CCFI, CNA, and Marine Institute partner for industry-first invention
Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI), College of the North Atlantic (CNA), and the Marine Institute’s Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development (CASD) unveiled a robotic system for butchering crab today at the Marine Institute’s Pilot Plant facility on Ridge Road. The system represents the first use of robotics for processing crab anywhere in the world and is currently undergoing a patenting process. 

“CCFI’s fundamental mandate is to make the capabilities of academic institutions available to the aquaculture, fishing, and fish processing industry sectors, to help them take advantage of opportunities and solve problems,” said Robert Verge, Managing Director of CCFI. “We began thinking about this project in 2010, with the overall objective of increasing the value we get from our crab resources. This world-leading “smart” butchering technology is a major part of a system we are designing to do that. It is very gratifying to see what has been created here and it demonstrates both the tremendous pool of skills we are able to make available to industry and the value of what we do.” 

The automated crab meat extraction process was spearheaded by Paul Hearn, a member of CNA’s Mechanical Engineering faculty at the college’s Ridge Road campus in St. John’s, and supported by CASD’s Research Engineer Stephen King, who together have been working on the project for the past three years. 

“CNA's expertise in automation and robotics, combined with the Marine Institute's expertise in fish processing equipment design and development, was a natural fit for the development of the crab robot work cell,” said Hearn, noting the fact that having both educational institutions involved in the research accentuated the success of the collaboration. “Both organizations should be supporting the fishing industry as it is, and will continue to be, one of the most important drivers of our economy. This successful collaboration between CCFI, CNA and MI has led to not only the creation of a world-leading technology, but also witnessed the creation of a full-time position for a CNA engineering technology graduate.” 

The ongoing partnerships between the two post-secondary institutions and their industry counter-parts strengthens the research and development capacity of the province. 

“For CNA’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation, this project represents a textbook example of how industry organizations like CCFI, the Marine Institute at Memorial University and the college can work together in the development of truly world-first technologies that can improve industry competitiveness,” said Dr. Michael Long, CNA’s Associate Vice-President of Applied Research and Innovation. “The project highlights the advanced knowledge and skill sets that our faculty not only bring to the classroom on a daily basis, but also to the provincial applied R&D agenda.” 

The Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development handled a significant portion of the design and engineering for the crab automation equipment hardware and coordinated the fabrication of parts with Memorial University’s Technical Services, including the robot’s 3D printed parts. A full computer assembly model of the system was managed and maintained by CASD engineers. They also coordinated the assembly, initial debugging and testing at the Marine Institute’s Pilot Plant prior to sending the equipment into the field for trials in a commercial production plant. 

“This has been an exciting project for all involved, especially for the Marine Institute’s Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development,” said Heather Manuel, Director of CASD, noting that the Centre assisted with the programming of the user interface and motion control of the three robotic arms. “Working together with CCFI, CNA and industry, we have been able to offer unique expertise in seafood processing automation and robotics technology, which will advance and benefit our local seafood industry.” 

The project has been supported through funding by Ocean Choice International, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the provincial government’s Research and Development Corporation and Department of Fisheries and Land Resources.

View this short video to learn more about how the new system works.