When the demo hall at Progress Point opened for demonstrations, the machines began running and visitors from 24 countries saw first-hand as knives and water-jets began cutting, robots began handling portions and boxes, scanners began checking quality and software began tracking and optimizing processes.
Looking around the demo hall, it was easy to see that robotics, data control and automation in general are still increasingly important for the industry. But it was also striking how the machines and solutions are consistently designed with the human operators in mind – it’s about human-machine collaboration, not about replacing people with robots.
The trigger for developing the impressive depalletizing robot, for example, was the simple fact that it is heavy work to shift and empty big boxes of salmon. The depalletizing solution is still being developed – to integrate automatic box strap cutting, for example – and has not yet been released as free for sale, though the one on display at the event has already been sold and will be installed at Norwegian fish processing company, Inka AS, later this year. As well as solving the ergonomic challenges of heavy manual lifting, the depalletizing robot automates and optimizes raw material handling, can empty two boxes at the same time, is approved for wet environments – not always a given with robotics – and can feed two lines simultaneously.
Innova software solutions were also presented at the event with the users firmly in mind. Data control is more difficult to grasp than stainless steel, so our Innova specialists were at hand to explain the software in terms of specific personas: what data a CEO needs, for example, compared with what a floor manager needs in order to optimize results.
There were two software seminars during the event too, with a focus on yield and full production control.
“Yield is a key driver in the industry and I think we can agree it's something we are all passionate about. Just a one percent drop in yield can significantly affect the bottom line. Innova lets you collect and collate data to monitor and improve yield, which can increase profits considerably.” – Ingólfur Gauti Arnarson, Marel Software Product Manager.
Improving yield is one of the key benefits of a lot of Marel equipment too, from FleXicut’s highly accurate cutting for both pre-rigor and post-rigor portioning, to the high-performance yet simple new pinbone remover, ideal for smaller businesses that don’t need the more advanced features of a standard pinboner, such as stored programs and touchscreen control. This simpler pinboning machine drew a lot of attention during demonstrations, and it’s clear the industry will welcome its release for sale next quarter.
Simple solutions often make a very strong business case, which is certainly true for the manual deheading solution demonstrated at the showhow. Using a carousel-like platform, operators receive the salmon without having to reach across each other, and once they remove the fish’s head, they simply slide the fish forward onto a rotating platform below the carousel, which ensures a steady flow of salmon is delivered to the PaceInfeeder or the buffer for a filleting machine.
At the other end of the spectrum, Marel demonstrated some the of industry’s most complex, intelligent robot solutions. These included a complete automated and integrated fixed-weight tray solution using a Robobatcher Flex and an I-Cut 130 Portion Cutter. This flexible concept exhibits very high utilization of the raw material, reduces labor on the line, and produces low giveaway for our retail producers.
Another advanced concept on display was the automatic quality control for portioning. Using a QC scanner, this solution detects defects such as gaping or spots and then ‘tells’ the portion cutter how to maximize the number of high-quality portions, such as by cutting either side of a defect rather than through it.
The QC scanner also played a role in a trimming solution concept designed to automatically sort any fillets that need trimming, in order to speed up production, reduce giveaway – with approved fillets bypassing manual trimming – and improve product quality by avoiding any unnecessary manual handling.
In the first guest speaker presentation, Rabobank’s Gorjan Nikolik highlighted key dynamics of the salmon industry, from a gradual rise in raw material prices in recent years, to the potential impact of unpredictable events such as the coronavirus.
Nikolik spoke about the impact a potential rise in salmon farming – both offshore and land-based – might have on the industry, while emphasizing how difficult it is to predict whether the business case for this alternative supply will prove viable. “If there’s a positive scenario there in the next five years – if! – then this will have a huge impact on the salmon industry,” he said.
In a double presentation on robotics, Kurt Nielsen, Director for Robot Technology at DTI, spoke about the range of robotics in processing – from simple ‘cobots’ that people can easily interact with, to highly intelligent robots that can make sequences of decisions and complex movements. Innovation Program Manager at Marel, Adalsteinn Viglundsson, then talked about the work Marel is doing to further develop robotics for food processing.
Robots installed in the food industry per year now number in the thousands, driven by their ability to accommodate the need for flexibility, and help meet challenges such as labor availability, ergonomics, food safety and higher yield and efficiency.
“But we’re not talking about 100% automation, about removing the people altogether,” Nielsen explained. “Robots are not a replacement of humans, but a tool to improve the productivity of people. It’s about collaborative technologies.”
Both Nielsen and Viglundsson discussed the importance of joint development of robotics technology, and stressed that the conversations need to be happening in board rooms too, not just on the factory floor. Staying ahead of the competition is as much about having a solid robotics strategy as it is about having the latest toys available.
The third and final guest speaker, Gonzalo Campos, from Sealed Air Food Care, provided insights into salmon retail trends and tactics. Campos said that only 5% of fresh salmon being produced today is retail packed, “And that leaves a very big opportunity!”
He said there are more options than ever before to increase the proportion of salmon retail products in the consumer’s basket. “And it’s no longer just about ‘convenient products’ – it’s about being healthy, having premium presentation, easy cooking – such as microwavable – and meeting consumer demand for fish making up a higher percentage of the protein intake.”
As the 2020 Salmon ShowHow drew to a close, the high volume of energetic conversation in the foyer at Progress Point was testament to the success of the event. Guests and Marel experts discussed the new concepts, emerging technologies, future directions, and when they could meet to take the next steps.
The exchange of conversation and business cards continued well into the evening, with most attendees coming together for a dinner celebration in the evening. Sigurdur Olason, EVP Marel Fish, addressed those attending: “It has been an excellent day, and the progress will continue thanks to the ongoing conversations taking place right here with you, our customers. Together, we really are transforming the way salmon is processed.”