The bones in whitefish are notoriously difficult to locate and remove, and the process traditionally requires a lot of skilled labor.
The automation of this process with FleXicut is therefore set to reshape the whitefish industry, as it not only reduces the need for skilled labor but also greatly improves product handling and yields.
FleXicut incorporates two critical processing steps in one machine; locating the pinbones precisely, and cutting/trimming to remove the bones. The equipment consists of high-resolution X-ray detection, image control, and a water-jet cutting mechanism for removing pinbones.
“Determining the orientation of the bones is critical to improving the yield,” Marel’s Director of Product Development Kristján Hallvardsson explains.
Cutting out less flesh on the V-cut will leave more on the loin. Kristján says, “At present, 6-10% of the fillet is removed manually by the V-cut to take out the pinbones. The goal is to achieve as much as 2-4% improvement in yield, which represents significant added value for our customers.”
Marel has more than 30 years’ experience in the fish processing industry and has built on its extensive expertise in portioning, X-ray, and robot technology to develop the FleXicut. This innovative trimming robot uses the latest X-ray technology to locate the pinbones with high accuracy, and then remove them.
By using water-jets for the bone removal process, which is more flexible than blade cutting, the FleXicut can perform a variety of cutting patterns, and the angle cutting option allows it to follow the curved lines of the bone frame very closely, thereby further reducing pinbone material. This means significant yield gains in the loin – the most valuable part of the fish.
The automation of the process enables processors to produce bone-free products with virtually no manual handling and introduce new products such as skin-on loins and baby fillets.
An important feature of Marel’s FleXicut is that the X-ray scanning and water-jet cutting is performed on the same belt.
This unique feature means that there is no risk of movement between the bone-detection and cutting processes, which ensures a superb level of cutting accuracy based on the bone location. An additional feature is the built-in blade cutter, to optionally cut the tailpiece.
The FleXicut is the first tangible output of an ongoing project called APRICOT (Automatic Pinbone Removal In COd and whiTefish) – a collaboration between Marel, Sintef, Norway Seafoods, and Faroe Origin. It is based on detailed research on the raw material and processing techniques, using the very latest of Marel’s technological solutions.
Since Marel introduced its first flowline in 1992, the company has set out to deliver constant improvements to fish processing performance. With the FleXicut, Marel has achieved this goal once more. “We regard FleXicut as the first step towards a new generation of whitefish processing concepts,” says Hallvardsson.
“The automatic bone removal will clearly reduce processing time and have an impact on the overall design of the processing hall, including improvements in the packing process”, he adds.
“In the near future, the FleXicut will clearly become a main element in many of our customers’ processing lines. The concept responds to the industry’s need to deliver higher quality, higher value, bone-free products with higher levels of precision, automation, and flexibility. These priorities are also chosen because they will ultimately provide the fastest return on investment, while additional payback will also result from increased quality and greater product variety.”
Although it’s expected that the most interest in the FleXicut will initially come from plants with higher production volume, Hallvardsson stresses that the development will open new possibilities for operations of all sizes, including smaller and more specialized processing companies: “Flexibility is a key component of our new processing concepts, and some elements of the line can also be useful as standalone solutions in both fresh and frozen fish processing.”
The FleXicut may provide the breakthrough that will enable whitefish processors to keep their processing close to the source while remaining competitive; instead of shipping fish to countries with cheaper labor costs.
It will be exciting to see how the FleXicut begins changing the nature of whitefish processing, and what implications this will have for the whitefish industry as a whole.