Robots come to Michigan MRF
Amp Robotics

Robots come to Michigan MRF

Emmet County, Michigan, installs three AI-based robots with $800,000 EGLE grant.

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December 24, 2019

Emmet County, Michigan, is in the process of making $2.4 million in upgrades at its material recovery facility (MRF), including extending presort lines, installing a glass breaker screen to break and separate glass and adding three artificial intelligence (AI) robots provided by Colorado-based Amp Robotics.

The upgrades will help replace old equipment at the MRF, which the county purchased 10 years ago from Outagamie County, Wisconsin, improve efficiencies and reduce labor costs , says Andi Shepherd, recycling director for Emmet County Recycling.

“We say we recycle on recycled equipment,” Shepherd says. “It is time we upgrade the technology and equipment.”

Earlier this year, Emmet County received an $800,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for the upgrades. The county is also working with New York-based Closed Loop Partners to receive a $1 million loan, as well as other industry partners to cover the rest of the costs, Shepherd says.

Emmet County Public Works Department operates the MRF at the Emmet County Recycling, Composting and Waste Transfer Station. The MRF serves three rural northern Michigan counties and processes 11,000 tons of recyclables per year. Shepherd says the contamination rate at the MRF is about 5 percent, which she attributes to the county’s dual-stream program that has been in place since 2010.

“We have had a lot of big successes this year,” she says. “Markets are as low as they are, but we’re able to keep operating because we’re able to provide such a clean material for the end markets, and I do think that is mostly because of dual-stream.”

The MRF will extend its container presort lines from four sorting stations to 10, Shepherd says, which will help remove contaminated materials from the line. Also, the MRF currently hand sorts clear glass from colored glass. The installation of the new glass breaker screen will decrease labor costs, she adds.

The robots will be sorting plastic containers, paper and aluminum. Typically, Amp Robotics will install the robots’ vision system on the sorting lines two to three months in advance of installing the robots to learn the material stream, Shepherd says. She adds the robots will help with seasonal labor shortages at the MRF.

“We’re in a very seasonal area,” Shepherd says. “Our population quadruples in the summertime and because of that the amount of material coming through increases as well. At that time, there are more appealing jobs, like landscaping. It’s hard for us to find additional labor.”

The county also is adding an enclosed area with a conveyor, where the robots can sort material even after the MRF shuts down for the day, she says.

“If there’s material left for the robots to sort, they can sort after the sorters leave for the day, and that will decrease the amount of overtime that we pay,” Shepherd says.

Of the EGLE grant, Shepherd says, “It’s been a really good year for recycling in Michigan given the national and international circumstances.”