Tiny controller plays big role in recycling

3 min read

The humble FX compact PLC (programmable logic controller) from Mitsubishi is playing a vital and increasing role in reducing landfill and improving recycling.

Waste, recyclable and food waste collection vehicle manufacture has evolved from standard products to a variety of customised and bespoke solutions as the nation strives to reach challenging landfill reduction targets.

For some manufacturers, such as Terberg Matec UK Ltd., the on-board controls have progressed from manually operated hydraulic valves to programmable electronic systems, often with a sophisticated graphical operator interface that helps simplify the use of the equipment and reduce fatigue. These displays can also be used to automatically display ‘live’ vehicle payloads as the collection round progresses.

Sheldon Hall of Terberg Matec UK Ltd., one of the leading refuse vehicle builders, explains how industrial technology is making a vital contribution to the markets served by Terberg’s bin lift and recycling vehicle solutions:

“As a nation, by 2010, we are committed to reducing landfill volumes to 75 per cent of that in 1995. This ambitious target will become increasingly achievable as we continue to recycle so much of what was traditionally considered rubbish.”

“For the local authorities and private sector contractors, this means sorting the materials by type, either at a MRF (materials recovery facility or ‘Murf’) or at source, i.e. the kerbside, during collection and treating each appropriately. The latter method provides a significant number of local authorities with the most efficient solution for their needs and has driven the development of a whole new generation of collection vehicles.”

The first stage of kerbside segregation involves the communication process to engage householders and motivate them to sort their recyclables into different bins or boxes for paper, card, cans, plastic, etc. These recyclable streams are then collected using a specialist non-compaction, multi-compartment vehicle such as Terberg’s Kerbsider solution that offers segregated storage compartments for each recyclable faction. Here, the recyclables are emptied from household storage into separate compartments on the vehicles side mounted trough, the trough is then raised vertically up the side of the vehicle whilst the roof opens and then discharges each recycling stream into its corresponding compartment within the Kerbsider body.

With up to six body compartments, a powered rear door, power trough lift and powered internal door locks, the typical Kerbsider vehicle requires every function to be interlocked through the Mitsubishi FX PLC such that each function can only operate when it is safe to do so. The FX also provides the brains behind the optional, intelligent, wheelie bin clamp system that allows the Kerbsider® to safely hoist domestic wheelie bins into the air and empty them into its body.
The FX is probably the most popular controller in European industry, with perhaps 10 million in use. It was the world’s first compact PLC and as such stole a considerable march on competitor products. The original version was launched nearly 30 years ago, but constant development has kept it at the cutting edge of electronics capability.
“The FX is tiny, but it takes a complex assembly of mechanical, hydraulic and electro-pneumatic components such as our Kerbsider or Toploader products and helps transform them into a highly sophisticated, intelligent and interactive solution for the collection of recyclables at the very front line of the environmental management process,” says Sheldon.

Sheldon explains that various councils and private contractors are increasingly trying different and innovative ways in which to improve recycling. Their plans relate to differing local needs, physical and social barriers and resource limitations and also to different operating strategies.

“The change in customer behaviour and operational requirements was inevitable, here at Terberg we are lucky enough to have a management and engineering team that have been able to react quickly to the changing market requirements and have been proactive in developing the market. So we have gradually evolved our Workshop manufacturing capabilities from that geared towards producing ‘standard’ vehicle configurations to a more customer focused approach where we can offer far greater customisation to our base product lines. Our concerns over the engineering challenges posed by having such a diverse product range and ensuring safety in operation throughout have been significantly reduced by the adoption of industrial control technology, such as the FX range, that had already proven itself in harsh and demanding conditions.”

Some of Terberg’s recycling vehicle body solutions even include a Mitsubishi E series HMI (human machine interface) in the cab! This is a touch screen graphics display, hardened for industrial use or on a dirty, noisy, vibrating vehicle, from which the driver can monitor and control all operations of the specialist recycling vehicle body equipment.
“We are always looking for ways to make the ‘man-machine interface’ for our products as user friendly and configurable as possible, the E series HMI unit has certainly helped us achieve this goal and assists greatly in improving the productivity and safety of our vehicles in operation. The HMI units are mainly used on our latest range of Kerbsider® vehicles including our innovative Kerbsider® Combi TD hybrid vehicle that offers a ‘one pass’  solution to collecting dry recyclable AND food waste from the kerbside. The HMI allows us to add new features or even, retrofit options for customers, changes to the ‘virtual’ control panel are relatively easy and would have previously meant significant re-wiring and modification to traditional button stations and panels.”

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