Seafood factories are highly controlled environments where hygiene is essential. As such, they were already a step ahead when it came to reacting to COVID-19. Hand sanitation, clear boundaries between areas to prevent cross-contamination, and regular washing down of equipment were just some of the mechanisms in place to keep things clean.

But even in advanced factories with high levels of automation, people still play an important role in the process. As well as performing certain tasks by hand, employees also maintain the equipment and meet with salespeople to discuss upgrading operations and with retailers to learn about new products. Beyond that, they attend trade shows to keep up with technology and play host to technicians from their equipment and software providers.

Add it all up, and that’s a lot of human interaction, a lot of handshakes and a lot of travel.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Marel was already offering its customers some remote servicing and installation options, virtual equipment demos and online communication. Now, the company offers all of this and more — and on a much bigger scale.

Exhibitions — without traveling

The Brussels seafood expo is the biggest trade show of the year for the fish industry. When the organizers cancelled the event this year, Marel decided to bring its Brussels expo stand to life in an innovative online format. All flights were cancelled, but internet connections were flickering brighter than ever.

Photo: Marel

The live event brought together Marel experts in salmon and whitefish processing to present processing solutions, discuss industry trends, and answer questions from participants all over the world.

Marel created an interactive virtual booth for the event so that participants could walk around and explore key features of the solutions on display for themselves. The booth ran virtual demos of simulated raw materials and also included links to traditional videos and other resources.

Remote demonstrations

This was the first time Marel created a virtual booth on this scale. But simulation and extended reality (XR) have become established tools for Marel in recent years, particularly in innovation, sales, training and marketing.

In 2020, the company’s XR team became integral to Marel’s role in understanding exactly how the COVID-19 challenges would affect operational and strategic decision-making in the food processing industry. Shortly thereafter, the team became integral to finding out how Marel would help processors respond to those challenges.

“It’s important that we understand your situation and share our know-how so you are best placed to deal with the short-term and long-term effects of these trends,” Magnus Fossheim, Marel’s business manager for salmon, told participants of the virtual event.

Marel is used to organizing virtual demonstrations of its products with customers. During the design phase, virtual tools make it possible to optimize product flows and use machines as building blocks. Virtual reality (VR) has the power to give customers a better understanding of major installations well before equipment is delivered, to see how an integrated solution would work, and to make use of the subsequent insights for preparation purposes, among other things.

The demand for this type of virtual experience has increased in recent months and is expected to keep growing even when the need for social distancing measures has come and gone.

Service and training

One of the big advantages of creating virtual layouts—especially for complex, high-volume installations—is that training can also take place in VR ahead of installation.

For fish processors, this means employees gain a working knowledge of the setup ahead of time and are able to hit the ground running once an installation is complete.

For Marel, this means any fine-tuning and rearranging can be done at the touch of a keyboard, enabling the company to avoid expensive and time-consuming rebuilds.

In fact, well before the sales process, Marel increasingly uses engineering applications of VR in manufacturing in order to speed up the innovation cycle and reduce the cost of installations for its customers.

Global presence, local connection

With all this technology, the people on the ground still matter most. If nothing else, the first half of 2020 has underlined the importance of having strong partners with a global presence.

Managing director of Marel Fish, Gudbjorg Gudmundsdottir.

When someone from the seafood processing industry talks about connectivity, they’re usually referring to the inherent advantages of sophisticated software and interconnected equipment.

High levels of connectivity make processing solutions intelligent, making it easier for processors to meet customer orders quickly and precisely, achieve full traceability and maximize the use of the valuable raw material, among other things.

As a world leader in fish processing technology, Marel offers all this—and then some. What’s equally important is that Marel employees connect with all sorts of people in the fish processing industry, and we value that connection with you.

Marel’s presence around the globe has enabled us to keep serving our customers—even as borders close. Our local knowledge and close relationship with key players in the seafood processing industry have been a huge advantage in terms of quickly adapting to the new needs of our customers.

“We’re constantly finding better ways to use technology,” says Gudbjorg Gudmundsdottir, managing director of Marel Fish. “But having people on the ground will always be essential.”

To learn more about Marel and what’s in store for the future, check this out.