There is much information available regarding the benefits of automation. Much of this information is supplied by equipment manufacturers and is therefore less than objective. In addition many of these claims are not supported scientifically or commercially and most equipment suppliers are not sufficiently familiar with the Western Rocklobster industry to even make many of the claims. There is a strong need for independant seafood engineering and technical experts to be available (presumably within Universities, etc) that industry can call upon to verifiy equipment suppliers' claims and provide firsthand expert knowledge on the operation and limitations of any equipment under consideration. This project will investigate options for automation of western rock lobster processing from a position of commercial and industry knowledge and scientific expertise to produce definitive cost/benefit assessments. In addition, technical experts associated with the CRC, such as the UniSA Seafood Engineering Postdoc will be involved to strenthen the outcomes and help build capacity within research providers.
Automation of processing is widespread in many food production industries. Currently, labour costs in the Western Rocklobster industry are high and availability of labour is extremely poor. This is especially problematic given the processing of Western Rocklobsters is a highly manual process. Individual lobsters can be handled up to seven times from the point of receival to the finished product form. Reducing labour by mechanising process steps may improve process (and product) consistency and profitability and reduce dependence on large numbers of casual, untrained, itinerant workers required for only short periods at a time. This study investigates options for automating processing of frozen rock lobster products, in particular colour grading; washing of cooked lobsters; and wrapping of tails.
Whilst colour grading was found to be problematic, automated methods of washing of whole cooked and wrapping of tails were found to be applicable in the commercial environment. Basic cost/benefit analyses show that there were potential commercial advantages to automation of washing and tail wrapping under the industry conditions that prevailed when this project was proposed. However, recent changes in the management of the Western Rocklobster industry have resulted in dramatic reductions in the scale of frozen production. As a result, the commercial argument for automation of processing has been weakened greatly