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Q&A with MRF Summit Speaker Rob Writz of AMP Robotics

November 10, 2020

SWANA and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) partner for the return of the MRF Summit, taking place November 18–19, 2020. This year’s virtual event will explore key issues affecting Materials Recovery Facilities and recycling, including the impact of automation and technology on the workforce, the changing material stream, creating demand for recovered material, the business economics of MRFs, and more.

Rob Writz, director of business development for AMP Robotics, will be a speaker in the MRF Session, "Improve Efficiency and Productivity Through Technology,” on Wednesday, November 18 at 3:15 p.m. EST. AMP Robotics will also be sponsoring this session. Mr. Writz answers questions about the MRF Summit and his session, and describes the significant and growing role of AI. Check out his Q&A below and register for the MRF Summit at mrfsummit.org.

Why is the MRF Summit important?

Rob Writz (RW): SWANA and ISRI’s MRF Summit convenes top leaders in recycling to discuss key issues affecting the industry. For MRF operators, it’s a chance to engage in conversations about topics like the impact of automation and technology on the workforce, the changing material stream, and the business economics of MRFs, taking away best practices and learning how to adapt their operations. As a technology provider, we participate so we can continue to listen and understand the challenges MRFs face, and how we can best meet their needs with current and future solutions. 

What is your session about and why should participants tune in?

(RW): I’m participating in a panel about applying technology to boost MRF productivity and efficiency. It’s been only a few years since robots first made inroads into recycling, and the positive impact they’re having is evident. They’re addressing many of the central challenges the industry faces, from worker safety and bale purity to labor shortages and lowering the overall cost of recycling. And in a year upended by COVID-19, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technology have helped recycling businesses weather the challenges of the pandemic and be resilient as the importance of recycled materials as feedstock for our supply chain came sharply into focus. 

As we look to the future, it’s AI that offers great potential to continue to transform recycling, delivering more value to MRFs and beyond. The power of AI as a tool for boosting productivity and efficiency is still in its early stages, and we’re beta testing solutions to help the industry take advantage of its burgeoning potential. In this session, we’ll share more about AI, our product development efforts, and what it all means for the future of the industry. 

What do you hope attendees take away from your session?

(RW): We want to show how further integration of AI and data into a MRF will enable real-time monitoring and analysis of material composition as it flows through a facility, providing visibility into and feedback about material streams. With data and tangible metrics, operators can get ahead of mechanical or configuration-based issues and communicate with business partners or key staff in the facility, optimizing their operations to run their business more productively and efficiently. 

What do you hope is the future of this industry?

(RW): AI and the information and insights it yields is the future of the industry—because you can’t manage what you can’t measure. The recycling industry will undergo an evolution seen in other industries with “material” flow, including electricity, wastewater, and water utilities. Each developed and deployed a form of meter to cost effectively count the movement of its “material,” then deployed various efficiencies to become “smart utilities.” As its sophistication and value grows, the AI technology powering robots can become the material flow meter for recycling, helping operators understand not just the what, but the why, behind changes in the material they’re processing. Today’s MRF will evolve from material hubs into information hubs.

Can you share any information on any interesting projects you are working on?

(RW): We’re regularly adding new categories of material to our AI platform, extending our ability to identify and pick recyclables at the brand level by working with consumer-packaged goods companies to recover higher rates of these materials.

For example, Keurig Dr. Pepper converted the material used in the container of its K-Cup coffee pods to polypropylene, a sought-after plastic for recycled materials, and worked with us to ensure proper identification of these #5 pods so they can be extracted from the recycling stream and properly processed. GFL Environmental in Denver now accepts emptied coffee pods via curbside recycling and processes them in its single-stream recycling line. This precise identification and continued addition of subcategories is meeting market needs for a higher-quality end product that isn’t contaminated by other materials, and a larger volume of recycled material that can be turned back into new packaging.

To register for the MRF Summit and hear more from Rob Writz and others on this topic, please visit mrfsummit.org. Read Mr. Writz's blog, Artificial Intelligence: Powering the Next Wave of MRF Efficiency and Productivityto learn more about the session.

About the Speaker

Rob Writz is director of business development for AMP Robotics, a pioneer and leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics for the recycling industry. His professional career has focused on the intersection of software with smart cities and the circular economy. Before joining AMP Robotics in 2016, Mr. Writz was a product manager for Intrado (acquired by West), and his teams developed the core location technology for mobile 9-1-1. He worked in technology commercialization at The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and led the Cleantech Practice at Innosphere, Colorado’s seed fund and incubator for science-based startups.

 

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