The 1998 commercial introduction of the RP-1 resin-detection device raised the hopes of recyclers who handle automotive and electronics plastics.
But the device had a drawback: Its laser took too long to identify black and dark pigmented plastics, which sometimes resulted in burning the material.
Now SpectraCode Inc. has added a new probe head to the RP-1 that the company said solves that problem and makes durable-goods recycling more cost-effective.
"Because it doesn't burn carbon-loaded materials, it analyzes them like it analyzes other colors," said Edward Grant, chief executive officer of the West Lafayette, Ind., company.
The new probe uses technology called distributed focusing. It works like a bar-code scanner to test black plastic samples at full laser power with no burning. The old probes took five or more seconds to identify a black plastic resin, while the improved probes take less than a second.
"It doesn't miss a beat," Grant said.
Grant also is a professor of chemistry at Purdue University. SpectraCode, located in the Purdue Research Park, formed in 1994 to manufacture scientific instruments for universities. Today the RP-1 generates about 75 percent of SpectraCode's total sales of about $500,000.
The latest device has captured the attention of Honda R&D Americas Inc. in Marysville, Ohio, and major automotive plastics recycler American Commodities Inc. of Flint, Mich.
Mark Kralevich, a plastics engineer with Honda Americas, said the company is reviewing the latest probe head.
"We're hoping to be able to use this instrument to identify the materials in our current mass-production cars, our end-of-life vehicles and to be able to turn those materials around and reuse them into new parts," Kralevich said.
At American Commodities, the original probe has been used to separate materials in bumpers and other parts for Honda and Ford Motor Co. automobiles. Mark Lieberman, chief executive officer at American Commodities, was impressed with the new probe's capabilities.
"This evolution to [Grant's] product should reduce our identification times further and even improve our accuracy on black plastic material identification," he said.
However, along with weighing the performance of the replacement probe head, customers also have to consider its cost. The probe head itself costs about $4,500, which Grant said barely covers the engineering cost.
"It would be nice if we could offer this instrument at a lower cost," he said.
Grant said his company received four orders for the RP-1 in the first quarter of 2000. He expects that to increase this year with the advent of the new probe head.
"It's going to start with a little trickle," he said. "If we do things right, it's going to be a big flood and a tremendous benefit to plastics recycling."