These are exciting times for anyone involved in fish processing. The rate and global spread of increasing automation amounts to a revolution in the industry, and all of Marel’s core markets – salmon, cod and tilapia – have enjoyed ground-breaking advances in processing technology in the past 12 months, with more expected in the year ahead.
Innovative solutions in both salmon and whitefish will set new industry standards within the next couple of years, with watershed installations already underway.
“Consumer demand is driving product quality and diversity to new heights, while the main driver for higher levels of automation is the reduction in manpower available, particularly in Europe and North America,” explains Sigurdur Ólason, Managing Director of Marel Fish. “But it’s the technology and innovation that delivers practical solutions to this challenge.”
A recent example of increased automation in the salmon industry is the installation of China’s first fully automatic processing line. “Chinese processors have traditionally been known for a heavily hands-on approach to fish processing,” says Sigurdur. “So this installation in China highlights the widespread significance of automation in the global salmon industry.”
As the cod industry looks to innovate and optimize the value chain, pinbone removal has been automated both on land and on sea, and the first Marel FleXicut pinbone removal and portioning systems have now been installed on freezing trawlers as part of a complete modernization of onboard processing.
Marel’s most recent contribution to the revolution of cod processing is the addition of a new pre-trim solution and packing robots to the FleXicut system. As Sigurdur explains, “This means that pre-trim can be the last place the fish is touched by human hands.”
Companies are increasingly prepared to invest in technology to compensate for a diminishing supply of labor. “In the South American tilapia industry, the desire to process larger volumes is also pushing automation,” says Sigurdur.
He continues, “In Brazil, for example, large Marel poultry customers have started investing heavily in tilapia processing and volumes are expected to rise exponentially in the coming years.”
Advances in software contribute greatly to automation in food processing, and factories are becoming smarter as software becomes an even bigger part of the production process.
“Interconnected software solutions now control and monitor the whole journey of fish from the sea to the supermarket,” Sigurdur says. “Furthermore, we are entering the next industrial revolution as Big Data and deep-learning become an integral part of state-of-the-art, hi-tech production systems.”
Cutting-edge technology has been in focus at Marel from the day the company was founded, so it’s no surprise that the core of Industry 4.0 and Big Data is already a part of Marel’s DNA.
“It goes without saying that there has always been a strong focus on quality, yield and throughput too, but we are seeing an ever increasing focus on automation,” Sigurdur says. “Artificial intelligence is an important factor and we also see that new product development moves at a much faster pace than before,” he adds.
“We welcome this era as we are committed to continuing our role as a pioneer in creating systems and solutions that allow food to be processed in an affordable and sustainable way.”
The North Atlantic Seafood Forum is the world’s largest seafood business conference, taking place this year in Bergen, Norway, 6-8 March.