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New robot pinches the heads off Norway lobsters

A machine will soon be tested on board Irish fishing boats that will enable automated 'tailing' of Norwegian lobsters.

A robot that applies sufficient pressure to decapitate a lobster and keep the valuable tail-meat intact has just completed preliminary trials in Ireland.

Financed by the Irish Sea Fisheries Board (Board Iascaigh Mhara), the prototype will now be installed on an Irish fishing vessel and tested at sea.

Two machines

It is expected that two machines will do the work of six crew members who previously removed the heads manually.

Erik Andersen, the COWI engineer responsible for the machine, believes that it could have a future in many countries worldwide, and even be modified for other types of catches, such as the mass production of headless, large warm-water prawns in Asia and America.


"Like so many other industries, the fishing industry is facing pressure from global competition to reduce costs, which is why the Irish Sea Fisheries Board asked if it was possible to develop a machine that could perform this task," says Erik Andersen.

Erik Andersen has more than 25 years of experience developing robots for the food industry and is co-founder of Matcon, one of COWI's subsidiaries.

Matcon has developed a series of advanced robots designed to make life easier for workers in the prawn, fish and chicken industries.

One of his inventions is the Catch Registration Robot that can identify a catch by analysing the colour, shape, length and breadth of the fish landed.

A good portion of creativity

Inventing a machine that pinches the heads off lobsters took a good portion of creativity and stubbornness, plus time for reflection and a piece of galvanised steel wire from the hardware store.

While the larger Norwegian lobsters are boiled with claws and all, the smaller ones have their heads removed at sea in Ireland before being sold. 

"After three failed attempts I was almost ready to give up," explains Erik Andersen. "It's easy enough to twist the head off a Norway lobster manually, but it's difficult to do this with a machine without them getting all tangled up. The art is to get them positioned correctly, so that no meat goes to waste."   

By Christina Tækker, cht@cowi.com   
Published: 24.04.2006

Behind the robot

The machine, which measures approximately one metre square, can handle two lobsters per second - even in a heavy swell. The prototype tested in Ireland at the end of 2005 will soon be put through its paces at sea on an Irish fishing vessel.

The Irish Sea Fisheries Board is responsible for the introduction of this new technology. In Ireland labour intensive 'hand tailing' is carried out onboard approximately 90 fishing vessels, and it is hoped that automating this process will improve efficiencies in this resource-limited industry.

LAST UPDATED: 17.09.2016