OCR & Responsible Electronics Recycling

by Ilya Evdokimov | Feb 01, 2021 | OCR Blog

Responsible Electronics Recycling

Optical character recognition, or OCR, is something we associate increasingly with data capture for purposes of safety and convenience. Perhaps most notable is the technology’s use in ID scanning and data capture that allow for the quick identification of individuals and credentials. This is a relatively simple concept (even if the underlying tech is quite impressive), but one that is on track to benefit multiple facets of society. Reliable OCR will ultimately play a role in everything from helping passengers through airport security to efficiently verifying tickets at ballgames and concerts.

As practical as these functions and benefits are though, OCR also has some more behind-the-scenes applications that are likely to play a significant role in the world. Among these are the potential to bring about more responsible recycling of electrical materials — and specifically, printed circuit boards.

Success of OCR for microchips and electronics largely depends on advanced image pre-processing available in most WiseTREND image enhancement tools.  Processes like adaptive binarization (conversion of color to black & white), perspective correction, rotation and deskewing all help to produce a picture that is not beneficial for human eyes or any other purposes other than Optical Character Recognition or text detection and processing.  Here is an example of a typical such image transformation in preparation for successful OCR.  Then OCR engine can easily find and read the text once all noise has been filtered out.  WiseTREND advanced imaging + OCR tools provide this successful result.

For those who may not be well versed in the intricacies of modern electronics, or may not be aware of what role a printed circuit board plays, the question of what a PCB is actually has a simple answer. A PCB is the small, electrical circuit in the form of a mechanical structure that conveys connections within a device. It is a typically green, chip-like object that you’ve likely seen before, either in renderings or on the insides of electronics, and it is one of a few essential components that allow any given electronic device to operate.

As essential as PCBs are though, they are also notoriously tricky to dispose of. Certain materials within the average PCB can be toxic to the environment, and in some cases it is difficult to even identify an old, used PCB.

To solve the former problem, manufacturers are actually making significant progress toward designing PCBs with more sustainable materials that will either degrade naturally or make for easy recycling. Discussions about cleaning electronic waste have pointed out that there are often parts of PCBs (like copper components) that can be turned into useful material when handled properly. Making such materials more prominent, or building PCBs with more, similar materials, results in more sustainable electronics.

The latter problem, however — that of identifying old, used PCBs that have been discarded — is where OCR can come into play. In these cases, we’re talking about a literal issue with being able to read the small text that will often identify the components within a PCB. And even a number of years ago, research studies on text recognition began to suggest that OCR technology could make it easier to manage this issue. Simply put, a tech-based approach can bring about more accurate identification of components. With that information in hand, waste can be distributed more responsibly, and materials can be recycled whenever possible.

This is a fascinating function of text- and data-capture technology, and raises interesting implications as to how said technology could ultimately be even more useful in resource management.