Marel close to hands-free processing for whitefish fillet production line
World leading fish processing equipment manufacturer Marel demonstrated a virtually hands-free fish fillet production line at its Whitefish ShowHow exhibition and conference held at the end of September in Copenhagen. It is based on the Icelandic company’s FleXicut pinboning and portioning line shown at the Seafood Processing Global expo in Brussels earlier this year.
The FleXicut system automatically removes bones, portions and distributes up to 500 individual portions of whitefish per minute to various processing streams such as fresh packing or IQF freezing.
In Copenhagen a new configuration of the FleXicut line included a SensorX bone detection machine, which serves as an automated QC station, according to Einar Hlöðver Sigurðsson, one of Marel’s product specialists.
“With a SensorX on the line, processors have a huge advantage in being able to guarantee boneless fish,’ he said.
However, according to Stella Björg Kristinsdóttir, Marel’s marketing manager for fish: “The absolute highlight of the Whitefish Showhow was the robot (RoboBatcher Flex) that automatically packed fish into boxes.”
This enables a practically hands-free processing line where the raw material is not touched by hand after the pre trimming of the fillet until the end user opens up the box, she added.
“This is a huge step into the future which clearly caught the interest of those attending the event.”
Developed by Marel’s Robotic Division or packing poultry portions such as breast fillets and whole legs into trays, the RoboBatcher Flex is the latest generation of the successful RoboBatcher system used in the poultry industry. It can be integrated with other poultry processing equipment to form a complete line.
There are several new developments incorporated in the RoboBatcher Flex. Firstly, product utilisation had been improved, making it possible to run up to three different regimens at the same time. This guarantees that the maximum possible amount of product, such as breast fillets and whole legs, would be selected for tray packing.
Also, the integrated discharge system made use of product items that could not be used for packing in trays by using them in bulk, grading or catering jobs.
Secondly, the system had been equipped with newly developed software enabling two or more robotic heads to work together on one tray resulting in optimal batching performance. Additionally, the system ran with a wide range of different trays and changeover from one type of tray to another was easy and fast.
With Innova connected to the RoboBatcher Flex, production flow could be controlled from a central PC making it possible to start orders that would be processed on the robot, change the order execution on the fly, and compensate for changes in the product flow or in the planning.
The RoboBatcher Flex was described as a highly flexible system for automated fixed weight batching and tray styling of poultry fillets. It was designed for high throughput and could batch and style up to 300 fillets per minute.
Available in four different versions with two to four cells, it could run up to three individual tray jobs at the same time thus guaranteeing that the maximum possible amount of fillets would be selected for tray packing.
The RoboBatcher Flex’s flight-less high friction belt allowed the system to run a wide range of different plastic and polystyrene trays. Tray dispensing was ensured with a built in tray buffer system and changeover from one type of tray to another was said to be fast and easy.
The RoboBatcher Flex is a prime example of how Marel is transferring the technology developed for one protein segment of its business to another, says Stella Björg Kristinsdóttir.
However, all the applications available for poultry are not necessarily available for fish, she adds, “due to the different texture/grip of the raw material. But of course we are constantly aiming at transferring the technology between protein segments.”
In addition to the whitefish fillet processing line, the Whitefish ShowHow featured demonstrations of a selection of Marel’s range of further processing equipment. As Karin Verstraaten, DemoCenter food technologist at Marel Further Processing, explained: “We’ve got the RotoCrumb producing breaded products and visitors were impressed, and perhaps even surprised, by the uniform crumb distribution, even using large crumbs which is perfect for fish.”
Karin Verstraaten said that fish processors coming to the Showhow often weren’t even aware that Marel offers coating, breading, marinating, forming and cooking equipment.
“There’s a lot of potential for fish processors to move into the production of value-added fish and seafood products,” she said.
Other further processing equipment in the demonstration hall included the ValueSpray for marinating with the marinated product then distributed into microwavable packs from Cryovac.
This year’s Whitefish ShowHow, which attracted more than 150 executives from 30 countries, was the third annual event hosted by Marel at its specially built DemoCenter in Copenhagen. It was attended by processors of both wild and farmed whitefish, and included demonstrations, lectures and networking.
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