Processing Equipment: Automation and Innovation
December 1, 2019
Although catch processing technology in the commercial fishing industry isn't as advanced as the technology you might find elsewhere, such as the automotive, entertainment or mobile communications industries, that doesn't mean processing tech is at a standstill.
In fact, technological advances over the past 50 years have brought enormous change in handling the catch. New processing procedures can turn what was once waste into ancillary products, thereby adding revenues to the industry's bottom line.
And over the past few years, a handful of companies around the world have been among those leading the way when it comes to developing and adopting new catch processing technology that can be put into use by North American commercial fishing operations. Using automation and data exchange in manufacturing, a system known as Industry 4.0 allows machines to be augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors, connected to a system that can visualize the entire production line and make decisions on its own.
In recent times, automation on all levels – both on-board and on-shore – has been at the forefront of new technology developments, Arnthor Halldorsson of Icelandic maritime technology consortium, Knarr Maritime explained to Fishermen's News.
"Automatic water jet cutters that remove pin-bones from fillets, cut portions and feed into fully automatic graders and packaging equipment are a big development coming out of Iceland," he said.
One of the members of the six-company Knarr consortium, Skaginn 3X, has been instrumental in recent years in changing how catch is treated both on-board and on-shore for whitefish and salmon farming operations, Halldorsson said.
Skaginn 3X specializes in designing, building and installing onboard solutions that maximize profit out of the catch. One its main products is an automatic plate freezer that can be used for bulk production of both small and big packs.
The company says that its plate freezer is specially designed for on-board conditions, and to maximize product quality by using patented non-pressure technology that ensures quality equal to that of blast freezing, but requiring only a quarter of freezing time and energy of a traditional blast freezer.
"Research shows that if whitefish and salmon are bled and sub-chilled to 30F immediately after catch or slaughtering, the shelf life of fresh fish is significantly extended," Halldorsson explained. "In addition, maintaining the sub-chill state through processing results in higher yield and superior product overall."
Also among the companies at the forefront of newer technology is Valka, an Iceland-based company that makes whitefish and salmon processing equipment.
One of the challenges that processors face is that their customers are continually asking for narrower product specifications and consumer-ready packaging. With a more complex product mix, the production process becomes more complex than ever.
As one solution, Valka has introduced the Valka Cutter to optimize the cutting of each fillet to match their customer orders, which the company says reduces food waste and achieves a better overall price mix.
The device automatically removes pin bones and cuts to the desired portions: the machine uses combination of an X-Ray and 3D image processing system along with robot controlled water jets to locate and cut pin bone and portions.
"Valka has the past few years been at the forefront of bringing new technology into fish processing," marketing manager Ágúst Sigurðarson told Fishermen's News. "Since introducing the first water jet cutter for automated removal of pin bone and cutting portions, numerous improvements have come out that further enhance the processing process."
A new feature in the machine, Sigurðarson said, is a dual X-ray camera system that detects the pin bone in 3D and thus enables the cutters to cut more accurately, resulting in less cut-off waste and more meat.
A few months ago, Sigurðarson said, a new cutting-edge technology was installed on seven new Icelandic fishing boats: a vision-based system for recognizing different fish species. The system uses learnable evolutionary algorithms to analyze the catch, distinguish between the species and automatically sorts it. The tech could migrate to North American fishing boats sometime in the future, he said.
Also on the horizon at Valka, he said, is a system for automatic quality inspection of fish fillets.
"The system will detect flaws, e.g. blood spots, membranes or gaping as well as revealing parasites in the fillets," Sigurðarson explained. "With the system, processors will save substantial time and resources in trimming and can offer top quality products with more confidence."
Yet another company investing in technological advancements is Optimar, a Norway-based fish-handling company that has an office in Seattle. In recent years, the company has invested in automated technology that stuns, bleeds and kills fish.
Newer technology includes a "swim-in" system that works by creating a flow of water which allows the fish to orient themselves to swim head-first into a stunner. This design was created to comply with the regulations requiring a head-first entry if a semi-dry electric stunning system is used, according to Todd Deligan of Optimar sales and business development.
Optimar stunners daze fish within 0.5 seconds and render them unconscious through the time of bleed-out, in compliance with Norwegian and European Union welfare regulations. An added benefit is that the more humane slaughter process can provide for a higher quality product and longer shelf life.
The company has sold almost 400 systems in recent years, Deligan said, and the systems have been delivered for salmon, trout, sea bass, crab, lobster, cod and a few other species. Systems are used both onboard and in processing facilities, he said.
Optimar also makes a robotic bleeding/killing system designed to work in conjunction with the company's electric stunner. The system, Deligan said, can precisely target the right gill-cut location on each fish and is better than 99 percent accurate, including size variations.
The company also has a percussive killing system that, while not as popular as the robotic killing system, it is an efficient system that complies with all regulations, Deligan said.
"Our system works similarly to the Baader percussive system – both industry standards," he explained. "We work as a systems integrator which means we can provide whatever product our customers want whether it is our own or one of our industry partners, like Baader and Marel."
Another product the company offers is its Optilice system, made for combatting sea lice at salmon farms. The system, which Optimar designed in-house and manufactures and installs, uses temperature-controlled water to cause the lice to release.
To date, the company has made about 60 systems ranging from one to six lines, with each line capable of handling 120-150 tons of fish per hour, Deligan said.
Stella Björg Kristinsdóttir, a marketing manager with food processing company Marel said that since the company launched its FleXicut automatic pinbone removal and portioning system in 2015, the company has broken new ground in various areas, particularly over the last couple of years.
"The first generation of FleXicut, designed to locate pinbones with high accuracy, and automatically remove them and cut the fillet to specification, transformed the whitefish industry," Kristinsdóttir said. "It has reduced the need for skilled labor while greatly improving product handling and yield, leading to benefits all the way through processing."
Another of Marel's core products is its Innova processing software, which offers full traceability from source to shelf. The traceability is built into and records every process step based on individual items or lots for all production processes from reception to dispatch. The interconnected systems provide a complete overview of the raw materials' journey through processing.
In connection with Marel's onboard size graders, the processing software can, either onboard or onshore, be interconnected with Marel's FleXicut lines, enabling processors maximized efficiency and product quality, Kristinsdóttir said.
Haukur Johannsson, Marel's Seattle area sales manager, pointed out that not only do complex processing systems benefit from Innova but also simpler products, such as marine scales that can also connect to the Innova software to deliver packing and production information online.
Kristinsdóttir also touted the company's introduction of robot technology to the process of packing fish into boxes and retail packs.
"We will continue developing robot technology into different applications, for example for the infeed of portions/fillets to IQF freezers, that will streamline the entire packing process, and for box handling applications," Kristinsdóttir said, adding that the company also intends to further develop its SensorX bone detection for improved quality control and fewer bones. Icelandic processor Brim will be the first to install Marel's newest SensorX bone detection system for fresh products in 2020, she said.
Marel also offers an automated salmon deheader that measures each fish before cutting and can dehead up to 20 fish per minute, using a circular saw, then feed the fish to a fileting machine after cutting off the tails.
Additionally, the company makes a device called StreamLine that is used for hand trimming of seabass, seabream and tilapia. Marel says the intelligent trimming system can replace a manual table, conveyor or tray-based trimming system, and is designed to be part of an integrated processing solution following a hand filleting line or filleting machine. The system offers real-time production data that gives users the tools to make adjustments in order to maximize the value of production.
Over the past couple of years, Marel has also introduced its QC Scanner MS 2920, which can scan each fillet to detect its color, any melanin and blood spots, and any trimming defects such as belly membrane, belly bone or back defects. Fillets are automatically sorted according to preselected tolerance settings. After skinning, the scanner can sort fillets for rework based on the detection of any skin pieces and brown meat.
The scanner calculates the weight of each fillet using vision laser scanning technology that measures the volume of each fillet. The tech can be used to indicate the yield trend, to determine when adjustments on the filleting machine might be necessary.
Kristinsdóttir said that Marel is always looking at ways to use technology to improve its product offerings.
"We've used the tools of Industry 4.0 to break new ground in various areas," she said. "With the help of artificial intelligence, we are constantly teaching our intelligent machines new functions and improving their accuracy."