Purchase of six recycling robots solves human shortage

By: McKinley Leonard-Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner
MIDDLESEX – After struggling with staffing shortages, Bluewater Recycling Association (BRA) brought six robots into its Huron Park facility to help with the sorting of recycling.
“We’re the first in Canada to my knowledge to have this high-tech of an installation,” said an enthusiastic Strathroy-Caradoc Deputy Mayor Brad Richards, who also chairs the BRA Board of Directors. BRA President Francis Veilleux explained that the recycling industry is often quick to embrace the cutting-edge of technology.
“They use hyperspectral vision, which can distinguish different kinds of plastic that look identical to the human eye,” Veilleux said. Each bot has three components – a visual sensor to detect items, a mechanical arm to pick and sort, and an artificial intelligence (AI) database which stores the robots’ knowledge. As time goes on the AI gets better, drawing from a pool of data from Huron Park and other recycling facilities around the world. The Machinex
Samurai sorting robots were purchased in late 2020 for $1.9-million, after over a year of attempting to recruit for vacant human sorter positions. With combined savings and increased revenues, BRA is forecasting a payback on their investment in about 2.5 years.
According to Veilleux, robots work fast and consistently make 70 picks/minute, compared to around 30/minute for a human; however, BRA doesn’t yet plan on making a full transition away from human employees.
“We love our people, and we aren’t looking to get rid of them,” said Veilleux on the subject of job security. There have been no layoffs due to the new machinery; however, the addition means BRA can run the facility with six employees on the line instead of 12, which has led to the creation of an evening shift.
Workers remain on the line in case of emergencies or unusual recycling items. Single-use face masks are a large issue at the recycling plant currently as they get tangled in the equipment, noted Veilleux.
The association collects garbage and recycling in Middlesex County member municipalities, along with the Chippewas of the Thames & Oneida First Nations. The BRA Year-End report was released in May 2021, and is a very informative read for residents curious about the recycling process.