Recycling Product News Logo

Q&A: Machinex CEO Chris Hawn discusses the modern MRF

MRFs are continuously evolving to meet the demands of a rapidly changing waste management landscape

Q&A: Machinex CEO Chris Hawn discusses the modern MRF

With advancements in automation, robotics, and data analytics, MRFs have become more capable than ever of sorting and separating materials. Through process optimization and strategic investments in equipment, modern MRFs are continuously evolving to meet the demands of a rapidly changing waste management landscape.

I caught up with Chris Hawn, CEO of Machinex, to delve into the factors influencing MRF operations, the role of data analytics in enhancing efficiency, emerging developments in sorting and separation technologies, and key challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the recycling industry. 

Hawn says the use of optics and robots has skyrocketed.

Slone Fox: In your opinion, what are the most notable trends and complications shaping the waste management industry today?

Chris Hawn: Interestingly enough, we are at a time, in my opinion, where complications are the drivers of many of the trends. Labour shortages have led to increased automation; safety of our workers has led to continuous improvement in designs; and fires as a result of lithium-ion batteries have led to technology and new considerations of producer responsibility and public education. I know I am painting this with a broad brush, but it is something that touches every aspect of the waste industry as a whole.  

SF: What factors should MRF operators consider when upgrading sorting equipment, and how does Machinex assist in this decision-making process?
CH: In recognition of your first question, operators are mostly considering upgrades that will help address labour, safety, material visibility, and technology to help minimize lithium-ion concerns. 

The planning at the beginning of the process becomes the foundation that guides every next step. Machinex starts by taking the time to visit with customers to first listen, evaluate operations, and look at ways to implement beneficial and desired technologies. Elements that come into play as we establish a baseline could include increased tonnage or a significant material composition over time; recovery, purity, and efficiency requests; budget; and building limitations.

Through a mutual understanding and concept of the task ahead, Machinex provides solutions that can either be driven by our knowledge and experience of the industry as a whole, our customer's recommendations stemming from the intricacies of their specific market demands, or, more often than not, a combination of both.  

SF: Can you discuss the role of data analytics and monitoring systems in enhancing the operational efficiency of MRFs?

CH: The amount of data now accessible within a MRF has been ever-increasing. Today's intelligent MRF is the combination of various vision equipment such as optics, robots, and simple cameras to capture data throughout the system and provide SCADA control systems with the information needed to ensure profitable and efficient operations.  

Furthermore, the increasing importance of data analytics and monitoring systems has evolved to include even more benefits for MRFs, such as increased recycling rates, the ability to recycle more types of materials, reliability of third parties whether it is related to inbound or outbound material, and sustainability initiatives.

Data capture and analysis within a MRF is definitely a starting point, although in order to maximize its exponential potential, the analyzed data coming from multiple capture points when connected to sorting equipment will have a greater instant impact on the operations. It's possible to capture an infinite amount of data, but without equipment connectivity, there will be no real improvement in the end.

The technology, when integrated properly, acts like several plant operators constantly looking at different areas of the facility and comparing and optimizing according to what they see.

Hawn says Machinex visits customers to listen, evaluate operations, and look at ways to implement their desired technologies.

SF: What are some emerging or innovative developments in sorting and separation that could potentially disrupt traditional methods in the recycling industry? 

CH: There are a few developments in the industry that are truly game changers. With the desire to improve upon all of the areas mentioned earlier, front-end equipment such as trommels or auger screens is being used to scalp material that has no business being on the pre-sort lines and can cause excessive work and potential injury.

Automation is another key disrupter. The increased use of high-technology equipment such as optics and robots has skyrocketed. What used to be a MRF with three, four, or five optical sorters that were cleaning up the results of the separation from disc screens has become 12, 13, or more optical sorters without any disc screens and robots to quality control the clean material.  

Combining all of this while maximizing the potential of intelligent MRFs and data monitoring has certainly led to the smart MRF of today, and a more flexible MRF for tomorrow as materials change and recovery of new materials is required.  

SF: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges and most notable opportunities facing the recycling industry in the coming years? 

CH: Hands down, the biggest challenge in the waste and recycling industry is lithium-ion batteries. Technology is being developed, messages are being created, and producer responsibility is being addressed, but unfortunately, there are miles to go.  

The opportunities are being able to build flexibility within MRF designs to be nimble and adjust to the changing environment around us. Yes, technology was part of that additional flexibility, but it isn't all about technology. The way the MRF is designed for redundancy, for extra capacity, for future upgrades, etc. are all areas that have become more and more important. 

Company info

2121 Rue Olivier
Plessisville, QC
CA, G6L 3G9


Read more

Related Articles