Going greener: streamlining recycling plants
Richard Price is a baby boomer whose lifelong passion for the environment and technology is fueling his ambitious plans for recycling. The Canadian-born electrician turned California entrepreneur is transforming an industry one material recycling facility (MRF) at a time. “Recycling is synonymous with efficiency until you take a closer look at recycling plants across the country,” said Price, president of Advanced MRF. “The majority of them are operating some of the most inefficient, archaic processes on the planet.”
While Price predicts the human element will always play a vital role in the recycling plant, especially along the presorting lines, he is convinced the industry is ready for a big technological leap forward. His San Diego-based systems integration firm, Advanced MRF, is deploying Siemensbased automation and control solutions aimed at making recycling systems smarter, safer, greener and more productive and profitable. The campaign is gaining momentum. Industry leader Waste Management has already enlisted Advanced MRF to upgrade its major recycling operations in Oakland, Castroville and Lodi, CA, Denver, CO, Tucson, AZ, Chicago, IL, Minneapolis, MN and Germantown, WI.
Other waste companies are taking note and action. “We’re chipping away at outdated and manual practices that have been holding the industry back for years,” Price said, referring to a host of inefficiencies from wasteful energy consumption to clipboard-toting plant workers gathering important production data by hand. The recycling companies are paid by the ton, yet their standard machines are not designed to monitor and document operations.
Most recycling plants still rely on humans to manually track truckloads of arriving recyclables, calculate the tonnage processed each day and troubleshoot technical and operational glitches that can lead to costly downtime. “Downtime is one of the biggest challenges facing MRFs today. It can get very expensive very fast,” Price said. “Dozens of line workers are standing around waiting for the conveyors to run again. Meanwhile, the trucks keep coming and the material keeps piling up on the plant floor.”
If the culprit is a faulty motor in a system of dozens of devices, hunting it down without the aid of technology is like finding a needle in a haystack. Equally daunting is tackling black belt, a widespread problem that occurs when conveyors are running empty due to a bottleneck or material jam upstream. Industrial-grade web cams are often used to monitor the lines. “Black belt is even worse than downtime because the electricity is running full speed,” said Price, who estimates utilities at the MRF operations can cost as much as $175,000 to $400,000 per year. Advanced MRF is helping recycling plants make substantial cuts in energy consumption. “Yet our biggest hurdle is convincing waste companies to break from the norm. Once they realize what smart control and automation can do for their business, they’re in.”
Upgrading to Intelligent Control
Paul Faias does not need to be persuaded. Waste Management’s district manager has seen firsthand how Advanced MRF, equipped with Siemens automation, has successfully upgraded sister plants. The 56-acre Waste Management MRF he oversees in San Leandro, CA, is in the midst of a major two-year automation overhaul designed to slash energy use and increase uptime.