Sandra Rossi, as reported in Climate Control News, writes that the Panasonic Holdings Corporation (PHD) has developed an automatic dismantling system for the covers of air conditioner outdoor units.
The technology is part of Panasonic’s circular economy activities and was developed in collaboration with Panasonic Eco Technology Kanto Co and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation.
Panasonic’s Manufacturing Innovation Division in Japan made the announcement recently. The system includes automatic dismantling equipment that uses robots to dismantle the covers of air conditioner outdoor units, and a dismantling database that stores information required for dismantling.
Under its long-term environmental vision, Panasonic Green Impact (PGI), Panasonic Group is striving to reduce CO2 emissions through its business activities, with the aim to create a sustainable global environment. The development of this automatic dismantling system is part of Panasonic’s initiatives to promote circular economy activities under PGI.
In light of the resource issues affecting the global environment in recent years, the United Nations has set “responsible consumption and production” as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 12), calling for a significant reduction in waste generation and the efficient use of limited resources on a global scale.
In April 2001, the Home Appliance Recycling Law was enforced in Japan to reduce waste and to promote the efficient use of resources by recovering useful parts and materials from used home appliances, such as air conditioners, TVs, refrigerators, freezers, and washing machines and clothes dryers from homes and offices.
As a result of the initiative, a large number of used home appliances have been brought to recycling plants. Today, 3.69 million air conditioners are sent annually to recycling plants where outdoor units are manually dismantled to recover parts, such as heat exchangers, compressors, and control boards, before being shredded and sorted.
As the number of used appliances is expected to increase there is a need to automate the dismantling processes at recycling plants to cope with manpower shortages. However, the automation of the dismantling process has been a challenge because the units come in various sizes and designs depending on the manufacturer. Plus, they are usually installed outdoors exposing them to dirt and rust.
To tackle these issues, PHD has developed automatic dismantling equipment which automatically removes screws and covers from air conditioner outdoor units using AI-based recognition technology. The equipment is also coupled with robot control technology that enables precise positioning control to replicate human manual work.
In cooperation with Kanto and Mitsubishi Materials, PHD also created a dismantling database that stores data on each model of the outdoor air conditioner unit. The data is fed into the dismantling line to improve equipment utilisation rates and lay the foundation for automating the dismantling process.
The automatic dismantling equipment for the covers of air conditioner outdoor units uses a camera that captures images of the outdoor units. By utilising AI, the camera accurately detects screws even with dirt or rust on the units and then sets the positioning of a robotic arm equipped with a screwdriver to remove the screws.
A robotic grasping hand, which mimics human movement, then loosens and removes the cover. These features have enabled partial automation of the dismantling process.
The dismantling database leverages Mitsubishi Material’s AI-OCR technology to read the label of each unit to obtain the data necessary for dismantling, such as the number and location of screws on the outdoor unit of the air conditioner, and then accumulates this data in the database.
As a result, the outdoor unit models registered in the dismantling database can be dismantled more efficiently, with fewer unnecessary movements of the robot due to misidentification of screws. The more automatic dismantling equipment is used, the number of models stored in the database is expected to increase.