Automated Robotic Impurity Gripping Systems for Glass Recycling

4 Submissions
46 Views
$40,000 USD
Due:  9th Sep 2024

Challenge overview

OVERVIEW

Glass recycling is essential to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with the production of new glass. Efficient recycling allows for the transformation of waste into valuable resources, conserving raw materials and also minimizing waste disposed of in landfills.

A2A, the Seeker for this Wazoku Crowd Challenge, is searching for proposals detailing automated, robotic systems for gripping and removing impurities from conveyor belts in its glass scrap treatment plant. Solvers are asked to provide A2A with designs and proposals detailing their gripping and sorting technologies, solutions, or products. These must be capable of removing plastics, ceramics, textiles, and other material impurities from the glass waste from a constantly-operating conveyor belt that moves in a range of 0.3 – 0.4 meters per second according to production requirement.

Glass waste currently goes through multiple stages of mechanical and manual pre-treatment, but automating the manual removal of impurities into an effective system would save people-hours, increase efficiency, and allow the plant to continue its 24/7 operations. Improving the quality of the produced, ‘furnace-ready’ glass by more effectively removing impurities will help to fuel the glassworks industry’s demand for secondary raw materials in order to create new bottles and other products.

Your IP Rights are protected in this Prize Challenge; A2A must award you to obtain them. This is a Prize Challenge which requires a written proposal to be submitted. Awards will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation of the proposal by A2A against the Solution Requirements. To receive an award for this Prize Challenge, Solvers are required to assign exclusive rights to the Intellectual Property (IP) in their proposed solution. A2A is also willing to consider the granting of non-exclusive rights for a partial award if an exclusive IP cannot be assigned by the Solver. Solvers will retain all rights to any proposal not Awarded.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on September 9th, 2024.

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ABOUT THE SEEKER & ELIGIBILITY

The A2A Group is the largest Italian multi-utility, at the forefront of territorial services and technological solutions. We design smart and sustainable cities, with respect for the citizens, we are protagonists of energy transition, and we implement the principle of the circular economy in all our activities. With a far-reaching strategic plan, we manage the generation, sale and distribution of electricity and gas, district heating, waste collection and recovery, e-mobility, public lighting, and the integrated water services.

A2A Ambiente, part of the A2A Group, designs, builds and manages the collection systems and plants for the sorting, treatment and transformation of waste into material or energy so that it can be fed back into the production and consumption cycles.

The company has a vast heritage of plants, which stand out for reliability and innovation, safety and high environmental performance, and offers integrated and cutting-edge solutions in all sectors of environmental services to both administrations and businesses. A2A Ambiente develops research activities aimed at identifying new technologies, with pilot plants and collaborations with industrial partners.

Employees of A2A are ineligible to receive an award for this Challenge.

Find out more about participation in Wazoku Crowd Challenges.

 

BACKGROUND

A2A Ambiente operates a glass scrap treatment plant in Italy that is capable of processing approximately 180,000 tonnes of glass-based waste every year, gathered from separate collection and recycling.

Waste that enters the plant often contains various materials (in both type and size) that must be removed from the process in order to obtain the required quality of the final product (‘furnace-ready’ glass). Additionally, large impurities that remain in the waste flow could damage or interfere with the recycling machinery in subsequent steps.

Impurities, in this Challenge, are defined as ferromagnetic and non-ferromagnetic materials, ceramics, plastics, and textiles. Example photos and videos of impurities can be found in this document. The dimensions of impurities are, on average, between 4 - 20 centimeters, with weights that can reach a maximum of 1.5 – 2 kilograms. The types of impurities are:

  • Ferromagnetic materials: those that can be magnetized. In glass recycling, these tend to be in the form of iron (nails, screws), steel (household items, cutlery, etc.), and nickel materials.
  • Non-ferromagnetic materials: those that do not exhibit magnetic properties. In A2A’s plants, these tend to be aluminium (cans, foils, packaging), copper (wiring, pipes), brass, or stainless steel materials.
  • Ceramics: these tend to be plates, cups, saucers, and kitchen items.
  • Plastics: the most diverse category, these impurities range from bottles and bags to caps.
  • Textiles: any cloth, rags, or fabrics that are in the waste stream.

The process to sort impurities from the waste stream involves several mechanical, manual, and pre-treatment phases: achieved by placing the glass waste on a series of conveyor belts as it moves around the plant. This process includes sieving, suction systems, and subsequent selection processes that use optical selectors and magnetized belts.

The main phases to treat the glass waste are:

  1. Mechanical Screening and Deferrization - The purpose of this phase is to sift and distribute the material according to size and remove metal impurities.
  2. Manual treatment – The glass is manually-screened by two operators in the sorting cabin to identify larger contaminants, manually remove them, and sorting them into relevant storage containers.
  3. Mechanical Screening and Crushing – The glass waste is shredded and distributed back onto the conveyor belts.
  4. Optical selection – A final check for removal of smaller impurities, ceramics, and leaded glass.

This Challenge’s focus is on the second phase, Manual treatment. To access examples of  impurities, you can follow this link to view or download photos of example impurities, circled in blue or yellow, and videos of the waste stream. The folder  document is titled ‘Impurity Example Photos and Videos - Automated Robotic Impurity Gripping Systems for Glass Recycling Challenge’. Please contact Wazoku Crowd staff at crowd@wazoku.com if you have trouble accessing this document.

For further information, A2A’s entire process within its glass recycling plant is summarized in this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4L0spJtBdU

This manual treatment phase takes place inside a sorting cabin in the plant. This cabin measures 4.8 meters in length by 4.4 meters in width, with a height of 3.6 meters. In the middle of this cabin, the glass waste passes through on a conveyor belt, measuring 4.5 meters by 3.5 meters, which operates at a speed of approximately 0.3 – 0.4 m/s. The conveyor belt is placed in the middle of the sorting cabin and has a width of approximately of 1m. On average, approximately 20 - 25 tonnes of waste material is processed per hour through the sorting cabin.

This cabin is manned constantly by 2 operators, who stand on each side of the belt, manually removing larger impurities that they can spot in the waste flow and removing them into separate waste bins.

 

THE CHALLENGE

A2A’s long-term goal is to realize an automatic sorting system and robotic cell within its glass recycling plant that can safely and efficiently remove impurities without human intervention. This Challenge is an important first step.

In this Challenge, Solvers are asked to create a proposal detailing the design and development of an automated, robotic impurity gripping system. This system must be capable of gripping and removing the larger impurities from the waste stream and removing them from the flow on the conveyor belt.

A2A is looking to augment and improve its current glass waste recycling plants: not to radically change the entire process. To that end, Solver’s solutions, technologies, and mature products will have to be able to operate within the sorting cabin’s dimensions (4.8m L x 4.4m W x 3.6m H), with the current operating speed of the conveyor belt (approx. 0.3 – 0.4 m/s), and with the existing volume of glass waste material flow passing through (20 - 25 tonnes/hour).

Your system for identifying, gripping, and removing larger impurities from the glass waste stream would help A2A to avoid the manual pre-treatment step by automating the operations in the sorting cabin: improving efficiency. It is acceptable that during the process of removal, some glass may also be removed due to material overlapping on the belt.

A2A will only award Solvers who can provide details of their solutions that can undertake the entire system of operation: solutions that can identify impurities, move to the impurity, grip it, and remove it from the glass waste flow. This impurity could additionally then be sorted into the various waste bins at the side of the conveyor belts.

Solvers will have to consider the function of their robotic system, its grip logic, and provide details to A2A around its usage within the constraints of the sorting cabin. It is expected that the Solvers will detail any algorithms, software, or controllers and actuators required to operate the automated robotic gripping system, as well as its hardware.

A2A imposes no restrictions on the creativity and innovative nature of your solutions, but it must be able to meet the minimum solution requirements in order to be awarded. Your solution could utilize soft grippers, sorters, calipers, pneumatics, suction, or any manner of solution so long as it meets the requirements in removing the requisite types, shapes, and weights of impurity. A2A is also agnostic to the type of robotics used in your solutions, although it is noted that A2A uses Fanuc robots elsewhere: your submission could detail Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, KUKA, Comau, or others.

 

SOLUTION REQUIREMENTS

To solve this Challenge, the Solvers are asked to develop a document that describes the principles of operation, structure, layout, and detailed designs of the proposed automated robotic impurity removal system that could operate within the sorting cabin. This includes its layout along with any components, sensors, accessories, and required software.

If commercial solutions/components are used, please indicate the brand and type. If your solution suggests modifications or additions to a commercially-available technology, please bear in mind that A2A may require the original IP in order to modify, and your solution may not be eligible for a full award. If the Solver use solutions taken from or inspired by patents or based on other solutions from other Industries, please indicate the patent number or the reference.

In order to meet the criteria for award, Solvers’ proposals for automated robotic gripping systems must meet the following must-have Solution Requirements:

  1. Effective Impurity Removal
    • Your solution, technology, or product system must be able to remove large impurities consisting of ferromagnetic and non-ferromagnetic materials, ceramics, plastics, textiles, from the glass waste flow.
    • This must have improved success/efficiency compared to the previous manual sorting operations.
    • Please focus especially on grippers [NA1] capable to pick up and remove the impurities (please see attachment).
  2. Automation of Operations – A2A wants Solvers to create systems, products, and solutions capable of performing impurity removal with no manual intervention in the sorting cabin except for regular maintenance and emergency repairs.
  3. Continuous Operation - capable of operating for 24 hours a day.
  4. Compatibility - Standalone robotic system or easily integrated into robotic arms or other types (e.g. delta robots). A2A is agnostic to the type or brand of robotic system, so long as it can achieve removal of large impurities.
  5. No or only minor modifications to the sorting cabin.

Additionally, solutions could fulfil the following nice-to-have considerations:

  1. Solvers could provide details of automated solutions that could improve the performance of operators in the cabin – however, exoskeleton technologies are not of interest. Solutions of this type should still focus on improved efficiency and success rate but for reasonable costs. This is an approach of some interest to A2A, however the priority is for entire robotic gripping systems: if you only submit details about automations to improve operator performance, it would therefore only be available for a partial award.
  2. Details around a grip priority logic under which a Solver’s tool, solution, or system operates: i.e. determining which impurities to remove amidst overlapping waste, and in what order.

Things to Avoid

In this Challenge, A2A is not interested in software-only submissions that can help to identify waste type.

Solvers will have to consider the real, physical operations of their solutions in removing large impurities from the waste flow in order to be awarded.

Additionally, Solvers who propose solutions, technology, or product that require significant structural modifications to the sorting cabin or a complete overhaul of the glass recycling system operations will not be considered for award. Solutions should take into account the operating constraints (speed, dimensions) and factor them into their solutions.

Solutions with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 5-9 are invited.

This Prize Challenge has the following features:

  1. Your IP Rights are protected in this Prize Challenge; A2A must award you to obtain them.
  2. The best solution in this Prize Challenge has the opportunity to win the award of $40,000 for meeting all requirements, as solely determined by A2A.
  3. Awards will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation of the proposal by A2A against the Solution Requirements.
  4. To receive an Award for this Prize Challenge, Solvers are required to assign exclusive rights to the Intellectual Property (IP) in their proposed solution. A2A is also willing to consider the granting of non-exclusive IP rights for a partial award, if exclusive IP cannot be assigned by the Solver. Solvers will retain all rights to any proposal not Awarded.
  5. For proposed solutions that are already commercially-available, A2A will not require any transfer of IP rights. A2A encourages the sharing of knowledge about existing technologies, however if they are not your own A2A is willing to consider a partial award for such proposals that merit their further pursuit.
  6. A2A may also issue “Honorable Mention” recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary awards.

 

YOUR SUBMISSION

Please login and register your interest, to complete the submission form.

The submitted proposals must be written in English and should include:

1. Participation Type – you will first be asked to inform us how you are participating in this challenge, as a Solver (Individual) or Solver (Organization).

2. Solution Level - the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your solution, TRL1-3 ideation, TRL4-6 proof of concept, TRL7-9 production ready.

3. Partnering - there may be an opportunity to partner at the conclusion of this Challenge. Please indicate if partnering is of interest to you.

4. Problem & Opportunity - highlight the innovation in your approach to the Problem, its point of difference, and the specific advantages/benefits this brings (up to 500 words).

5. Solution Overview - detail the features of your solution, its system layout, drawings, dimensions, technical characteristics, components and assemblies, and how it addresses the Solution Requirements and add supporting data, diagrams, etc. as attachments (500 words, there is space to add more in the summary field and attach supporting data, diagrams, etc.).

5.1. Have you attached a detail design of your solution?

6. Experience – Expertise, use cases and skills you or your organization have in relation to your proposed solution. A2A may wish to partner at the conclusion of the Challenge; please include a statement indicating your interest in partnering (up to 500 words).

7. Solution Risks – any risks you see with your solution and how you would plan for this (up to 500 words).

8. Timeline, capability and costs – describe what you think is required to deliver the solution, estimated time and cost – if commercially-available components are used, please include their cost – and an estimation of maintenance costs year-by-year (up to 500 words).

9. Online References - provide links to any publications or press releases of relevance (up to 500 words).

Wazoku encourages the use by Solvers of AI approaches to help develop their submissions, though any produced solely with generative AI are not of interest.

Find out more about participation in Wazoku Crowd Challenges.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on September 9th, 2024.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Your submission will be evaluated by the evaluation team first reviewing the information and content you have submitted at the submission form, with attachments used as additional context to your form submission. Submissions relying solely on attachments will receive less attention from the evaluation team.

After the Challenge submission due date, A2A will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the winning solution(s) according to the timeline in the Challenge header. All Solvers who submit a proposal will be notified about the status of their submissions.

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