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June 19, 2015 11:20 AM

New research project explores the use of robotics in recycling

Starting this September, Conestoga’s Centre for Smart Manufacturing will be home to a new research project that will explore the use of robotics in electronic waste (e-waste) recycling. The project has been made possible thanks to $90,000 in funding from Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). 

Dr. Hamid Karbasi, a faculty member in the Mechanical Systems Engineering program who has led other e-waste recycling projects, will conduct the research over the course of four semesters. A number of co-op students, along with a graduate intern from the Mechanical Systems Engineering degree program, will provide support. The team will also be working with Greentec, a local industry partner that recycles e-waste to recover metals, glass and plastics for use in new products. The goal of the work is to provide Greentec with solutions that can be integrated into their existing recycling line.

“The life cycle of our electronics is becoming shorter and shorter,” explained Karbasi. “Most devices only exist two to three years. The impact of this new technology culture means that we need to figure out what to do with the old products.”

Estimates suggest 150,000 tonnes of e-waste were produced in Ontario in 2014 alone. Solutions are needed so the recycling process is fast, cost-effective and safe.

“Robots are built for manufacturing and are meant to create something,” said Karbasi. “For this project we need them to do the opposite.” Robotics are seen as a viable solution to these recycling challenges given they can be used 24/7, eliminate the risk of human workers being exposed to toxins and can significantly increase volume for recyclers, which means the initial investment in equipment can be paid off in a reasonable time frame.

Over the course of the research project the team will look at the use of robotics in two specific recycling applications.

The first application will explore the recycling of Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs), which are found in old monitors and TVs. Ontario has no effective process to recycle the tubes, so they are shipped to the U.S., which requires permits and results in high shipping costs due to weight and volume. CRTs present a challenge for recyclers because they contain leaded and non-leaded glass that is fused together. Each type of glass needs to be recycled differently, but must be separated first.

The second application will explore the recycling of Flat Panel Displays (FPDs). Mercury lamps were used in FPDs manufactured before 2009 so the lamps need to be removed safely without the mercury being exposed to the environment.

CRTs and FPDs vary in size, adding to the challenge of finding an automated solution. The tooling used on the robot will need to accommodate a range of products and dimensions.

“This project is a great example of what can be accomplished when academic researchers and companies come together to solve industry challenges,” said Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence. “Working in partnership, Conestoga and Greentec are creating jobs and opportunity while contributing to a greener Ontario.”

The Centre for Smart Manufacturing is administered by Conestoga’s Applied Research & Innovation group, and is designed to meet the needs of the region’s largest employment sector. For more information, visit the Centre’s website

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