According to the ‘Environmental Statistical Yearbook 2021’ published by the Ministry of Environment last month, the recycling rate of plastic, which accounts for the largest proportion of recycled waste, was 55.8% as of 2020. At present, even the recovery of energy used for heating by incineration of recycled waste is considered as recycling by the statistical system. Since all waste that arrives at the recycling site is recycled, experts believe that the actual recycling rate is up to 20-30%.
An official of the ministry says “The ‘sorting rate’ that separates recyclables from discarded waste is improving every year. There is a need for a certain sorting operation that can actually be recycled and recirculated, and measures to implement it are needed.” In the midst of this, a domestic company that uses robots to introduce innovative products that can increase the sorting rate of recycled waste and increase the efficiency of work is drawing a lot of attention from industry insiders. PowerKorea paid a visit to Aetech and heard the story from CEO Brian Park.
Recycling sorting by human hands will shift to smart resource recycling sorting robot in the future
Plastic waste is recycled according to the various materials and colors of PET (polyethyleneterephthalate), PE (polyethylene), and PP (polypropylene), and the profitability and method of recycling vary. Therefore, it is possible to increase the recycling rate and create resource circulation only through separation and complete sorting. Conversely, if material and color sorting work is not done perfectly, productivity decreases significantly due to problems such as cost and time for recycling, and a lot of recycled waste ends up going to landfills or incinerators. However, in reality, it is very difficult to further subdivide the existing separated discharge system to solve this problem. In the end, we come to the conclusion that more granular sorting is required at the recycling waste plant. However, at present, all recycling sorting operations rely on manpower, which is also near impossible given the soaring labor cost and poor working environment.
Aetech has launched a recycling smart sorting robot ‘Aetron’ to solve this problem. CEO Brian Park says “Sorting by human hands cannot handle all of the ever-increasing amount of recycled waste. In addition, most recycling companies are experiencing severe manpower shortage due to the poor working environment such as human accidents, dust and odors occurring every year. In order to solve this problem, we have developed a smart resource circulation sorting robot ‘Aetron’.”
‘Aetron’, which has learned more than 400,000 data, perfectly selects more than 14 types of recycled waste
‘Transparent plastic bottles’ and ‘G-Pats’ are also perfectly sorted, and up to 96 bottles are sorted in 1 minute, and two workers can easily share
Aetron is a deep-learning artificial intelligence-based ‘smart resource recycling sorting robot’ that completely automates the process of sorting recycled waste by hand. The biggest feature of this product is that it uses a vision-based screening method. Vision quickly scans the countless recycling wastes pouring in through the conveyor belt and analyzes the characteristics of each object. In addition, the robot perfectly selects and sorts recycled waste automatically by artificial intelligence that has deep learning of more than 400,000 data through big data. Under the three broad categories of plastic, glass bottles, and cans, bottles and PETs of various colors such as transparent, green, and white are further subdivided and sorted, of which there are a total of 14 types. The accuracy is quite high, and it has an analysis rate of over 92%. The speed is also very fast, so it is possible to sort up to 96 pieces per minute. The most outstanding part of Aetron’s excellent sorting ability is that it can completely classify ‘transparent plastic bottles’ and ‘disposable transparent plastic cups’. Existing optical sorting machines could not distinguish between transparent plastic bottles and disposable transparent plastic cups due to their structure.
Transparent plastic bottles are the most important recycling resource. Due to its high recycling rate and high business viability, it is reproduced into various upcycled products such as clothing and home appliances. Accordingly, the Ministry of Environment prohibits the use of colored plastic bottles for drinking water, and also mandates separation of transparent plastic bottles in public housing. However, the disposable transparent plastic cup is a ‘PET-G’ product with chemical additives added to make it harder. When mixed with general plastic bottles, it interferes with recycling of transparent plastic bottles. Therefore, PET-G products must also be incinerated or landfilled after reclassification. Also as fruit trays and transparent egg plates that are often discharged at home are PET-G products, and transparent plastic bottles and various transparent plastic products, therefore, must be thoroughly selected.
Existing equipment can be used as it is with a small initial investment, and customized production for each workshop is also possible
With domestic parts and self-made software, it is possible to quickly respond to various recycling policies
Aetron consists of 5 parts: recognition, conversion, analysis, sorting, and monitoring. First of all, there is a recognition unit that detects objects of waste in real time and collects data. The analysis department analyzes the type and characteristics of the waste and sends it to the conversion department. The conversion unit converts the data that the robot can recognize, then sends the type and location of the object to the robot, and the robot of the sorting unit that receives the data goes to the corresponding coordinates and picks and selects. And through the monitoring unit, the manager can monitor the real-time progress of the job.
Aetron can build Aetron’s automation system in existing facilities. The initial investment is relatively low because it is used on the conveyor belt that is already in use. In addition, it is possible to customize according to the layout of each factory, such as the size of the conveyor belt and the structure of the workshop, and it is possible to set the priority of the selected items. Both compressed and uncompressed waste can be sorted, which means that both crushed and original objects can be identified. It is also a great strength to be able to quickly respond to frequently changing government policies because all parts are manufactured by domestic companies and the software is also developed directly.
Up to 80% of operating costs can be reduced by increasing plant operating hours at high speed and high efficiency
After the demonstration project at the Songdo Resource Recovery Center in Incheon, Aetron was introduced and used in a recycling sorting workshop in Korea, where it is actually seeing many effects.
If a manpower does sorting, the number of sorts that can be processed per minute is about 25 to 30. In the case of Aetron, it can select at least 60 pieces per minute, which is equivalent to the role of two people.
If two units are introduced, the effect can be seen to be even greater. The operating time of the plant can be significantly increased. Compared to the average human recycling workshop that operates for 270 to 300 minutes, the use of Aetron can increase the operating time to about 430 minutes or more. By calculating these effects, it is possible to reduce the operating cost of the plant by about 80% compared to the existing operating cost.
|▲ Aetech / CEO Brian Park|
Proving its excellent performance and expected effects, it receives great attention
To become a global environmental specialist through aggressive overseas market development
Aetech established a corporation in 2020 and completed the development of a prototype in April 2021, and was recognized for its performance through technology demonstrations in November 2021 and January 2022, and launched the product on the market. And recently, it received explosive attention from the market by participating in the ‘RETECH 2022 Waste/Resource Circulation Industry Exhibition’. CEO Park plans to develop various environment-related products, starting with Aetron, and grow Aetech into an environment-specialized company. In the meantime, he has received many love calls from various places that confirmed the excellent performance of the product to apply Aetron’s system to various industries, but he did not waver.
From next year, he plans to accelerate overseas markets expansion. Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, which have high GDP and narrow land, where resource circulation is important, are the primary target markets, and the Chinese market is also being considered. Lastly, CEO Park said, “Currently, we are focusing on R&D for downsizing our equipment. After succeeding in miniaturization, we plan to distribute the product to households as well.”
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