Lerøy Midt: Fresh salmon from the smart factory

The Lerøy Midt facility on Jøsnøya is one of the most advanced salmon processing plants in the world. A number of suppliers were involved in the project and the installation includes the latest Marel technology, setting new benchmarks in the industry.

Leroy Midt (1)

Working closely with Lerøy Seafoods, Marel has supplied innovative solutions for pre-rigor filleting lines, whole fresh salmon packing, and logistics for the high-capacity plant on the Norwegian coast.

The salmon is pumped directly into the factory, starting early each morning, and leaves the factory packed as fillets or whole fish later the same day, heading for Lerøy’s production and packaging plants within Norway, as well as countries including Sweden, France, Spain and Holland.

By filleting so close to the source, Leroy raises the quality of their products, saves on freight costs and reduces the carbon footprint of the salmon that ends up on our plates.

High quality and capacity

“The plant is built to ship out a lot of fillets,” explains Pål Kleven, Production Director at Lerøy Midt. “We have a high capacity on the pre‑rigor fillets, and that will be the main product in future.”

Fillets will eventually account for 60-70% of production at Lerøy but in the start-up phase, beginning mid-2018, the Lerøy Midt facility has been producing a lot of whole fish; headed, gutted and packed in ice. “We have a high capacity in the filleting department and we will increase that during the coming years.”

Increasing their pre-rigor fillet production has several significant advantages. “We will increase the quality of the product, and of the products coming out of our factories in Europe. And we will reduce the transport costs by about 50 percent,” Kleven explains.

A new facility to optimize production

Building a new state-of-the-art facility has been on Lerøy’s wish list for a number of years, but it was in 2016 that the stars aligned to present them with the right location, the right time and the right partners, including Marel.

Their checklist for the new facility included increasing capacity, sourcing salmon from their own suppliers, increasing their fillet production capacity and renovating their buildings – or building from scratch.

Instead of renovating their existing factory, they decided to build a new one on Jøsnøya. This meant they could plan everything in the best possible way to optimize production from receiving to dispatch, and it meant they could increase capacity by about 50 percent.

The equipment at Lerøy Midt includes many new products from several suppliers that were first-time installations, which meant adjustments were needed along the way. But building the new facility went smoothly and production began on schedule. “We started building in October 2016 and 20 months later we were putting the first fish through the lines,” says Kleven.

Production on the filleting lines soon followed and they had increased volumes to 45,000 fish per shift within six months. “We are increasing as the experience of our own people grows, and as our suppliers improve and optimize the lines.”

Leroy Midt 2

Smarter deheading, filleting and skinning

There are five Marel filleting lines at Lerøy Midt, which multiplies the capacity of a single line and also ensures flexibility to avoid filleting downtime.

With Marel Deheading Machines, the deheaded fish is transferred automatically to the Filleting Machine, reducing the need for manual handling and improving the flow.

Salmon Skinners on each filleting line skin fillets head-first, ensuring a better flow on the line by avoiding the need to turn the fillets at the infeed to the skinner.

Innova for salmon filleting

Marel is constantly enhancing the connectivity of its salmon solutions and released a new software module early in 2019 for improving salmon filleting results. Innova for Salmon Filleting provides complete equipment control and real-time monitoring to improve the overall performance of a filleting line, regardless of whether all the machines on the line are running.

New quality control capability

New Marel products at the plant include QC Scanners on the filleting lines. The scanners scan fillets both before and after skinning, which means both sides are checked for defects and color.

“The quality scanner will help by giving us a report to give our customers – our own factories – the information that is nice to have when deciding what product they get,” Kleven adds.

QC Scanning

After filleting, the QC Scanner scans each fillet to detect its color, any melanin and blood spots, and any trimming defects such as belly membrane/bone or back defects. Fillets are automatically sorted according to preselected tolerance settings. After skinning, the QC Scanner can sort fillets for rework based on the detection of any skin pieces and brown meat.

Employee adjustments

With annual production expected to reach 70,000 ton in 2019, Kleven says they’ll need two shifts for part of the year in order to handle such a large volume. “We will not use all the lines in the second shift, but we will need probably about 50 to 60 percent of the capacity for the second shift,” he adds. “We still have some room for growth!”

As well as needing enough staff to cover the extra shift, the new equipment means some employees have needed extra training, and the increase in automation means some roles have changed too.

Some of the technicians and operators received training ahead of the installation, from Marel and the other suppliers. Once the factory was running, it became easier to assess the training needs and to gradually reduce the technical assistance as operators got up to speed.

It helped that the company had already been using Marel’s software platform, Innova Food Processing Software, for several years. “We had some training on Innova, but we are familiar with Innova from the old factory,” Kleven explains. “For the whole fish, it was the guys there [from the old factory] that are operating that part, so they know it very well.”

However, there were a lot of new machines on the filleting lines in particular, which also meant new software. “That was a little bit more challenging,” Kleven says. “But we see the benefit of having an overall system now for the whole line.”

Smarter processing software

Software is central to the factory and the way production is run. “We have used Innova for several years,” Kleven explains. The Innova system at Lerøy Midt is designed to give them all the information they need in a single system. “It will help us to have one system, an overall system, so we can get a lot of information regarding quality, or regarding the rest of the information from the production line.”

The first months after start‑up were focused on getting the lines running, but by the end of 2018 the team was already working with reporting for production management, to ensure they get more reports out of the system.

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The big picture: benefits and opportunities

“Everything that we get into the factory with the well-boat is coming out the same day as fresh whole fish or fresh fillets,” says Kleven. “And we see improvements in the quality,” he adds. “We see that in the end products we ship out.”

“We also have better control on the cooling chain here. We don't have waiting cages, so we take the fish directly from the well-boat and we start cooling it in the boat.”

A hands-free future

Lerøy Midt is a flagship facility for advanced salmon processing, and walking into the factory it’s immediately apparent how automated it is. There seems to be a greater proportion of people in supervisory type roles, or overseeing, making sure that everything is working correctly. Kleven agrees this may be the most advanced salmon facility built to date.

“As far as I have seen, it is. One of the main tasks here was how we could produce products like pre‑rigor fillet without any hands touching the fish. We do have a couple of positions still that perform manual work, but we have tried to automate as much as possible.”

Customers need time to get used to the concept of full automation too. For Lerøy, most of their production and packaging plants are used to receiving whole fish, so the ability to perform pre-rigor filleting at Lerøy Midt has meant adjustments further down the chain.

They are working on an automation project with the aim of producing fillets without anyone touching the raw material; without any manual cutting. “We look forward to that, to continuing on that project.”

Smarter salmon processing throughout the industry

Lerøy Midt has raised the bar in Norway – and further afield – by showing what’s possible in terms of increasing automation, integrating advanced robotics and using software to increase production control. This is the beginning of the next wave; changing the way salmon is processed in order to remain competitive, and more factories like this one are expected in future.

“If we compete with the lower‑cost countries, we have to automate the production and reduce the number of people in the lines,” Kleven explains. “If not, we can’t compete. We have to be in the first line to develop new technology together with the suppliers.”

About Lerøy Midt

Lerøy Midt is part of the Lerøy Seafood Group: a world-leading seafood corporation with a history going back to 1899.

In addition to the production and processing of salmon and trout, Lerøy’s core business includes catches of whitefish, product development, marketing, and sales and distribution of seafood that ends up on people’s plates in over 80 countries around the world.

Pål Kleven, Production Director Lerøy Midt, has been with Lerøy for more than 20 years and also spent five years in Marel’s service team, so he’s in quite a unique position to understand both companies.

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