Co-development of automated processing system

Challenge

High need for flexibility and efficiency in production as well as market pressure for fresher and more customized portions and cuts.

Solutions

A Flexicut machine that automatically removes pinbones and cuts fillets according to exact customer specifications and fillet size.

Costs

Visir has invested considerable time and capital in the development and implementation of the Flexicut machines. 

Result

Increased throughput and improved yield and quality. Since installing the advanced technology, Visir has doubled the volume on their production line. The Flexicut technology also allows for higher variety in cuts according to customer specifications.

Introduction

Vísir is a family owned fishing and fish processing company located in the small town of Grindavik, in Southern Iceland. With 5 fishing vessels and their own fish processing plants, Visir is one of the largest long-line fishing companies in Iceland. The company sells and produces fresh, salted and frozen ground fish, including fillets and portions. In comparison with many other fish processing companies in Europe, Visir controls the entire value chain from catching, to processing and marketing of the fish. Therefore, Visir is able to respond quickly to changing customer and market demands, and minimize their need for storage and their generation of waste products.

Visir delivers fish to customers all around the world. Their main markets include France, Spain and North America. During the 2016 Olympic Games, Visir was chosen as the main supplier of cod by the central Brazilian host organization.

Market calls for more customized products

To benefit from the flexibility that controlling the entire value chain, from fishing, processing and marketing gives, Visir needed to more efficiently process the fresh fish that came in. This means that processing lines must be able to handle large quantities within a short time, and at the same time, be flexible in terms of delivering different cuts and portions. Therefore, Visir has worked on optimizing their production through automating their fish processing lines for many years. However, as Visir experienced increasing market demand for more customized products, Visir decided to build a new and more modern fish processing factory some years ago.  This, among others, lead them to look into automating the bone removal, filleting and portioning processes of the fish, a process that traditionally has been manual.

“We experienced an ever increasing market demand for fresher and much more customized products and portions. To be able to deliver fresh customized products in large quantities and at high standardised quality, this naturally called for further and more advanced automation in our processing lines.”

- Jóhann Helgason,
Manager of Fresh and Frozen Products

The Flexicut machine – a small revolution in deboning and portioning fish

Together with Marel, an Icelandic producer of technology and machinery for the fish processing industry, two years ago Visir started developing and implementing a new automated processing system – the Flexicut machine.

The new machine incorporates two critical and difficult processing steps in one -  location of pinbones and cutting the fillet to customer specifications. Through x-ray technology, the machine locates pinbones to an accuracy of 0.2 mm. to precisely determine optimal cut configuration and cutting angle.

The machine is more precise compared to manual deboning, which means that the creation of waste products is reduced.

Advanced processing software controls the Flexicut machine by easily adjustable cutting programs. The software provides a comprehensive real-time reporting function that gives Visir a complete overview of the production process. Real-time data generates reports on weight distribution, average weights and a packing and portioning overview. Data can be viewed in real time through dashboards, in order to monitor, control and trouble-shoot ongoing production. Data is also stored and is used by Visir, who is constantly optimizing and fine tuning their production - e.g. in relation to identifying optimal cuts for maximizing value in different sized fillets.

Whereas the Flexicut machine naturally has led to a decrease in the number of employees working with deboning and portioning of the fillets, the total number of employees at Visir has remained more or less the same. Employees are now focusing on parts of the production that used to be understaffed og less prioritised. 

The Flexicut machine

The Flexicut machine incorporates two critical steps in fish processing: precisely locating the pinbones via high resolution X-ray and then cutting the fillet and portion the fish to customer specifications. The cutting is done by high pressure water-jets. These automatically adjust to the predefined cutting pattern as well as the location of the pinbones, and makes a cut as close as possible to the pinbones to remove them. The machine automatically adjusts to fillet size and optimizes each depending on size and weight.

Finally, Flexicut is equipped with automated twin blades for dividing the loin, cut the belly flap or tail, or portion the fish to exact customer specifications. Processors can cut each fillet differently depending on its size. After cutting, the system carefully sorts and package the different cuts.

The Flexicut technology is owned by Marel, a technology provider for the fish processing industry, but has been developed in close cooperation with Visir.

Results: Doubled throughput and more customized products

Since installing the Flexicut technology, Visir has been able to double the throughput in their processing lines. Today, the processing plant turns out 500 portions of fresh fish per minute – the equivalent of between 15,000 to 20,000 individual fish per day.

According to Johan Helgason, product manager at Visir, the new technology has enabled Visir to deliver much more customized products at a very high and consistent quality. Visir is now able to deliver very specialized cuts and portions, whereas many of their competitors cannot, Johan states.

The automated and very precise deboning and cutting of the filets, which is the most valuable part of the fish, also maximizes the yield significantly. This results in higher added value and less of the expensive parts of the fish ending up as waste or by-products. For Visir, the protection of the natural environment and respectful and sustainable use of natural resources is of outmost importance. They have a goal of producing no waste - using 100% of the fish they process. According to Visir, the Flexicut-machine is one of the measures that moves the company closer to reaching this goal.

First mover advantages

The development and implementation of the Flexicut machine has been a long journey for Visir. When they installed the ‘first generation’ of the Flexicut machine two years ago, Visir had an extra production line that could take over from the Flexicut machine, in case of any problems. Together with Marel, it took Visir many working hours to adjust and fine-tune the machine and their processing lines in order to get them to work smoothly and to gain the full potential of their investment.

 “Since we were the first company to implement the Flexicut machine, it has taken us a lot of hours, hard work and close cooperation with Marel to adjust and fine-tune the machine and our processing lines in order to get the full potential out of our investment.  But we have got a large first mover advantage now.”

- Jóhann Helgason,
Manager of Fresh and Frozen Products

The Flexicut technology is owned by Marel, and several other fish processing plants have now started implementing the Flexicut machines delivered by them. This however, does not worry Visir. As Visir’s two product managers Sveinn Ari Gudjónsson and Jóhann Helgason point out, Visir has a huge first mover advantage in being the first company to implement the new technology. Also, Visir is already working on new improvements and add-ons to their Flexicut machines in order to maximize output and add value. Finally, the constant technological upgrading of the entire fishing industry is seen as a positive thing at Visir, as this results in a more efficient use and handling of the scarce natural resource that fish is.