By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What might be considered the future of the recycling industry has found a new home here in the Twin Cities.

Dem Com Companies is a recycling plant in Shakopee. It recently installed a robot to help sort items — only the second plant in the country to have the new technology.

WCCO’s Jeff Wagner explains why it’s needed– And how it’s actually getting better with experience. Many hands make light work.

Many hands make light work — and in the recycling world, you need a lot of them. At Dem Com Companies, President Bill Keegan wishes he had more.

“We also rely heavily on manual separation,” he said. “In Shakopee, it’s very challenging because we have a low unemployment rate — we’ve got an unemployment rate of about 3 percent in Shakopee.”

So with jobs to fill and not enough people to hire, Keegan turned to automation. The super-speed sorter picks out containers coming across the conveyor belt.

“It’s around 60 picks per minute,” Keegan said.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, it’s getting better at its job every day.

“It starts looking at hundreds of images, then thousands of images and ten thousands of images, and builds its database to get more and more efficient at what it recognizes,” Keegan said.

Anything it misses gets snagged up by human workers down the line. Keegan feels automation is the future of the industry, but he says humans will always have a hand in the recycling industry.

“We’re still going to have to have jobs to be able to monitor the robot, maintain the robot, the robots aren’t going to be able to do everything the humans can,” he said.

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