What if your optical sorter simply knew what was there? Until now, optical sorting has offered material recovery facility (MRF) operators binary choices, such as: Is that plastic container polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or not? Max-AI® technology is changing that, and it is the single most impactful innovation in the history of optical sorting.

By integrating Max-AI Visual Identification System (VIS) technology with National Recovery Technologies (NRT) SpydIR® optical sorters, an expanding array of sorting capabilities becomes available. No longer are MRF operators limited to choices based on identifying material type by molecular composition using near-infrared (NIR) technology or by color using line-scan RGB technology. With the integration of Max-AI, MRF operators can greatly increase their optical sorting parameters.

Like the human eye but better

Max-AI technology identifies items similar to how a person does, using sight and thought. This intelligence has taken off with the Max-AI AQC robotic sorters, but we at NRT have some ideas of our own. When coupled with our SpydIR optical sorter, the speed of the optical sorter and its ability to detect material composition at very high confidence levels are retained. We are also able to add this entirely new layer of detection that opens the door to many new applications. The pairing allows MRF operators to perform 10 to 20 times more picks per minute than a person or a robotic QC unit. And the optical unit won’t confuse a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bottle with a PET bottle as a person might.

Because Max-AI technology works like a human eye and brain do, Max-AI is different from optical sorters; it’s not limited to either/or decisions based on color, material type or any other single defining characteristic. Max actually sees and identifies what’s on the conveyor belt: a PET tray, 12 PET bottles, a tin can wrapped in paper, a loose label and some aluminum cans. This neural network gives Max-AI the ability to differentiate between PET bottles and PET thermoforms, for example, whereas an NIR optical sorter would identify the PET in the material stream. With this additional information from Max-AI, the optical sorter can then eject the PET bottle and not the PET tray.

This trend carries forward with many types of materials – PET is not always the PET you want to capture, and the same goes for cardboard and paper and other types of containers. Metal cans with paper labels are no challenge for this technology, though an optical sorter might identify the surface material as fiber and eject them from the container stream. The combination is capable of separating food-grade plastic containers from nonfood-grade containers and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) rigids from traditional HDPE containers. It can even be programmed to send color card, such as cereal, beer and soda boxes, to the old corrugated container (OCC) stream. That is an amazing array of sorting specificity!

Increase recovery and purity

The expanded sorting capabilities you’ll gain by adding an NRT optical sorter with Max-AI technology to your MRF bring tremendous benefits.

You’ll increase the purity of your commodities dramatically without increasing the number of people you employ. Additionally, you’ll upgrade the products you recover, producing PET bottle bales free from thermoforms, for instance. You will no longer lose metal cans with paper labels to the fiber stream.

In one case study, when measured by weight, the purity on the fiber ejects without the addition of Max-AI was 30%. This was caused by heavy metal objects with fiber sleeves, such as soup cans—keep in mind, the optical sorter was doing its job detecting the fiber labels, but the end-result was obviously not ideal. Following the integration of Max-AI with the optical sorter, purity leaped to more than 90%. The revenue loss from ejecting metals also was eliminated, further improving profitability.

The technology improves the overall efficiency of your MRF by greatly reducing the burden on downstream equipment as well as the amount of material going to the QC line. This makes your QC sorters—whether manual sorters or robotics—more effective. In California and other bottle redemption states, this means eliminating the need to QC trays from PET bottles. The decreased burden on the QC position frees up the sorter to remove more contamination, increasing product purity.

Deeper insight into your operations

As a standalone product, Max-AI VIS is a cost-effective way to monitor material composition throughout the sorting process. It can be used to verify the quality of end products or to monitor the quantity of recyclables in your residue as it leaves the system. The NRT SpydIR with Max-AI provides operators with the same intelligence. Our Total Intelligence Platform displays this data in real time and as trends over time. You can compare material composition for the day, week, month or any other period.

The Total Intelligence Platform monitors and tracks throughput, uptime, downtime events, material composition, motor amperage and performance data from optical sorters and Max-AI technology. It even provides information external to the recycling system but vital to operational success, including inbound and outbound weights, bales shipped and bales on hand by commodity.

Armed with all this information, your MRF becomes more dynamic and responsive. Based on feedback you receive from the Total Intelligence Platform, you can accommodate changes in incoming material streams in real time and become immediately aware of performance changes. You’ll also get insight into the implications of your equipment maintenance practices.

By integrating Max-AI with your optical sorter and incorporating the Total Intelligence Platform, you’re not only improving your detection and sorting capabilities, you’re also getting reliable data on the performance of your system. The technology provides you a MRF that is readily adaptable to changes in the material stream as well as to market fluctuations—dare I say, a future-proof MRF!

When you invest in optical sorting with Max-AI and the Total Intelligence Platform, you’ll find a rapid ROI as you’re able to produce higher value commodities and mine more valuable materials. You’re accomplishing what other high-volume sorting technology cannot while also gaining a deeper knowledge of your material stream. With the ability to see material trends over time, you can make better decisions regarding how to best employ your advanced sorting capabilities.

Ease of integration

You might think that adding Max-AI technology to an existing optical sorter will require considerable downtime given the expanded sorting capabilities that it offers. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however.

Max-AI technology basically plugs in to the optical sorter’s decision-making capability to provide an additional level of detection. Integrating Max-AI into an existing SpydIR optical sorter is a fairly straightforward and seamless process, particularly with the latest generation of our optical technology. With minimal downtime, a facility can add previously unheard-of versatility to its existing sorting capabilities.

We’d love to work with you to explore how Max-AI and the Total Intelligence Platform can improve the performance of your MRF. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

The author is Matthias Erdmannsdoerfer, President of National Recovery Technologies (NRT), Nashville, Tennessee.

NRT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bulk Handling Systems. Eugene, Oregon, USA, 866-688-2066, BulkHandlingSystems.com, NRTsorters.com