TOMRA has developed various innovative technologies over the years, including FLYING BEAM®. Can you explain what this technology is used for and how it works?
Philipp Knopp: At TOMRA, we continuously develop pioneering technologies and introduced the first version of our patented FLYING BEAM® technology in 2012. Only recently, we launched its latest version with the market introduction of our new generation AUTOSORT® in our live launch event on June 9.
FLYING BEAM® is our core technology and guarantees a homogenous light distribution across the entire conveyor belt, thus leading to better detection of materials and consistent sorting performance. Uniquely and unlike conventional illumination technology, FLYING BEAM® is not positioned outside the sorting system but directly inside the scanner, where the lamps are protected from any contamination that could negatively affect belt illumination. During operation, the integrated high-performing lamps shine on a rotating mirror, which in turn distributes the light homogenously over the entire belt. The light emitted by the lamps then penetrates and gets absorbed by the materials transported on the fast-moving conveyor belt. Only partial light (non-absorbed light) is reflected to the rotating mirror and passed on to the sensor, which then detects the specific wavelength of light in near infrared. In the following step, algorithms classify the material, decide whether to eject or drop the material, and send the respective signal to the machine’s valves which sort the material accordingly. By our illumination unit covering the entire belt, no information gets lost and classification is enhanced to get the purest sorting results.
Is TOMRA’s FLYING BEAM® technology applicable for all your machines and applications?
Philipp Knopp: Current waste streams are changing rapidly and differ from country to country, depending on their individual waste management systems and infrastructures. These dynamics make it imperative to have technologies in place that can classify various materials and generate pure and high-quality sorting results. Our FLYING BEAM® technology is not only unique in its set-up, but it is versatile in usage and can be reliably applied across almost all applications, ranging from municipal solid waste (MSW) and household waste to deinking and polymer applications (dry recyclable, PET, PP, etc.). Even dusty environments don’t impair the performance of the illumination unit as it is enclosed in the scanner box. Light or easily flammable materials can be processed safely since the illumination setup stays cool and doesn’t pose a fire hazard.
Because of the technology’s outstanding, field-proven (more than 6000 units installed) and highly efficient features, we made it our base technology of almost all our sensor-based sorting machines, including our flake sorting solutions AUTOSORT® FLAKE and INNOSORT FLAKE. Especially in flake sorting applications, ensuring consistently precise separation of materials as small as 2 mm is a prerequisite for providing high quality materials to recyclers for further processing. With our FLYING BEAM® technology we provide the ideal solution to these challenges.
TOMRA recently launched the new generation AUTOSORT® that features the next level FLYING BEAM® technology. Which improvements have been made compared to the previous version?
Philipp Knopp: Today, improvements are happening at a fast pace as there is an unprecedented need to respond to both current and future requirements, which affect both the market and our customers. To achieve greater levels of material recovery, we continuously optimize our solutions, including our long-established FLYING BEAM® technology. Our latest update, released with our new generation AUTOSORT®, provides even stronger light source and distribution. The advancements are amazing: compared to the previous generation, FLYING BEAM® now provides 100% more light and even 400% in contrast to our very first version of AUTOSORT® working with external light arms. This amplified output has nearly doubled the light intensity and maximized the signals that return to the sensor after penetrating the material, while maintaining the same energy consumption. What makes FLYING BEAM® in our latest generation AUTOSORT® so special is its combination with our SHARP EYE technology, which is now incorporated as standard in the latest AUTOSORT®. This combination bundles the light of the internal lamps to identify chemical property differences and the finest molecular differences of the material. As a result, more material information is gathered, and greater sorting accuracy is realized. Translated into figures, we can proudly state that, depending on the application, product quality levels increase between 2-5%. Moreover, pilot projects proved that higher recovery rates can be realized. Summing up, our new FLYING BEAM® technology allows for more materials to be turned into high quality products again.
How does FLYING BEAM® differ from conventional technology?
Philipp Knopp: The most remarkable and important difference is our integrated light source positioned inside the system’s scanner. Conventional technologies on the market rely on external lamp boxes, which poses several issues. First, they attract dust, which decreases light intensity on the belt and, in turn, can affect the sorting accuracy. These exterior lamps also require routine cleaning, which results in hours of machine downtime and lost productivity. Second, conventional systems use an array of dozens of lamps, which even slightly differ in light spectrum and generate an unbalanced light distribution. An extended number of lamps undoubtedly heightens the risk of lamp failure and, thus, maintenance efforts. Experience has shown us that whether external lamps are exchanged or removed for cleaning, they are not always put back into the correct position and angle, which ultimately decreases light intensity, adversely affecting the detection of materials. Operators can prevent these occurrences when opting for FLYING BEAM®. Based on its limited number of easily accessible lamps and integrated lamp power monitoring system, our customers benefit from convenient maintenance and receive alerts when a lamp fails. Consequently, the operator can rapidly replace the lamp and reduces machine downtime.