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MULTIPICK – a robotic sorting solution for the vehicle recycling industry

The COMET group, based in Belgium, recently announced an investment of almost 10 million Euros in MULTIPICK, a robotic sorting solution for scrap metal from dismantled used cars and household electrical appliances. The future robotic line, the only industrial demonstrator of its kind, promises to offer one of the highest sorting capacities in the world.
MULTIPICK - a robotic sorting solution for the vehicle recycling industry p one
Image copyright Uliege-Michel Houet

MULTIPICK is the result of five years of research and development by the COMET group, together with the University of Liège (GeMMe research unit) and the industrial integrator Citius Engineering. The investment is part of the Reverse Metallurgy project, supported by Wallonia and the ERDF Fund, and will result in the creation of around fifteen new jobs.

The COMET Group is a major European player in the field of recycling ferrous and non-ferrous metals and is constantly striving to improve its processes to make the most of everything generated by the dismantling of cars and household electrical appliances.

Pierre-François Bareel, the COMET group said:

“We are currently recycling no less than 98% of a vehicle that comes to us. Three-quarters of waste metal (from vehicles, but also electronic waste and scrap) is made up of steel, which goes straight back to the metal industry. But there are lots of metals that are worth recycling in the remaining quarter, such as copper, zinc, stainless steel, brass and aluminium. We did away with manual sorting here in the 2000s. Since then, a good proportion of the material has been heading to Asia to be sorted really cheaply. This means that we lose out twice, as these materials make the return journey once they have been sorted.”

Indeed, Europe and the United States export 1.5 million tonnes of non-ferrous metals to Asia. It was to make the most of this wealth of secondary raw materials that a Research and Development programme was launched as part of the “Reverse Metallurgy” project, a platform dedicated to industrial, technological and scientific excellence, bringing together partners from the worlds of industry and science (Universities, Research Centres).

In this case, MULTIPICK encompasses Metheore (a spin-off of the GeMMe research unit), the industrial integrator CITIUS Engineering and COMET Traitements, a subsidiary of the COMET Group responsible for processing shredder residue.

MULTIPICK’s goal is threefold:

  • To process these flows of metals locally by sorting them at source, as efficiently as possible, in order to steer them straight back into industry;
  • To recreate added value on these flows of materials;
  • To establish a technological showcase that can be adapted to other kinds of products. This technology can be replicated and used around the world where large quantities of products need to be sorted.

MULTIPICK will have the capacity to process no fewer than 20,000 tonnes a year, or the equivalent of a billion items, at a rate of 16 items per second, thanks to a brand new combination of sorting technologies.

Godefroid Dislaire, GeMMe-ULiège Laboratory said:

“This sorting line responds to two main challenges: it recognises the metals and then it sorts them into different categories. Recognition takes place thanks to a combination of different sensors: X-ray, spectral and 3D. For each item, artificial intelligence uses the information provided by these sensors to make a decision about how to sort it.

This decision is then passed on to the multi-category sorting robots.

These robots are of course better than manual sorting, but they also exceed the sorting standards used in the industry, which mainly relies on pneumatic ejection, only separating two products at a time. The robots can separate the material into around twenty categories in one go, which increases the volume of waste that can be processed at the same time.

It is a solution that thus combines the benefits of being compact to install, and offering maximum productivity.”

The Vice-President and Walloon Minister for the Economy and Employment, Willy Borsus explains:

“The transition towards a circular economy needs to help Wallonia consolidate its competitiveness and create jobs, at the same time as responding to environmental challenges. The circular economy will clearly be a fundamental part of our Region’s recovery and redeployment.

In addition, the global pandemic has highlighted our economy’s vulnerability when faced with external elements connected to the globalisation of value chains. Recycling metals has been a strategic theme supported for a number of years by Wallonia within the context of Reverse Metallurgy, via the Mecatech Cluster and the Marshall Plan. We are continuing in this direction with the Circular Wallonia strategy, within which the value chain of metals and batteries is clearly a key issue for the future.”

The MULTIPICK project fits in with the framework of Reverse Metallurgy. “This platform is inspired by the European model of the knowledge triangle, in other words it brings together the worlds of science, innovation and entrepreneurship”, explains Éric Pirard, a professor at the University of Liège. Recycling metals is a constant challenge given the many things that contain these kinds of materials, from smartphones to cars, via household electrical appliances and packaging. So we need technological innovations to detect the things that manual sorting can’t. It is with this in mind that we have designed this sorting line.”

MULTIPICK - a robotic sorting solution for the vehicle recycling industry p two
Image copyright Uliege-Michel Houet

The COMET Group will now install this industrial demonstrator at the COMET Traitements site in Obourg (Mons). It will be a fully-fledged new platform for industrial research, made up of three new buildings: two industrial units and a control centre. In accordance with the regulatory procedure, the environmental permit was granted in January 2021. Work is due to start in autumn 2021. The demonstrator, with its 16 sorting robots, will create around fifteen new jobs.