Tour of TOMRA Innovation Center

Guided Tour of TOMRA Sorting Test Centre

The host for the third ECOBULK consortium meeting kindly invited the project partners to visit the automatic sorting test center at the company’s recycling hub in Mülheim-Kärlich, Germany.

TOMRA Recycling, with an installed base of nearly 6000 machines worldwide, is a market leader in the automated sensor based sorting industry. Originally a pioneer of reverse vending machines for empty bottles from Norway (‘tom’ means empty in Norwegian), TOMRA has continuously invested in innovation to create cutting-edge sensor-based solutions for optimal resource productivity. Throughout the last four decades it has managed to successfully maintain a philosophy of making its own products obsolete before their competition can.

At its testing centers (in Europe, Asia and North America), TOMRA experiments with customer provided materials and develops custom solutions that meet the specified requirements with their programmable sorting machines. These machines integrate state of the art detection techniques such as near infrared (NIR), x-ray transmission (XRT), visual spectrometers (VIS), colour line cameras, laser technology and metal sensors that can offer some of the highest recognition rates for a variety of bulky products and materials. The optical sensor sorters rely on scanning a continuous flow of materials on a conveyor belt, and activate tiny valves on a large valve block that use compressed air to blow out the recognized and selected materials into a separate flow. For example the so called Autosort machine can spot and separate particles (as small as 2mm using the flake sorter, and as large as 450mm on the belt machine) based on the types of plastic ( for example PE, PP, PS, PVC, PET, EPS, ABS), and color. With some of their newest customers and systems, TOMRA is developing its ability to provide solutions for separating glass shards from MSW, and sorting textiles for recycling. In their latest experiments for sorting textiles they have been able to separate not only buttons and zippers from the textiles, but also pick out cotton and polyester fibers, as well as different blends.

All this was explained to the visiting ECOBULK delegation by Oliver Lambertz and Lisa Höflechner, both from the business development department and TOMRA representatives for the project. The technologies developed by TOMRA and demonstrated during the tour are critical to the success of ECOBULK. The technology should allow the project to demonstrate that it is possible, and economically viable, to source the necessary recycling materials, at the required quality levels, to close the loop on plastic composite products.

On behalf of the ECOBULK partners we would like to offer many thanks to TOMRA for the very instructive and inspiring tour around their facility!