Altshausen, Germany-based Stadler has teamed with Finland-based ZenRobotics and Finnish environmental services firm Remeo Oy to help design and equip an automated sorting and recycling plant near Finland’s capital city Helsinki.
Stadler says it designed the materials recovery facility (MRF) in collaboration with Remeo, and it was equipped in part with ZenRobotics-supplied artificial intelligence (AI)-based robotic sorting technology. The facility also stands out, say the companies, for integrating commercial and Industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) lines in the same plant. Stadler calls this “an industry first.”
The facility was completed ahead of schedule, despite difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic, which Stadler calls a “testament to the successful collaboration between Remeo, Stadler and ZenRobotics.”
The new Remeo MRF was inaugurated on Feb. 14 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Remeo CEO Johan Mild and Business Director Mauri Lielahti. The Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs, Mika Lintillä cut the ribbon, declaring the facility officially open, and referred to the “significant leap forward” the facility constitutes for the Finnish circular economy.
Design challenges tied to the MRF involved combining a C&D plant capable of processing 30 tons per hour with a C&I plant with 15 tons per hour of capacity—both with a high level of automation.
“The combination of our experience with the C&D line, Stadler’s solid familiarity with the C&I line and ZenRobotics’ impressive knowledge of robotics made this an excellent cooperation with the best results,” says Lielahti. “We appreciated Stadler’s capability to be innovative, its willingness to seek new solutions and that they were ready to listen to the customer’s needs. We have been working closely with ZenRobotics since 2014 and have a continuous development cooperation. Thanks to the knowledge we acquired on our older recycling facility, we knew what we should and should not do. It has been easy to work with them.”
The result of this collaboration is a design that “combines ballistic separators, screening drums, three-dimensional drums, optical sorters, air separators, sorting robots, magnets, eddy currents as well as the ZenRobotics robots, making it the most advanced [recyclable materials] sorting facility in the European Union,” says Nikolaus Hofmann, a sales engineer at Stadler.
Juha Mieskonen, head of sales at ZenRobotics, says, “The Remeo facility is equipped with 12 robot arms that pick objects from bulky C&D waste that weigh up to 30 kilograms [66 pounds], and together perform up to 24,000 picks per hour. In other words, the robots do all the heavy lifting that’s neither safe nor feasible for humans. They sort multiple fractions on the spot, including different qualities of wood, metals, stone and plastic. The robots can be trained to recognize new fractions if needed, thanks to various sensors and AI.”
He continues, “The facility integrates two different processing lines and features two consecutive robot systems on each line. It’s the largest fully roboticized MRF of its kind, which brought new operations and safety aspects to take into consideration in the design.”
“The most innovative aspects of the design can be described with the ‘form from function’ principle,” says Hofmann. “The layout is designed for easy maintenance, with almost every motor being accessible from walkways and maintenance platforms. The layout groups similar equipment together where possible and allows future possibility of extension. The dedusting system with multiple suction points across the whole plant and two large filter units installed outside the building further adds to the plant’s cleanliness.”
The construction process was complicated by the pandemic, starting from getting the assembly team on site. Remarks Hofmann, “We had to improvise a lot and focus all our efforts to keep to the schedule.”
In spite of these difficulties, the project was completed three and a half months ahead of schedule. “This was a great achievement, particularly in the time of the pandemic,” says Mieskonen.
The annual processing capacity of the facility is 120,000 metric tons of construction materials and 60,000 metric tons of materials generated from C&D sources. The Remeo MRF will take in more than 30 percent of all scrap materials generated in the Helsinki region, say the companies. Its efficient recycling capabilities also will help Remeo’s customers meet a minimum 70 percent recycling rate required by law in Finland.