Numerical modeling of an automated optical belt sorter using the Discrete Element Method
Optical sorters are important devices in the processing and handling of the globally growing material streams. The precise optical sorting of many bulk solids is still difficult due to the great technical effort necessary for transport and flow control. In this study, particle separation with an automated optical belt sorter is modeled numerically. The Discrete Element Method (DEM) is used to model the sorter and calculate the particle movement as well as particle - particle and particle - wall interactions. The particle ejection stage with air valves is described with the help of a MATLAB script utilizing particle movement information obtained with the DEM. Two models for predicting the particle movement between the detection and separation phase are implemented and compared. In the first model, it is assumed that the particles are moving with belt velocity and without any cross movements and a conventional line scan camera is used for particle detection. In the second model, a more sophisticated approach is employed where the particle motion is predicted with an area scan camera combined with a tracking algorithm. In addition, the influence of different operating parameters like particle shape or conveyor belt length on the separation quality of the system is investigated. Results show that numerical simulations can offer detailed insight into the operation performance of optical sorters and help to optimize operating parameters. The area scan camera approach was found to be superior to the standard line scan camera model in almost all investigated categories.