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Recycling plants deal with hundreds of tonnes of recycled plastic every day – all of which need to meet the stringent monitoring and traceability standards set out by corporates and lawmakers. With so many processes and data points involved, a highly advanced Industry 4.0 solution is needed to ‘connect the dots'.

Australia has set the goal for 70 per cent of plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025, and for unnecessary single-use plastic packaging to be phased out. However, of the 1.1m tonnes of plastic packaging placed on the market in 2020, only 16 per cent (or 179,000 tonnes) was recovered, according to data published in the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s (APCO) Collective Impact Report in November 2021.

To help the country meet its recycling targets, the NSW government introduced the Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, which dedicated $337 million in funding to large-scale recycling projects.

One worthy recipient of this initiative is Circular Plastics Australia (a joint venture between Pact Group, Cleanaway Waste Management, Asahi Beverages and Coca-Cola Europacific Partners), which with the additional support of the Australian government’s Recycling Modernisation Fund, constructed a new PET plastic recycling facility in Albury, NSW. 

The $50 million facility, operated by Pact, is capable of processing the equivalent of around one billion 600ml PET plastic beverage bottles – collected via Container Deposit Schemes and kerbside recycling each year.

The bottles are then converted into more than 20,000 tonnes of high-quality plastic resin using state-of-the-art sorting, washing, decontamination and extrusion technology. The food-grade recycled PET (rPET) produced by the facility will be used to manufacture new beverage and water bottles for Asahi Beverages and Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, and new food and beverage packaging for Pact Group’s customers.

Cloud deployment ensures production line traceability

“The large-scale recycling of PET plastic bottles and packaging plays a crucial role in helping Australia to reduce its waste and become more sustainable,” says Richard Roberts, national Industry 4.0 operations manager at Zi-Argus Australia, and member of Open IIoT (a group that includes SMC Corporation Australia/New Zealand, Nord Drivesystems, Balluff, Beckhoff Automation and Kuka Robotics).

“But to ensure that the recycled products are safe for consumers and meet the stringent standards set by corporates and lawmakers, an effective Industry 4.0 solution needed to be implemented across the plant’s production line for monitoring and traceability purposes." 

This requirement resulted in Circular Plastics Australia contracting Zi-Argus to deploy their redundant, clustered cloud-connected solution known as Symbiont to connect all plant systems from infeed to output. This includes the weight of material entering the facility, tracked throughout the process to output of the final product.

“The Industry 4.0 solution also tracks and monitors all equipment, including major processing lines for sorting and washing, extrusion and decontamination, auxiliary machinery, and plant services. This enables the automated collection of data for raw material consumption, production and scrap,” added Roberts.

“Its sophisticated design is configured with redundant servers, such that in the event of an outage the services will recover appropriately by failing over to a redundant service or server – which is a major benefit in a high-output production facility such as the recycling plant."

Symbiont’s endpoints are connected to a variety of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), controllers, Application Programming Interface (APIs), databases and weigh controllers, creating a central data lake of 3000 data points. The solution enabled cloud access from anywhere and provided plant workers with real-time dashboards and reports for production status, monitoring, historical analytics (up to 10 years worth), and insights.

Understanding that equipment monitoring is a crucial feature of IIoT-integration, Symbiont includes custom alerts across all plant systems to provide warnings, escalations and detailed information on active issues. The data shared by these alerts allows operators, plant managers, group managers, and even the CEO if needed, to be informed and visually aware of what is happening in their plant for more effective production and system utilisation. 

Other benefits of IIoT-connectivity in their plant experienced by Circular Plastics Australia include:

  • Data visualisation provides the source material needed for product traceability and for customer audit/verification purposes.
  • A traceability chain is created that covers feedstock material all the way to resin output. This chain is then scalable to include additional upstream and downstream data sources.
  • Manufacturers have reliable data points for sustainability accreditations.

Business continuity ensured through advanced technology

“Many manufacturers do not realise that cloud deployment and software are essential components to ensure continued efficiency in the case of system failure,” says Roberts.

“Symbiont is unique in that it is programmed with a self-healing mindset, and therefore, services can self-heal autonomously in the event of exemptions in the code or failures. This promotes minimal downtime of each individual service.”

The solution is also designed with the microservices pattern, meaning that each service is isolated so that failure in a single service will not cause the whole system to crash.

According to Roberts, a key benefit of an advanced Industry 4.0 solution like Symbiont is its ability to prevent any data losses and ensure that data visualisation is still available, even in the case of system failure.

“At any time, data from Symbiont is available from two identical database servers. If one of the database servers fails or storage becomes corrupted, the data will exist on the other server available for use within a few seconds,” he concluded.

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