Kringloopcentrum Zuid-West-Vlaanderen sorts textile automatically

To optimise its operations and increase the working comfort for its staff, the non-profit association Kringloopcentrum Zuid-West-Vlaanderen chose to develop an ergonomic textile sorting system and automated packaging of the discharge flow.

Vzw Kringloopcentrum Zuid-West-Vlaanderen is much more than a second-hand shop. It wants to contribute to a sustainable world and is therefore concerned about the environment and social employment. Kringloopcentrum has three main objectives in mind: prevent waste and contribute to environmental sustainability through maximising the reuse of goods, affordable goods and services for everyone and offering work to people who find it more difficult on the regular labour market. With this in mind, the centre aims to provide added value for the community wherever possible.

The main activities are the collection, sorting and sale of second-hand goods. Besides six second-hand shops in the region, the non-profit organisation Kringloopcentrum Zuid-West-Vlaanderen houses its central services in Heule near Kortrijk. This is where the transport department and furniture service are located, where clothes are sorted, electrical appliances are checked ... The offices are also located there.

Increasing supply of textiles

In the future, the textile department at Kringloopcentrum will collect more goods because there are more collection points on the public domain. Every day, about 5 tons of textiles are processed, originating from containers on the street, in recycling parks, collections at home and in our own recycling shops. After sorting and quality control, the best items are sold in our own shops or are temporarily stored. The items which are not good enough to be sold (the ‘rejected fraction’) were until recently put in bags, tied up and thrown in a pile for later collection by external sorting companies for further recycling. All actions had to be done manually, often not properly grouped together (causing a lot of walking back and forth) and not adequately structured. In order to continue to cope with the growing influx with the same number of employees, reduce the physical and psychological load on the employees and integrate individual quality control, the intelligent automation of the material flow became a necessity.

Double intervention

The centre wanted to focus on two (complementary) tracks: improving the entire processing chain, automating the supply of textiles, and automating the manipulation of the rejected fraction. Up to now the supply would arrive in wire carts from which the bags had to be lifted in order to sort them on tables. Instead, they wanted to tilt the bags from the lorries onto conveyor belts that would ensure automatic supply: the bags would be torn open, the goods would fall onto a conveyor belt and initially would be sorted into no less than 17 fractions.

The system must be flexible enough to respond, in the future, to alternative supply or further-reaching sorting. For the rejected fraction, Kringloopcentrum thought of a machine that automatically groups, compresses, packs and prepares the goods for disposal.

In collaboration with Xiak, Kortrijk's industrial automation expertise centre, the sorting process was studied with an eye to automation of the flow. This involved the study and development of a test module and control software for multifunctional ergonomic workstations and software for the routing, input and output of the workstations. In addition, the inflow and outflow are also weighed and recorded in each phase and automatically stored in the event of temporary oversupply. In collaboration with Sirris, a test module was designed for automated packaging of the fraction to be removed and adjusted.

In the meantime, the solutions have been implemented and, where necessary, are being further optimised.

Expected results

Kringloopcentrum wants to be able to process the planned growth in volume with the same number of people (as the regulations prevent an increase in the number of target group employees) through greater efficiency. It also aims to reduce absenteeism due to illness by 20 percent in one year by reducing back problems and reducing mental stress through more structure in the chain. It will also be able to respond flexibly to changes in supply and/or (sorting) demand and spread employment, regardless of seasonal peaks, by better stock management and automated buffering. Abolishing all lifting work should enable a broader range of tasks, for example for people with physical disabilities. Finally, the individual training, guidance and follow-up of the target group employees can be improved.

The developments are also interesting for other recycling centres dealing with textile sorting, and also outside this sector, where there is a need for automated packaging of textile.

This video shows the textile sorting and automated discharge:

(Source :