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Recycling robot tackles electrical waste

A sustainable circular economy depends on recycled electronic consumer goods, but recycling electronic waste can endanger human workers – which makes it an optimal application for robotics and automation. To overcome these challenges, the Irish technology company Votechnik has developed a system based around a KUKA KR QUANTEC industrial robot.


Project ALR-4000: automation combats hazardous electrical waste

Because of mercury and other gases, as well as sharp-edged parts, it's dangerous for people to dismantle LCD (liquid crystal display) screens and monitors. To handle the process and eliminate the hazards, the Irish technology company Votechnik developed the ALR-4000 automated application with a KUKA KR QUANTEC industrial robot at its core. The cell extracts hazardous gases and removes sharp-edged elements (such as fluorescent tubes and screens), which not only eliminates hazards to humans but also tackles growing mountains of electrical waste.
From problem to solution: a KUKA KR QUANTEC is dedicated to recycling LCD monitors

The possible consequences of 200 million LCD televisions 

LCD televisions pose enormous environmental challenges. Annual worldwide sales of around 200 million generate waste streams that require subsequent efficient, cost-effective, safe disposal. Experts suspect that the "hidden" greenhouse gas nitrogen trifluoride, which is used to make flat-screen televisions, could accelerate global warming more than coal-fired power plants. Nevertheless, consumer demand for these LCD devices means that more and more of them will enter waste stream. Lisa O’Donoghue, founder and CEO of Votechnik, explained that “As the entire world moves toward a circular economy, Europe leads the way with initiatives such as the Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan. Such initiatives are urgent necessities for circular usage of materials from current products.”
More and more of the enormous quantities of LCD televisions end up in waste streams

Recycling: robots reduce hazards for humans

The Votechnik ALR-4000 processes this electrical waste automatically and disposes of it safely. In the past, many of these products ended up in landfills, which allowed mercury to contaminate the soil and water. If the mercury contained in the gas-filled lamps of the devices enters the food chain, it can cause neuromuscular harm and cognitive disorders, among other hazards. A typical 40-inch television contains nearly 60' (18.288 m) of thin mercury lamps. “This application is ideal for the use of robotics. The chemicals can't harm the machines, especially robots that are properly prepared for them,” emphasized Brian Cooney, Managing Director of KUKA in Ireland.
The safer way to recycle electronic waste: the ALR-4000 automated system with KUKA robot
Automated waste recycling: the KR QUANTEC scores high here with its robustness and repeatability

KR QUANTEC: the heart of the recycling system

An automated process with recycling robots eliminates the need for human contact with hazardous gases and liquid crystals, as well as the risk of injury – for example, from the broken glass produced during extraction of fluorescent tubes and television screens from LCD devices. Because of high payloads, the ALR-4000 system uses the KUKA KR QUANTEC industrial robot. “The KR QUANTEC is our most ecologically friendly robot, a perfect fit for the waste recycling environment,” said Brian Cooney.

The KR QUANTEC offers outstanding operating efficiency and cost-effective commissioning and maintenance. Its modular design greatly reduces the number of components, which, in turn, helps minimize maintenance requirements. Innovative cabling and power supply concepts also reduce operating costs. The robot itself also is up to 90% recyclable.

Extracting what's valuable, enclosing what's dangerous

At the same time that it minimizes manual labor and risk, the ALR-4000 boosts throughput from five devices per hour with a manual process to 60 with robotic automation, a 1200% increase. In addition, the machine can work around the clock. “We see technologies like ours leading the way for high-throughput processing that extracts valuable materials from waste products, removes contaminants and captures the hazardous materials in the process,” said Votechnik CEO Lisa O’Donoghue. Because the purification process takes place inside the enclosed ALR 4000, a built-in carbon filter system captures harmful gases so they do not reach the atmosphere.
High throughput: the ALR-4000 automated system recycles 60 devices per hour

Carbon block filters enable plug-and-play system

Carbon block filters remove contaminants, including hazardous gases, which makes the ALR 4000 a “plug-and-play” system. LCD configurations can include more than 150 screws and various fastening devices with adhesives, adhesive strips or cable ties. Some have speakers at the top or bottom, or even a DVD player at the rear. In the disposal of LCD devices, the ALR-4000 meets the challenges of processing numerous shapes and sizes, brands and models. To create a robust, automated machine that can handle a wide range of LCD iterations, Votechnik has completed four rounds of development over ten years.
The ALR-4000 cell automatically handles different types of fasteners
A project with a future: the recycling robot dismantles LCD displays

The robust and reliable KR QUANTEC as a partner

The KR QUANTEC robot contributes significantly to Votechnik's achievement. The stiff, reliable industrial robot offers a high level of repeatability. At the same time, it also provides the payload capacity to handle large loads – including heavy tools on its robot arm. Its robustness makes it an ideal partner in a waste processing environment, where tasks require a high level of automated dexterity and equally high accuracy.

Global servicing and support

ALR-4000 cells are destined for global use in waste recycling, so Votechnik also needed worldwide support for the robot. KUKA’s global presence and its ability to provide international support for the ALR-4000 machines weighed heavily in favor of the KR QUANTEC. After ten years of development, the ALR-4000 offers an automated recycling solution that can answer the many challenges of the consumer electronics industry.
The KR QUANTEC collects valuable raw materials from waste products

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