philipp knopp tomra
Philipp Knopp, product manager at Tomra Sorting Recycling.
Photo provided by Tomra Sorting Recycling

Tomra claims elevated results with Flying Beam

Company says its Flying Beam “empowers light intensity for advanced sorting accuracy.”

August 25, 2020

Germany-based Tomra Sorting Recycling, part of Norway’s Tomra Systems ASA, says its Flying Beam, one of several new or upgraded products for 2020, represents an engineering advancement in the automated sorting sector.

Tomra Recycling Product Manager Philipp Knopp has offered his point of view on several topics pertaining to what the Flying Beam does differently and what it might be able to help recycling plant operators accomplish if they deploy it.

Question: Can you explain what this technology is used for and how it works?

Philipp Knopp: At Tomra, we continuously develop pioneering technologies and introduced the first version of our patented Flying Beam technology in 2012. Only recently, we launched its latest version with the market introduction of our new generation AutoSort in our live launch event on June 9.

Flying Beam is our core technology and guarantees a homogenous light distribution across the entire conveyor belt, thus leading to better detection of materials and consistent sorting performance. It is not positioned outside the sorting system but directly inside the scanner, where the lamps are protected from any contamination that could negatively affect belt illumination. During operation, the integrated high-performing lamps shine on a rotating mirror, which in turn distributes the light homogenously over the entire belt. The light emitted by the lamps then penetrates and gets absorbed by the materials transported on the fast-moving conveyor belt.

Only partial light (nonabsorbed light) is reflected to the rotating mirror and passed on to the sensor, which then detects the specific wavelength of light in near-infrared. In the following step, algorithms classify the material, decide whether to eject or drop the material and send the respective signal to the machine’s valves, which sort the material accordingly. By our illumination unit covering the entire belt, no information gets lost and classification is enhanced to get the purest sorting results.

Question: Is Tomra’s Flying Beam technology applicable for all your machines and applications? 

Philipp Knopp: Current waste streams are changing rapidly and differ from country to country, depending on their individual waste management systems and infrastructures. These dynamics make it imperative to have technologies in place that can classify various materials and generate pure and high-quality sorting results.

Our Flying Beam technology is not only unique in its setup, but it is versatile in usage and can be reliably applied across almost all applications, ranging from municipal solid waste (MSW) and household waste to deinking and polymer applications (dry recyclable, PET, PP, etc.). Even dusty environments don’t impair the performance of the illumination unit, as it is enclosed in the scanner box. Light or easily flammable materials can be processed safely since the illumination setup stays cool and doesn’t pose a fire hazard.

Question: What improvements have been made compared to the previous version?

Philipp Knopp: Our latest update, released with our new generation AutoSort, provides even stronger light source and distribution. This amplified output has nearly doubled the light intensity and maximized the signals that return to the sensor after penetrating the material while maintaining the same energy consumption.

What makes Flying Beam in our latest generation AutoSort so special is its combination with our Sharp Eye technology, which is now incorporated as standard in the latest AutoSort. This combination bundles the light of the internal lamps to identify chemical property differences and the finest molecular differences of the material. As a result, more material information is gathered, and greater sorting accuracy is realized.

Translated into figures, we can proudly state that, depending on the application, product quality levels increase from between 2 to 5 percent.

Question: What does it mean for your customers?

Philipp Knopp: First, by means of an intensified light source, more information can be extracted from the materials, analyzed and used to make a fact-based decision as of what material to keep or to sort out. More light results in more information and more precise sorting. Our first experiences in deinking from mixed [paper] have shown that by means of our new technology, purity levels of greater than 95 to 96 percent can be achieved. This is much more compared to what can be attained by manual sorting. However, the advancements made are not limited to a single application only. For instance, good results have also been achieved in multilayer and thermoform sorting and further applications that are equally promising.

Considering the near-infrared (NIR) sensor, which is very sensitive to temperature shifts, customers benefit from the technology’s continuous calibration. In very difficult environments, temperatures vary from 8 C to 28 C (46 F  to 82 F), which can negatively impact the sensor’s signals, and thus the entire sorting result. Our continuous calibration counteracts these effects by adjusting the sensor to the respective temperatures. Thanks to this outstanding feature, losses can be considerably prevented.

In conclusion, our unique Flying Beam technology provides indispensable features supporting businesses in achieving their goal of high recovery rates across numerous waste streams.