One of Apples Liam iPhone 6 robots

Apple recycling robots offer a second bite at resources

How Apple has expanded its extended producer responsibility initiatives by introducing a new way to recover resources from its old iPhone technology.

This past March, Apple unveiled a new technology that took the public by surprise.

The public is used to the anticipation and fanfare associated with Apple
new product launches, but this was completely different. Instead of launching a new gadget for consumers to buy, it shared news of its new technology designed to take it apart and recover the valuable resources inside.

Liam is a line of robots with 29 independent robotic arms at various process stations, using screwdrivers, drills and suction cups, which can deconstruct an iPhone 6S every 11 seconds to recover its high-quality components for reuse or recycling.

The text accompanying the YouTube video demonstrating the Liam recycling machine in action states its purpose: “True innovation means considering what happens to a product at every stage of its life cycle. Liam disassembles your iPhone when it’s no longer functioning, so the materials inside can live on.”

The robot scans the phone to detect the parts and sets about removing them, piece by piece, in a safer, 
more efficient fashion that manual dismantling. It avoids personnel being affected by battery leakage and robots work in pairs, so if one is slowed down by a damaged or corroded part, the other can continue its task.

Parts are vacuumed up tubes and dropped into buckets for repurposing.

The recovered elements include cobalt and lithium from the battery, gold and copper from the camera, and silver and platinum from the main control board. This lessens Apple’s dependency on mining more of those valuable resources from the earth.

Liam was under development for almost three years, and was initially designed to recycle the iPhone 6S. However, Apple plans to modify and expand the system to handle different devices and recover more resources.

“It’s an experiment in recycling technology, and we hope this kind of thinking will inspire others,” says Apple in its latest environmental responsibility report.

Liam prototypes are currently operating in California, but Apple says it plans to open a deconstruction facility in Europe in the near future.

Commitment to the environment

Liam is the latest addition to Apple’s existing extensive suite of sustainability initiatives.

Information provided in the Apple 2016 Environment Responsibility Report emphasises its commitment to making sure all its waste streams created by its final assembly facilities and across its operations are reused, recycled, composted, or, when necessary, converted into energy.

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