Daily Management Review

Apple Uses Robot To Disassemble iPhones To Recover Minerals For Reuse


Mining companies around the world have warned of higher demand for minerals with a shift in the consumption and usage pattern of minerals such as in the use of more rare minerals for electric vehicles.
While agreeing that there is a rising demand for electronic products means new mines will still be needed to meet the demands, iPhone maker Apple is attempting to change of recycling of electronic goods with the use of a robot that is capable of disassembling its iPhone in order to recover and reuse the minerals in them.
The use of the robot is a part of its strategy of turning itself into a "closed-loop" manufacturer who does not need to depend on the mining industry for its raw materials, said the Cupertino, California-based company. However some industry analysts have said that this very aggressive aim is nearly impossible to achieve.
"We're not necessarily competing with the folks who mine," said Lisa Jackson, the company's head of environment, policy and social media. "There's nothing for miners to fear in this development."
Currently, the company’s iPhone disassembling robot Daisy is able to break down 14 minerals stat are used on them the iPhones and the company is already using the robot for this purpose at a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. The most valuable and rare minerals that are recovered include lithium which is extracted and recycled. In some of its products recycled tin, cobalt and rare earths is already being used by Apple and it wants to add on more products on that list.
The first commercial batch of carbon-free aluminum was purchased by Apple from a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa last month.
The robot is about 20 yards in length and it is able to extract metals from iPhone battery through a four-step process. A blast of air cooled to minus-80 Celsius degree is used first which helps to pop out screws and modules, including the haptic module that makes a phone vibrate.
Following this the disassembled parts are then sent to recycling plants for extracting the minerals and refining them. 200 iPhones every hour can be broken down by the robot – being called Daisy. Jackson said that the mass popularity of the iPhone prompted the company to choose it as the first of its products that would be disassembled by the robot.
Apple is also contemplating allowing other companies, including electric car makers, to use the robot.  
However this use of the robot is have been criticized skeptics that include some experts in the tech industry who have demanded that company should focus more on manufacturing products that can be repaired and not simply recycled. "There's this ego that believes they can get all their minerals back, and it's not possible," said Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, a firm that argues in favour of repairing of electronic products instead of simply replacing them with new ones. .
That could be one of the reasons that the mining industry is not worried by this measure by Apple.
"Apple is in an enviable position, because they can do this," said Tom Butler, president of the International Council on Mining and Metals, an industry trade group. "Not everyone else will be able to follow suit."