Efficient and safe washing, drying and stacking of fish waste containers

Cleaning is crucial for any food processing company. To ensure that every container used to transport fish waste to the mainland is perfectly clean again, Malta-based Aquaculture Resources counts on the expertise of ATS BU Washing & Drying Systems Cretel. Not only did they design a washing and drying line tailored to the client’s needs, they were also able to call on BU Machinery and Automation to deliver a turnkey solution with an automated warehouse.

Excellent reputation in washing lines

Even before the new building was in place, Aquaculture Resources knew who it wanted to partner with for the washing and drying plant to get those containers perfectly clean again: Cretel. “The first contacts were made during the Brussels Seafood fair in 2019, but it wasn’t until 2021 that everything became concrete,” recalls Guy Persyn, division manager Mechatronics at ATS. “Aquaculture Resources was looking for an overall solution. Cretel’s excellent reputation in this market for cleaning solutions had brought them to us. But the fact we could shape the underlying automatic warehouse for storage and supply of containers at the same time as our other business units was the decisive factor. A reference visit in Ireland had convinced them that we could deliver on our promises. The big challenge was striking a balance between storing the 120 containers as compactly as possible during the rest of the year, but ensuring smooth processing and supply during the peak season.”

“Cretel’s excellent reputation in the cleaning solutions market brought the customer to us.”

Guy Persyn, division manager Mechatronics (ATS)

Right balance according to pollution

Washing containers of fish waste is often still done manually. A hell of a job, in addition to which one cannot guarantee that every container is cleaned equally well. Having a professional cleaning installation was therefore part of the operating licence for Aquaculture Resources. Washing and drying installations are Cretel’s trademark, which also focuses on water recovery for maximum efficiency. It starts from standard machines, which are then adapted to exactly what the customer needs. Bruno Van Assel, BU Washing & Drying Systems Cretel at ATS. “Important in this story are the dimensions and weight of the containers. To make sure that the entire container was adequately cleaned, we worked with rotating nozzles that come up the moment the container passes inverted over the transport chain. It was also a matter of finding the right balance between soap, temperature, washing time and pressure according to the soiling. In this case, we are dealing with oil and blood, stubborn contaminants that can cause foaming. That’s why last year, we carried out manual tests on site to ensure correct programming. This was then fully fine-tuned when the machine was delivered.”

“According to the soiling, we found the right balance between soap, temperature, washing time and pressure.”

Bruno Van Assel, BU Washing & Drying Systems Cretel (ATS)

Stacking and moving as stably as possible

After the containers have been washed and dried, they are turned 180° before leaving for the stacker. The stacker lifts the containers and drops them off again when a new container arrives and is aligned. This is precisely where a lot of expertise comes together. “The better the stacking is done, the more stable the containers move on the shuttle,” explains Michiel De Bolle of ATS BU Machinery. A number of sensors therefore keep a watchful eye over this process. Once the right height is reached (maximum three during peak season, maximum four for storage), they leave on the shuttle to the right place. There is a choice of five buffer lanes and an output lane, where a forklift prepares the containers again for the next truck. “The shuttle reaches a speed of about 0.5 m/s. That is quite fast considering the volume it transports and also necessary to keep up with the pace of the output to fill the truck. A key concern was ensuring a soft and smooth transfer. An overlap between the chain conveyors was therefore ensured so that the transfer of the high stacks is always stable. Incidentally, the chain conveyors are also all stainless steel for excellent cleanability.”

Complex automation, simple operation

The destination is calculated using a pre-programmed traffic control system. ATS’ BU Automation was in charge of the adjustment. “Quite a complex tangle of priorities in the warehouse,” Simon Goovaerts explains. “It is structured in such a way that the customer keeps all the strings in his hands, without needing in-depth control knowledge himself. For example, he can indicate when a lane is defective or undergoing maintenance or when it is time to put the containers away for storage. Furthermore, he can also indicate whether the shuttles are allowed to go directly to the output and how high they may be stacked. We made it a ready-made automated system that also watches over safety at all times. The same applies to the washing programme. In fact, the operator only has to press start, and the machine does the rest for a perfect result. And he can also track where each container is in the warehouse via the 3D visualisation on the washing installation. After all, that is in an enclosed area.”

“We made a ready-made automated system that also watches over safety at all times.”

Simon Goovaerts, BU Automatisation (ATS)

Strong performance

The entire installation was assembled at ATS’ site on Langerbruggekaai. Before it was put on the transport to Malta, Aquaculture Resources came by for acceptance tests. “A standard approach to ensure that customer downtime can be kept to a minimum. After all, everything we could test had already been tested and approved. The customer was also extremely satisfied with the on-site installation. In difficult conditions, due to temperature, humidity and dust from other works, our team managed to meet the deadline by a wide margin. So I can only be proud of my team’s drive and enthusiasm,” Persyn concludes.