Industrial Control Panels
Post-consumer recycling processes are becoming increasingly mechanized and focused into large scale operations at material recovery facilities (MRFs). These systems are a collection of conveyors to move material to be sorted coupled with the machines and manned stations where the sorting is accomplished.
At the simplest, industrial control panels are simply locations where an operator can affect the system. A human sorter might be able to shut down a conveyor in the case of a jam, or manually initiate the compression cycle on a baler.
As the throughput of material recovery facilities increases, industrial control systems add to the efficiency and justify their initial cost. As the phrase implies, with control systems the processes and data about the recycled products are collected and manipulated through one or more locations.
Smaller facilities may have multiple, de-centralized industrial control panels with computer monitoring of individual processes. For example, an optical scanner can separate plastics, and the computer controlling that process might collect information on that particular process. Another computer at the same MRF might control the separation of non-ferrous metals with a pulsed eddy currents. Still another could monitor the weight of recovered products compared to the weight of delivered raw waste.
Industrial control panel systems for MRFs are being developed to perform integrated functions. Such systems are known by the acronym SCADA, for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. These panels combine information including video surveillance of processes, control, real-time data collection, safety monitoring and troubleshooting into one computer handled system. Such an integrated system allows for optimization and efficiency of the entire plant.
Control systems use linear feedback systems, including sensors, control loops, control algorithms and actuators. For example, if mixed waste is being used to fuel a furnace, the removal of non-combustibles prior to burning improves energy recovery and decreases wear and tear on equipment. Senors and feedback can alert operators if the percentage of non-combustibles exceeds an acceptable percentage.
Government subsidies for recycling operations have largely disappeared. Recovered materials, such as baled paper or plastics are sold as commodities. This means their price is not fixed but depends upon the market. Thus, even a small change in efficiency can affect whether a recycling program is cost-effective, and able to continue operation.
An integrated industrial control system can allow operators to tune the system to its most effective operation. Economic sustainability will determine the ultimate success of post-consumer recycling programs.