There isn’t a single piece of equipment that can effectively sort construction and demolition (C&D) recycling streams all on its own. However, by combining the right equipment in the proper sequence, operators can reduce their reliance on manual sorting, better manage contamination and lower their overhead at the same time.

For Will Hancock, stationary equipment sales manager for Komptech Americas and Plexus Recycling Technologies, a combinational approach to equipment investment featuring low-speed shredding on the front end of a system, followed by ballistic separation and then robotic sorting offers the optimal return on investment for C&D recyclers.

While Komptech Americas’ single-shaft Terminator low-speed shredder reduces the bulk density of incoming material and creates a uniform composition, its Ballistor combines ballistic separation and screening to sort the resulting 3D material, 2D material and fines into A and B lines.

This one-two punch offers a uniformly sized and sorted product that is then able to be effectively managed by Plexus’ ZenRobotics Heavy Picker robots.

Hancock says that the AI-powered ZenRobotics sorting system, which can be customized to focus on whatever materials an operator wants to prioritize, can offer recyclers the ability to automate operations and lessen reliance on manual pickers. However, the key for maximizing output is taking a “tortoise over the hare” approach, Hancock says.

He notes that the Heavy Picker robots are rated to handle 40 tons per hour of front-end throughput. While some recyclers like to throw as much material on the belt as possible, sticking with a more measured throughput on the front end allows for better results. The beauty of sticking with this slower-but-steady throughput is that recyclers can process as much or more material over the course of a day than would be possible by overloading the belt.

Hancock says that some operators utilize manual sorters to focus on incoming 3D material during the day and then use the robots for a fully automated night shift to sort the rest of the material. Others choose to use manual sorters and robots in tandem to ensure material recovery is augmented.

Additionally, Hancock says that utilizing robots for negative sorting operations where the automated pickers take out the less desirable material from the material of value can be an effective strategy.

To put the efficiency of the ZenRobotics Heavy Picker robots into perspective, Hancock cites Atlanta-based C&D recycler Metrosite.

Where similar-sized operators might require 20 workers to operate a C&D recycling facility, Metrosite employs only six to eight to run its entire operation.

By working with a skeleton crew, Metrosite can achieve similar tonnages as more heavily staffed sites do but with much lower overhead.

According to Metrosite owner Scott Ledford, the ZenRobotics Heavy Picker has allowed his facility to remain profitable even during staffing shortages.

“I feel like the robots have helped us cut down around 18 or 20 positions in the facility. We still have some quality control people on staff, but their workload is extremely light because the robots do such a good job,” said Ledford. “We opened our doors around the same time the COVID pandemic started, and if it wasn’t for the robots, I probably couldn’t have kept the doors open because we couldn’t find workers. By using the Ballistor ballistic separator, which does a tremendous amount of work on the front end, by the time the material gets to the robots, there is not a lot of contamination in it. Then we just use the robots to pick some of the larger 3D material, and they do a marvelous job at it.”

By being willing to invest in C&D sorting solutions from Komptech Americas and Plexus Recycling Technologies, Ledford has been able to work smarter, not harder, to achieve his recovery goals while simultaneously saving on operational costs.

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