E-recyclers are subject to heightened scrutiny from customers, regulators, standards bodies such as R2 and e-Stewards, and a society at large that looks to them to responsibly recycle electronic waste and support a circular economy.
This requires those e-recyclers to closely track e-waste orders as they are collected, sorted, processed, dismantled, wiped of data, moved across locations and moved down the recycling chain. This is in addition to numerous other process requirements, such as conducting safety tests, training employees, staying on top of compliance events – you name it.
Yes, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is available to achieve the above. However, ERPs ignore a fundamental fact of e-recyclers: Most do not have the IT departments or the technological expertise to effectively implement an ERP system.
A common refrain is, “ERPs are just too confusing. I need something that is way simpler. Something I have more control over.”
Many recyclers simply fall back upon familiar, rudimentary tools such as Excel. This is obviously suboptimal because information tends to get lost in document chaos, often leading to non-compliances and non-conformances. Furthermore, there is no way to give customers a transparent view of your operations.
This is exactly why e-recyclers need to be introduced to no-code process automation technology.
What is no-code process automation?
No-code automation software is a new breed of software that allows businesses to use simple drag-and-drop and graphical interfaces to rapidly build applications for their processes. No IT expertise is needed, and anyone with basic computer familiarity can quickly automate processes.
No-code is one of the fastest growing categories of software as businesses try to give subject matter experts more control over their tools and the ability to react faster to market changes. This provides an advantage over the use of IT departments, which are distant from the requirements on the ground. Gartner predicts that half of all new no-code clients will come from business buyers outside the IT organization by the end of 2025.
The electronics recycling industry is perfectly poised to benefit from this new revolution in digitization.
Benefits to e-recyclers
- Ease: A hallmark of no-code automation software is just how easy it is to set up and use; it takes hours and days, not months, to set up an application. As one example, an e-recycler looking to automate customer orders can simply drag and drop fields on a canvas to create an order form, set simple “if-then” rules to determine who is to be notified and made responsible when an order comes in, and track historical trends in orders through reports.
- Familiarity: Most no-code automation software collects data in a simple spreadsheet-like interface, while offering way more than a regular spreadsheet, such as working in real-time, being web-based and team-centric, and offering the ability to create simple rules for how data will behave.
- Speed and control: The simplicity of no-code software allows e-recyclers to be very nimble in response to their changing needs and be in control of their solution, sparing them from having to communicate with a consultant or IT expert for every little change. If the operation was expanded to include data sanitization, the process application can quickly be adapted to reflect this change.
- Digitization: No-code applications are digital and cloud-based, meaning that all relevant team members can contribute, whether they are behind a laptop pricing an order, on the shop floor with a tablet serializing items, or collecting an order with access to a phone.
Examples of processes that may be automated
While each e-recycler’s operations have their own unique intricacies, here are some examples of common processes that may be automated:
- Cradle-to-grave apps: An application that reflects the entire operation of an e-recycler from order creation to pick-up, sorting and processing, and downstream resale.
- Chain of custody customer portal: A simple portal that allows customers to raise orders and transparently track the chain of custody of their materials all the way through to final disposal.
- Safety and facility inspections: An application that may be used to conduct periodic safety inspections and manage tasks related to non-conformances.
- Downstream vendor audits: Standards such as R2 require that not only e-recyclers meet certain standards of operation, but so do their downstream vendors. Downstream vendor audit forms can let e-recyclers quickly gather key information from their downstream and keep it organized in one place for auditors.
- Training management: E-recyclers are required to regularly train their employees, especially if they are dealing with hazardous materials or sensitive data. The training management app can track who has been trained on what and when that training took place. It can even create quizzes and assessments within the application. This information is readily available to present to regulators and auditors.
These represent a handful of examples, but the limit is really the imagination of the e-recycling business person in terms of how much they want to cut down on busy work, transparently integrate with their upstream and downstream, and be able to gain insights from data to improve operations.
Pankaj Taneja is director of marketing at WorkMap, a no-code process automation platform. WorkMap.ai recently launched the eRecycling Business Management Suite, a library of out-of-the-box no-code applications for electronics recyclers.