Tandom - Your metal recycling partner

Tandom feature in the September 2022 issue of Aluminium International Today:

Wake up and smell the coffee capsule recycling

Article courtesy of Aluminium Today. 

With sustainability efforts high on the agenda for the aluminium industry and consumers, Tandom Metallurgical Group is leading the way with new recycling processing technologies. Nadine Bloxsome* recently visited the company’s Congleton, UK, site to see these processes first-hand and speak with Mike Dines** about the challenges currently facing the recycling sector.

Tandom Metallurgical Group (Tandom) was formed in November 2008, bringing together AL Resources Ltd and Integrali Ltd. In 2009, Tandom acquired the assets and premises of FE Mottram Ltd, one of the largest aluminium ingot producers in the UK. From there, the company grew and this financial year will report a turnover of approximately £140 Million, up from £20 Million in 2010. Significant investment was also made into the Congleton, UK site in 2013/14, with the purchasing of new furnaces and pollution handling systems. Today, the company offers a whole range of processes for aluminium, nonferrous metals, stainless steel, and ferrous scraps from two sites within the UK. It is responsible for processing scrap metals from a wide range of industries including aerospace, automotive, building and food; handling materials as diverse as coffee capsules, used beverage cans, drosses, turnings and cuttings.

Coffee Capsule Processing

One of the main reasons Aluminium International Today was recently invited to visit the Congleton facility was to see the coffee capsule processing system in action! This relatively new system has developed significantly since it was introduced in 2020 and with the support and help of organisations such as Alupro, Nespresso and more recently the launch of the Podback scheme, Tandom has seen huge growth in the number of aluminium capsules now being processed daily.

The initial idea for this scheme started back in 2008, with engagement from
Nespresso and Alupro following the bad press that aluminium coffee capsules were receiving from the media and the genuine desire from Nespresso to have a recyclable product.

“There was coverage on the TV including The One Show at the time, which led to the handling of aluminium coffee capsules receiving criticism, as the belief was that the majority of capsules were ending up in landfill,” says Mike Dines, Director, Tandom.

“We became involved very early on because we had already had the equipment on site that could process and handle the capsules they were generating, it started out as a Pilot Study to see how well we could separate out the coffee from the capsule and to understand the challenges that it posed. We certainly didn’t expect the tonnages we are seeing today that has been as a result of the successful scheme that Nespresso introduced; this growth continues with the development and introduction of the Podback scheme.

“In the early days it began as a very labour-intensive process, with the bags having to be cut open by hand and the capsules loaded into the shredder before separation would take place with the coffee going one way and aluminium the other before being melted in the furnace. “As time went on, we started to see the tonnage growing and the Pilot scheme was such a success that we decided we needed to automate the process and in 2020, we installed bespoke equipment that can take the bagged capsules and separate out all the individual components of Aluminium, Coffee and Plastic. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of recycling their aluminium coffee capsules and there are new variations added into the market, the demand and need for recycling will only
continue to grow. To meet this everincreasing demand Tandom can run the equipment on extended shifts explains Mike.

“It’s a great success story,” continues Mike. “The sales of coffee capsules are predicted to be going up and up, so we need recycling schemes in place to support this. Tandom has been engaged from the very beginning and we were willing to try and find a solution. It’s not always been easy, with several trials and painful procedures along the way, but it’s great to be part of this collaboration and success story.”

Industry challenges

As with all manufacturers, Tandom has had to face a number of challenges over the years, but more recently, the rising energy costs and salt slag recycling capabilities have led to necessary operational changes and monitoring systems being implemented.

“We have a number of key targets including zero landfill and year on year
energy improvement targets.” says Mike. “As a recycler, we are already sustainable, but it is our goal to now look at other solutions to make sure we are doing as much as we can to deal with industry issues as well as those that we have internally.”

“A big challenge we are focusing on is residual plastics within aluminium packaging and how to separate this. There are technologies out there that can assist with this, such as Microwave Pyrolysis, so this is one aspect we are looking at. We are also a very diverse business and work with scrap, trading, and aluminium melting. While this is all recycled material, it still consumes a large amount of energy,  so we have recently had a Carbon Trust survey carried out to challenge parts of our business and look at how we can be more efficient, how we use energy and whether we could improve our furnaces and general operational procedures. It has also encouraged us to look at renewable energy and whether solar panels would be beneficial plus any energy saving technologies from simple things such as LED lighting to the more difficult heat recovery systems. The first part that we had to do was to fully understand where we consumed our energy and as such, we have introduced live time monitoring of all our equipment.”

“Every piece of equipment now has live, real-time data that’s gathered from it, so we can drill down into each component and see things like which motor is consuming the most energy on the shredding line. This is the first part of our sustainability drive; to understand where we use it and where we can look to reduce our consumption, either doing more with the same or doing the same with less.”

Digital Twin Technology

One specific area in which Tandom has explored new technology is by teaming up with industrial gas company, Air Products, in creating a digital twin of the remelting process. In 2020, Tandom embarked on a 10-month study with Air Products to explore how the introduction of smart technology, such as equipment sensors and associated analytics, could generate data, which could be used to boost efficiency and productivity.

The digital twin model of the equipment or melting process uses data to determine the efficiency of the melting
process, calculating exactly when the metal inside has reached optimal melt conditions. Real-time closed or open-loop feedback is provided to operators, either automatically shutting down the burner or alerting them that the metal has reached the required temperature for tapping.

As new data continues to feed into themodel, machine learning technology also improves its predictions over time. We wanted to find a solution that would enable us to achieve greater efficiencies, while also making sure that we could achieve as high a yield as possible,” says Mike. “Working closely with Air Products, we collected a substantial amount of base data before the 4.0 technology was added to the furnace, this then demonstrated the benefit and impact of the digital twin. We were really pleased with the result, as it not only improved our yield, but also reduced our energy usage too – reducing carbon emissions by 15 per cent and achieving the same
amount in energy savings.” The full study report downloaded here. 


Going forward, it looks very likely that there will be more effort made towards partnerships and activities linked to sustainability; and it is clear that Tandom’s willingness to engage with the industry and explore new methods will keep the business at the forefront of these developments.

While it is an optimistic time for futureproofing and investing in new technologies, there are substantial challenges on the horizon that could affect not only this business, but the UK aluminium industry and supply chains in general.