Tuna is the most consumed fish product in the EU. Every one of us eats, on average, 2.78 kg of tuna every year, most of which is canned tuna. As the most important product of the canning industry, tuna generates around 20,000 direct jobs and 60,000 jobs in supporting sectors. The industry is growing considerably in response to demand, but processing methods remain largely traditional with low levels of mechanisation.
The SpecTUNA project, co-funded by the EU, addresses the issues of productivity and safety of the sector, and introduces new technologies to monitor quality - to the advantage of both industry workers and EU consumers.
Canned tuna is prepared from the fish loins, extracted after de-heading, de-finning, and cutting the tuna in halves; then loins are cooked and placed in cans. Currently, this process is performed manually, using industrial band saws, and a high risk work. On top of the safety challenge, there is a quality one. Each batch of raw tuna gets the same treatment of thermal cooking and sterilisation. However, each tuna is different, in biometric qualities and nutritional values.
The SpecTUNA project aims to address both challenge: it automatizes the preparation prior to canning, and provides information on the quality of each of the tuna pieces. “The new system cuts and classifies in an automated way what is done manually today. It is faster and more efficient, and allows a piece-by-piece analysis without having to destroy,” says Juan Manuel Vieites, Secretary General of ANFACO-CECOPESCA, the association of canned fish producers. This association is the leader of the SpecTUNA project in partnership with the Emenasa Industria e Automatismo company, INFAIMON, a specialist in artificial vision, and La Góndola, a cannery based in Portugal.
SpecTUNA is based on four modules: A robotic arm with artificial vision and 3D laser scanning picks each frozen tuna and takes it to the cutting module, where the loins are extracted. Then, loins are analysed using near infrared and hyperspectral image analysis, enabling continuous, non-destructive quality control with a processing capacity of 180 tuna units per hour. Eventually each piece is classified depending on volume, weight, or nutritional characteristic (more/less salty, fat content, etc.). The next steps are to fine-tune the design and scale up capacity, in order to validate it in a full-scale industrial environment in La Gondola’s plant. Ultimately, the final design will turn into a commercial version, which will be marketed by EMENASA.
SpecTUNA brings all-round benefits. The very traditional sector of canned tuna will be modernized using the latest technology, leading to a “jump in the current industry, contributing to increase the competitiveness of the European sector of canned of fish, formed mainly by SMEs, and to position it better in front of competitors", according to ANFACO-CECOPESCA. The SpecTUNA concept can be applied also to other fish products (hake, cod, salmon, etc.) and may lead to technological improvements for the entire fish-processing sector. Increased automation will improve the working conditions in the fish-processing sector, significantly reducing the number of accidents, and consumers will have access to high-quality, highly nutritional and trustworthy products.
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