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RFID to Boost Quality and Yield at Fish-Processing Plants

Marel's automated ProCon Flowline system enables companies to track each individual basket of fish and its weight as fillets are trimmed and inspected for quality, prior to being packaged and shipped to customers.
By Claire Swedberg

The worker first dumps the fish out of the basket and then begins the trimming process, returning the trimmed fillets to the same basket and discarding the waste. Once this is finished, the basket is moved to a second scale, where it is again weighed. The fish is expected to weigh less at this point, since waste product has been removed; however, the fish-processing company seeks the highest weight possible for every fish, thereby indicating that no edible meat had been inadvertently trimmed away from the fillet. The second weight is attributed to the station and the employee working there, and he or she can view those details on the touchscreen at that station, indicating the current weight and the amount of weight loss, based on the first scale's initial measurement. That data is presented to that employee, along with a comparison against the facility-wide average, enabling the worker to determine how well he or she is doing.

The fish processor conducts quality inspections on a limited number of its baskets, in order to ensure that they the fish within are being trimmed properly, and that nothing remains on the fillet that could affect quality, such as a piece of skin or a blood spot. The company can conduct those inspections based on a random selection of one out of every 20 baskets, or it could select those that seem to have a weight change exceeding the norm. An automatic arm on the Flowline unit then pushes the basket to the quality-control inspection station. If the company is singling out one in 20 baskets for inspection, the solution can track which worker prepared each basket before it is selected for inspection, thereby ensuring that operators' work is screened evenly. The system determines this information by comparing the trimming station's ID for that basket against the number of inspections already conducted for that particular station during that shift.

Arnar Olgeirsson
When conducting inspections, operators enter the results—such as satisfactory or unsatisfactory—into the system, and the Innova software then displays those results at the station from which the basket originated. That data can also be stored and viewed by management in real time, or at a later date.

In addition, Marel can provide RFID readers at key locations within a facility, to track when fish are first received at the plant, as well as when they are moved into cold storage and when they are shipped. At present, Olgeirsson says, no one is using the new UHF-based ProCon Flowline RFID-enabled system. However, he expects several businesses to begin doing so this year.

The technology is anticipated to increase the yield gain of the fish processing—in other words, a larger percentage of the meat will be retained due to increased employee diligence. Marel predicts the average increase will be about 4 percent. "The biggest financial gain will be in the yield increase," Olgeirsson explains, though he notes that the technology will also increase operators' throughput time at a rate of about 35 percent, thus reducing operational costs. The quality of the trimmed filets will also increase, he adds, as workers gain greater ownership over their work.

What's more, Olgeirsson says, the software offers other potential benefits. In the event of a recall, for instance, a company would be able to trace product—assuming it had been monitored through the shipping process via RFID—back to the operator station where the fish was trimmed. In that way, the firm would be able to better isolate the contaminated fish specific to a single station or worker, and thereby reduce the risk of having to discard all of the plant's fish from a particular day.

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