Clever collarbone cutter to revolutionise fish industry

Researchers have developed a smart machine to reduce waste in the fish processing industry by efficiently cutting off the fish collarbone.

The fish processing industry wastes valuable fish meat because of inefficient processing machines. Because of this, processing companies are continuously looking for new ways to efficiently process their catch, minimise waste and reduce operating costs.

In response, Icelandic company CURIO has, with the support of EU funding developed 4CWhite, the first computer-controlled machine specialised in cutting collarbones from deheaded whitefish. “Close contact with the fish processing industry allowed us to identify a new market niche to be exploited: inefficient practices and a lack of specialised machinery for collarbone cutting,” notes project coordinator Axel Petur Asgeirsson.

The SME Instrument project 4CWhite set out to improve the efficiency of collarbone cutting and increase yield for fish processors. Partners worked with their clients to create an automated system that improves on current methods of collarbone cutting in the industry.

Using the machine, the team could process 20 000 fish a day. What’s more, the machines have a service life greater than 15 years and reduce labour to just one operator. “This is a value-for-money solution we have found to make this step of fish processing more efficient and promote a more sustainable use of our oceans’ resources,” says Asgeirsson.

The researchers programmed the machine for different species and fish sizes, to perform the cut of the collarbone so that as little loin meat as possible is left behind. An operator can select the desired fish species profile and the system calculates the exact cut position for each individual fish. The collarbone is removed using a specialised motion algorithm with two rotating knives at the cutting point.

All fish are not equal

4CWhite was not without its challenges, which included having to create a prototype that was able to cut various sizes of fish. “The machine has to decide on the fly how to cut each incoming fish,” explains Asgeirsson. “For this we created a specially designed measuring device which could measure both the width and length of the fish at the same time.”

Asgeirsson and the team also faced the challenge of preparing the fish for cutting and holding it stable enough throughout its machine time. They solved this problem by using specially designed guides and brushes to get the perfect cut consistently enough for use in industrial processing.

Photo: 4CWhite, the first computer-controlled machine specialised in cutting collarbones from deheaded whitefish (credit: Curio Ehf)

Photo: 4CWhite, the first computer-controlled machine specialised in cutting collarbones from deheaded whitefish (credit: Curio Ehf)

Savings and returns on investment

The researchers found that the 4CWhite system can quickly recoup customers’ investments through labour savings, with the machines estimated to cost EUR 290 000 each. In exchange, each machine will be able to generate earnings in the millions of euros depending on the processor’s size.

With demand for the machine in major whitefish processors from Nordic and north-western European countries, the researchers expect to sell at least 100 4CWhite units by 2023 This would give the CURIO company a gross profit margin of around 20 %, or EUR 6 million.

4CWhite plan to continue their work by commercialising their system by the year 2020. Meanwhile, they will be optimising their machine and readying it for the many different operating environments it will encounter all over the EU.

Source: Cordis

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