Gavin Russell, Sales Engineer at TOMRA Sorting Recycling, analyses the rising volume of MRF upgrades, considers the rationale driving such decisions, and shares some ideas on how to manage a successful upgrade.
Material quality issues
Whilst material quality is a primary factor in any evaluation of an MRF’s performance, this can be influenced by a range of elements including the efficiency of the machinery and the quality and uniformity of the material input. And as with all commercial plants, MRF equipment is subject to aging and deterioration which in turn reduces efficiency and will eventually compromise an operators’ ability to meet the required high quality, high purity standards for recovered material.
Other factors may also impact upon the infeed stock and thus influence material quality. For instance, TOMRA has experienced scenarios where a local authority has switched from weekly- to alternating weekly waste collections. As a consequence of this change, general waste and recycling waste was subsequently collected by the same refuse trucks. This introduced a new threat of cross contamination to the flow of infeed material, making it extremely likely that the quality of infeed would be downgraded. The direct result of this chain of events was to undermine MRF performance by degrading the output material.
Operating costs are another critical variable which can trigger a decision to schedule an MRF upgrade. For example, in the UK, the wages of all members of the workforce over the age of 25 have been increased by 15%, forcing owners to rethink and rescale their current policy of reliance on manual labor just to remain competitive and protect their market position.
And likewise, rising service and maintenance costs can often create similar pressures which soon signal the need to undertake a cost-efficient upgrade. Outmoded equipment will naturally have been subject to wear and tear, which increases the frequency, and cost, of maintenance, and such deterioration is also likely to limit both capacity and performance.
As a first response, owners should at least inspect and review their key plant in order to identify any below-par performance or issues which are generating significant maintenance costs. When equipment fails to function properly, it could be less efficient and therefore additional manual labor is needed to bring it up to the required level. If not, the operators may thus forfeit some agreed revenue, or may even face a third-party claim for non-fulfilment. Depreciating equipment carries such risks, and even small oversights can sometimes lead to lost contracts – and loss of reputation.
All MRFs must satisfy industry standards, which are usually framed in legislation. If your equipment cannot deliver to these prescribed specifications, then once again the upgrade option inevitably comes into play.
Deciding whether or not to undertake an MRF upgrade is almost always a financial decision. An operator must identify and assess the reasons for an upgrade and balance these against the level of financial investment involved. If an owner opts to follow the upgrade route, then TOMRA would recommend a number of specific measures designed to guarantee a smooth and successful upgrade, and also to make the upgraded MRF as robust and future-proof as today’s technologies will allow.
Explain and quantify the issues
Subject to the scale of any planned upgrade, the first task would usually be to pinpoint and evaluate the source of the reported difficulties or quality concerns. These could perhaps involve a particular sector of the installation or a specific piece of machinery. Following this initial data-gathering phase, a justification should be prepared which illustrates the impact of replacing the present defective equipment to be upgraded. The justification procedure should present a clear argument in favor of the upgrade together with a lucid understanding of the upfront capital outlay verses the ROI. The justification document should be collaboratively prepared with quality input from a plant’s facility manager, quality control staff, and appropriate maintenance personnel.
Because any upgrade will interrupt processing to some degree, and thus pressurize operators who must still hit their production targets, the amount of downtime involved is critical. All upgrading procedures must be timetabled to perfection, with any temporary shutdown of machinery factored into the work schedules. In the final analysis, the actual duration of each phase of the upgrade procedure will almost invariably be dictated by how long an operator can afford to remain offline.
Access and headroom
Limited working access can be a major challenge for upgrade teams. The design of older MRFs often necessitate the retrofitting of complex new technologies within very confined spaces.
Shifting market demands
Market changes and evolving demands may affect certain material or precipitate changes to material specifications, and this situation can present operators with a considerable challenge. To limit the impact of such events, both new installations and plant modifications should be designed with this possibility very much in mind. Building in spare capacity creates an element of ‘future proofing’ which also means seasonal fluctuations are more-easily accommodated and the plant becomes more resilient when faced with market changes.
An upgrade should reduce future levels of maintenance as well as the consequential risk of breakdowns. However, operators must never underestimate the importance of ongoing equipment maintenance. A Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) schedule really is a must, and wise operators will monitor its implementation and also ensure supplier’s aftersales support and maintenance contracts are also in place.
In summary, a substantial MRF upgrade may become an inevitable necessity to restore an installation back to financial and/or operational viability. However, where appropriate, a rolling upgrade schedule which progressively refurbishes and replaces less-efficient equipment will drive down maintenance costs, slash downtime, and thus secure the installation’s full operational capacity.