Conceptualizing an automated sorting system for the recycling of plastic-floors
Abstract: Background Tarkett AB Ronneby (Sweden) is a flooring solutions company, recognized for the manufacturing and recycling of homogeneous plastic flooring. Tarkett AB recycles mainly installation spill and manufacturing defects. However, Tarkett AB is considering widening its recycling capabilities to include old and torn plastic floors which may contain impurities and banned substances or plastic floors of competing brands. To accomplish this, Tarkett is considering a completely new recycling line with an automated sorting process instead of the current manual process. Thus, Tarkett proposes a dissertation to conceptualize a new automated sorting system with added capacity and increased functionality. Purpose This work aims to investigate the current sorting process and introduce conceptual solutions for a new automated sorting process capable of identifying and separating plastic floors according to the manufacturer, type, condition, and external waste by using existing technology. Method The methods and tools used in this work are mainly based on a modified product development process. Starting with data collection of the current sorting process, performing a need-finding, and extracting requirements for an automated sorting process, investigating relevant technology, evaluating technology based on scientific literature and tests. The testing was conducted in collaboration with two companies. Near-infrared scanners were tested with Holger AB, while pattern recognition systems were tested with Vision-Geek. Finally, three concepts for the automated sorting process were developed and shown through flow charts and 2D-3D illustrations. Results The results of this work showed that it was possible to use near-infrared and pattern recognition for the separation of plastic floors. Besides, three conceptual solutions for an automated sorting process were generated and showcased with schematic graphs and 2D-3D illustrations. The concepts describe how the sorting process functions and what technology is used for each step of the process. Concept 1 and Concept 2 used both pattern recognition and spectroscopy methods. While Concept 3 only used spectroscopy methods. Moreover, spectroscopy methods were used to sort plastic floors by content while pattern recognition by appearance. Conclusions Recycling of torn and old plastic flooring can be beneficial for both the environment and the recycling industry. Yet, it presents some challenges relating to reliable, fast, and nondestructive identification for sorting and separation purposes. New and proven technology such as near-infrared hyperspectral imaging and pattern recognition can be used. However, high-quality pattern and spectrum libraries of multiple plastic floors have to be created for optimal and reliable reference models. Furthermore, pattern recognition and near-infrared methods need to be tested further at an industrial scale.
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