEE prevention, collection and recovery is essential to boost circular economy and enhance resource efficiency, which require new approaches in the design, manufacturing, use and end of life (EoL) of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

Legal requirements

The first WEEE Directive (2002/96/EC) provided a legal framework in order to structure the WEEE management, promote the recycling and avoid its landfill. However, the recast WEEE Directive (2012/19/EU) entered into force in 2012, setting out ambitious targets for the following terms:

  • Collection: gathering of waste, including the preliminary sorting and preliminary storage of waste for the purposes of transport to a waste treatment facility
  • Recovery: any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function, in the plant or in the wider economy
  • Preparation for re-use: checking, cleaning or repairing recovery operations, by which products or components of products that have become waste are prepared so that they can be re-used without any other pre-processing
  • Recycling: any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes

What are we doing?

Facing this situation, specialized companies such as INDUMETAL, carry out the integral handling of WEEE and complex scraps. Firstly, the WEEE is classified and then depolluted removing the hazardous components by means of a specific procedures and processes. Once depolluted, the wastes are introduced in the recycling process where, following successive steps of grinding, size reduction, mechanic separation and concentration steps, several materials from electronic scraps are separated and concentrated.

However, despite the effort of the recycling companies, only one-third of WEEE in the EU is being reported by compliance schemes as separately collected and managed. The remaining two-thirds are either collected by unregistered companies and treated or even illegally exported, or disposed of as part of residual waste.

The total amount of WEEE properly collected in the EU was 3.9 million tonnes in 2015; 88% of this amount was recovered, whilst the amount recycled/re-used was 81%, with re-use only representing 1.4%. These rates have been sufficient in the past, but now the targets are more ambitious and it is critical to make stronger efforts.

What should we do in the future?

At present, the main driving forces for WEEE treatment are the removal of hazardous substances and the recycling of metals, since they have a high market price and have so far contributed mostly to meet the WEEE recovery/recycling targets. However, other alternative and complementary solutions are still needed to move the EEE sector towards a true circular economy, allowing to reach the regulatory targets and helping to reduce the illegal export of WEEE and the derived impacts.

In this framework, HR-Recycler project is focused on the development of a ‘hybrid human-robot recycling plant for electrical and electronic equipment’ operating in an indoor environment, replacing thus multiple currently manual, expensive, hazardous and time-consuming tasks of the WEEE materials pre-processing. Attending to these objectives, HR-RECYCLER project expects to improve current WEEE treatment practices, extracting, sorting and classifying different components and concentrated fractions with a higher economic and environmental value.

With this project, INDUMETAL gets close to these new concepts of collaboration and automatization, expecting that the achieved results will allow the company: (1) to stand out as a leading company in technologies applied to the treatment of WEEE and (2) to improve the current working conditions, the productivity and the process costs.

Disassembling E-Waste: Mimicking the human-way of exploring objects

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Recycling of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is a process still heavily based on manual tasks performed by human workers. HR-Recycler is developing a hybrid human-robot setup to replace currently manual tasks that are largely hazardous, time consuming, and expensive. Through the project, researchers from the Chair of Automatic Control Engineering at the Technical University of Munich have been developing methods that allow the robot to safety and robustly disassemble WEEE into recyclable components. One of the unique approaches to their work is how a robot is used not only for disassembling objects, but also to feel and understand the object characteristics, like a human does.

Technical Challenge

One of the challenges in robot-based object disassembly is removal of an outer shell or casing – these are common in products such as PC towers, microwave ovens and emergency lamps. The outer shells of modern devices are usually held together with multiple fixtures (e.g., screws). The precise locations and types of fixtures vary greatly between objects. When disassembling devices without knowing their construction details, fixtures are easily missed – either because they are not visible, such as snap-in fixtures, or because they are not properly recognized, for example when screws are recessed.  Despite the impressive progress in computer vision techniques,  visual data can only provide very limited information about materials and their properties, inside structures and general mechanical design.

Robotic solution

For unknown object exploration, humans do not solely rely on visual information, but also take further sensory information into account. It is promising to analyze and reproduce human behavior. Mimicking the human way of exploring unknown objects from haptic information bears a high potential towards improving robotic perception for unknown and complex objects. Using haptic feedback as an alternative source of information further allows improving the knowledge about the surroundings of the robot in terms of actually feeling the properties of objects. This approach, known as “haptic exploration”, significantly improves object identification over purely vision-based methods.

Thus, the challenge of exploring and identifying unknown objects is tackled by augmenting uncertain prior knowledge from the vision data with haptic information. The location of missing fixtures is determined through probing the case structure by bending it from multiple locations in order to identify a model for the structure and hidden fixtures like a human would do.