Aquaculture can get more efficient, automation expert says

Demand for efficiency and sustainability is creating an opening in aquaculture for ABB, a Swedish-Swiss multinational systems engineering firm that focuses on automation.

Headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland, ABB operates in more than 100 countries and employs around 132,000 people. It sees a potentially large opportunity in helping to automate major aquaculture farms and processing plants, according to Lars Andersen, head of the ABB aquaculture division in Norway.

The company has already made significant headway into the market in Norway, according to Andersen, and based on that success, he told SeafoodSource the company sees a global market for its services. 

ABB’s aquaculture wing is using expertise built up in its electrification business – Andersen said his company has helped Norway begin exporting electricity via cables to Western Europe. Andersen said 

 “This is technology you can use for fish farms, even if the voltage is different,” Andersen said. “We have the technology to make [aquaculture operations] efficient on all sides. ABB systems connect electrification and control systems on numerous remote sites to one on-land control station. This cuts out the need for diesel generators, saves power, and ensures usage of clean energy from on-shore renewable energy sources. “

Andersen doesn’t have figures for the percentage of ABB revenues from its aquaculture division, but he said the firm has already had success with large projects in the aquaculture sector, including aquafeed factories, smelting factories and processing plants throughout Norway. The biggest project ABB has completed in the aquaculture sector recently was a fish-feed project for Marine Harvest completed in 2015, he said.

On the processing side, ABB is working on a new processing plant being built by Norwegian salmon firm Leroy AS. It’s unique because of an automation system that allows a single control interface that allows the plant operator to monitor machines installed by various suppliers, according to Andersen.

“We can collect all the data and present it in one interface for the client to monitor, instead of five to ten interfaces. This allows you to check how the machines are doing and how the plant is performing,” he said. “Also, we can connect all sites to one control center on land instead of having one guy on each fish farm controlling feeding,  so you can operate that from a single control center controlling numerous sites.” 

In general, aquaculture companies want automation systems to be more efficient and sustainable than their current operations, Andersen said, and he believes the know-how ABB is building up on seafood projects in Norway can help companies achieve that anywhere they operate in the world. Indeed, ABB is already pursuing an initial effort at global transfer at technology – the firm already has a seafood specialist in its Tokyo office where the robotics team is delivering robots for fish processing plants in Japan. 

“They want to be more precise,” he said. “They want less waste.” 

This is a trend that he expects to continue. However such automation works on large-scale plants and isn’t yet suited to small factories without the scale to pay for the systems, he said.

 “We see that [Norwegian] aquaculture production companies are exporting nets and other aquaculture equipment to Africa and the Middle East and Asia. You need equipment like nets if you do aquaculture on a small scale, such as 10,000 tons per year. You don’t need automation at that level,” he said.

Nonetheless, Andersen sees ABB moving to market its aquaculture expertise globally.

“I think that’s a future strategy,” he said. “We haven’t started yet, [but] I don’t think the [aquaculture] business is automated yet and salaries are too low. [Maybe we’ll start] In a couple of years.”


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