Japanese seafood processor Abecho Schoten rebuilds after earthquake, tsunami damage

Published on
June 23, 2016

In 2010, Japanese seafood company Abecho Schoten opened a processing and packaging plant in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Less than a year later, the factory was heavily damaged by the powerful 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March, 2011.

The tsunami produced waves enormous waves that cut right through the first floor of the plant, factory manager Masahiro Ohata said.

“The stains of these waves, which were up to 17 meters high, are still visible on the second floor of our refurbished building. Luckily enough, all our employees were able to escape,” he said. “In the days after, those without a home were able to seek shelter inside our building, where we provided them with food.”

After the tsunami, the Japanese government helped rebuilding the area, and Abecho was able to refurbish its factory. Forced by the damage to rebuild, the company made the decision to upgrade its packaging lines, relying on Nakamura Sangyo Co. Ltd., also known as Nasco, to design the new lines using Sealpac equipment.

According to the company, in order to address the needs of the Japanese market, Abecho uses a Sealpac A6 tray-sealer for packaging three tray sizes, ranging from single portions up to family-packs. The line starts with a Sealpac AS-LS1200 servo linear de-nester that smoothly positions the trays on the in-feed conveyor. To run different tray sizes, only the mask and suction unit of the AS-LS1200 de-nester have to be exchanged. After de-nesting, the trays are transported towards the A6 tray-sealer by means of a walking beam. With this system, the trays are picked up by a revolving bar instead of moving on a conveyor belt, allowing a constant high speed through the entire process.

Once the trays have been manually filled with pre-weighed pieces of seafood, they arrive at the filling station, where the sweet sauce is added automatically. The walking beam system ensures that further transportation of the trays can take place without sauce spilling over the edge. Sealpac’s A6 tray-sealer makes sure that each tray is hermetically sealed, after which they go through a metal detector and check-weigher. Last but not least, all products are pasteurized inside their tray. This allows Abecho to supply its products with a shelf life of over one year, the company said.

Abecho Food Section Manager Ryoichi Yoshida praised the flexibility of the tray-sealing line and Sealpac’s quick tooling exchange system, saying it ensures that the company have minimum downtime. Furthermore, the equipment is easy to clean and hardly required any maintenance or spare parts until now. By the way, the same actually applies to our Sealpac thermo-former in the adjacent room.”

Now fully operational, Abecho’s Ofunato plant employs 92 of the company’s 650 employees and has the capacity to handle 150 tons of fresh and frozen seafood daily (it mainly processes Pacific saury, yellowtail and Pacific mackerel caught off the coast from Ofunato). And the company liked its new equipment so much that it decided to add Sealpac tray-sealers and thermoformers at its other facility in the town of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture.

“After the tsunami in 2011, we have been able to re-build our business with great prospects for the future,” Yoshida said. “We will continue to address the demand for convenience, for example by expanding our processing abilities. And we trust in Nasco and Sealpac for supporting us in these activities.”

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