Tomra Sorting Solutions’ business model is set up to ensure synergies in technology across various industry lines can be realized. This means the introduction of sorting and analytics to new sectors, markets and applications occurs at a faster pace. Tomra Sorting R&D is organized in 4 departments to ensure these goals are achieved. The Core R&D group works on sensor development, software and common components across the industries. This group’s outcomes are then used by the three R&D departments dedicated to the food, mining or recycling industries. Tomra interviewed Ralph Uepping, Technical Director Recycling at Tomra Sorting, on technical development and innovation.
How would you describe your role at Tomra Sorting and what does it involve?
Ralph Uepping: I have been responsible for the Recycling R&D department since 2012. Together with my team, we face the task of using the elements released by the Core R&D group to build great products specifically for the waste and metal sorting industry. To make this happen, the most important task is to elaborate on our customers’ needs and wishes, as well as communicating these to my team and to our colleagues in the Core R&D Group. By doing so, the technology we produce is in direct response to our customer’s needs and the challenges they face.
If you had to describe “sensor-based sorting” in just one sentence, what would it be?
Ralph Uepping: From a waste & metals sorting perspective, sensor-based sorting enables our customers to gain financial profit from their waste.
Which developments have you seen in regards to the sorting technology over the past years?
Ralph Uepping: Over the past few years, recycling plant operators have been – and still are – aiming for higher levels of purity and greater yields. This resulted in many developments focusing on greater levels of sorting precision and accuracy followed by a constant increase of resolution to sort smaller and smaller objects. Today, PET flakes + 2 mm are sorted by polymer and color to get impressive high purities and to come a step closer to closed loop recycling.
What do you personally regard as the most fascinating innovation developed by Tomra Sorting Recycling and why?
Ralph Uepping: There are a couple of innovations I’d regard as fascinating, but if I have to choose just one, then I’d consider our efforts to sort black polymers by type as my favorite. Previously, sorting equipment had not been capable of sorting black polymers by type. The fact that Tomra Sorting had developed this technology in 2009, at which point most people thought this would not be possible, makes this innovation my first choice.
How do you get new ideas for the continuous generation of innovations?
Ralph Uepping: There are various sources for inspiration: We have a great team and everyone contributes with their knowledge, experience and ideas, which means we’re never short of fresh perspectives or visions. We also take great inspiration from our customers. A knowledge of their challenges and wishes encourage us to think about new solutions. It’s the mix of stimuli that generates new and exciting ideas.