At TOMRA we produce advanced collection, sorting and processing solutions that enable the circular economy – and at the heart of these solutions is sensor technology.
Five decades of sensor innovation
The success of the prototype machine ultimately sparked 50 years of sensor technology innovation at TOMRA. TOMRA’s engineers knew that the quality of the sensor data was vital – so they have spent decades working on new developments and improvements, releasing cutting-edge new RVMs that have opened new opportunities in reverse vending.
- 2013 - TOMRA Flow Technology™: The new flagship model TOMRA T9 saw the introduction of industry-changing sensor technology innovations. It broke new ground with TOMRA Flow Technology, the world’s first 360-degree recognition system (eliminating the need to rotate objects). Its connected system of advanced camera, optical and electronics technology brought a new level of operational efficiency and the possibility of handling a variety of container shapes.
- 2019 - TOMRA R1: TOMRA later expanded its TOMRA Flow Technology across its wider portfolio, and the rapid, continuous scanning capabilities it provided made it the perfect and most efficient solution for the TOMRA R1 multi-feed reverse vending machine. TOMRA R1 meant consumers could return over 100 containers at once instead of returning them one-by-one.
- 2021 - DRS security advances: Recognizing the importance of increasing system integrity, TOMRA was at the forefront of developing new sensor technology for the German market in the form of the patented Security Mark Reader 5.0.
Optimizing productivity in today’s reverse vending machines
TOMRA now has approximately 82,000 reverse vending machines across the globe.Different parts of the reverse vending machine incorporate multiple sensors for different phases of the drink containers journey from the front-end to the backroom storage cabins, as shown in the figure above.
Explaining how a typical modular reverse vending set-up works, Mickaël Fontaine said, “The consumer has access to front-end machine options such as single-feed, multi-feed or crate. The machine carries the container to a backroom system comprising modular cabinets for sorting and compaction and, in some cases, a table for refillable bottles and crate conveyors.”
Sensor technology’s impact across TOMRA
Since its humble beginnings in 1972, TOMRA has grown into a global company with approximately 5,000 employees, and generated 12.2 billion NOK in revenue in 2022 alone.
Today its work has extended far beyond the production of RVMs, with three main divisions, all still rooted in sensor technology:
- TOMRA Collection: This division continues the work started by the Planke brothers, specializing in collecting bottles and cans for Clean Loop Recycling. TOMRA’s reverse vending machine technology is playing a significant part in ensuring beverage containers stay in the loop of use and reuse, with over 45 billion drink containers collected every single year. This division also incorporates the company’s Material Recovery business, which picks up, transports and processes used beverage containers and oversees the brokerage of the processed materials to recyclers.
- TOMRA Recycling Sorting: The core objective of this division is to recover recyclable materials from waste and metal streams. Its sensor-based sorting technology helps to divert an array of materials from landfill with its ability to scan, recover and sort materials by type and (depending on the application) by color. Its smart sorting machines can sort solid waste, metals, electronic waste, paper materials and wood, and to date – around 9,000 sensor-based sorting machines for Recycling Sorting have been installed in over 100 countries across the globe.
- TOMRA Mining: This division is working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly mining industry. Using sensor-based sorting technology, TOMRA Mining generates less waste and recovers more valuable minerals and ores, while at the same time reducing energy consumption and water use – improving both sustainability and productivity. In 2015 this sorting equipment even recovered the world’s second-largest diamond in a century.
- TOMRA Food: The leading provider of sorting and steam peeling technology and post-harvest solutions in the food industry, this division sorts and grades processed and fresh food (from fruit and vegetables to proteins and nuts – and many more) to ensure the highest quality and safe, sustainable food. Its cutting-edge technology is a prime example of the sophistication of TOMRA’s sensors. These “super sensors” can detect impurities, toxins and contaminants, and can do everything from measuring the sugar content of apples (helping distinguish premium from low-cost apples) to peeling potatoes in a way that retains as much flesh as possible to reduce waste.