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New Technology For Scallop Shuckers

The international scallop industry may yet benefit from a New Zealand -driven research project to find a better way to shuck scallops that has already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and been more than two years in the development.

An Auckland engineering company, Alert Engineering believes it is almost there with a mechanical scallop shucker that could revolutionise the processing industry overseas.

According to Allan Lewis, Alert Engineering's Managing Director, the idea arose from an enquiry from an Australian who had reached an impasse after twelve years of trying to develop a mechanical scallop shucker.

"They'd proved the process could work, but needed someone to take that concept and refine it into a unit that could be manufactured in a cost-efficient way," he says.

Alert Engineering's expertise in design and manufacture of machinery, including waste disposal equipment, scrap metal and materials handling equipment provided the next step for the project.

"There have been some big challenges to overcome, as the shells of each species are quite different and we've had to find ways of getting the meat out cleanly without damage, and then getting all the excess gut material removed. Scallops are particularly difficult to work with, as there are infinite variations between species.

"We know our machine will work on Australia, Japanese, Chinese, Canadian and American scallops, but the New Zealand shell is proving virtually impossible to open accurately by machine," says Mr Lewis.

When completed, the unit will run two lines simultaneously, taking the scallops through a chute, fixed with vacuum suction cups to hold them in position, then using very precise measurements to guide the knife in to open the shell and remove the meat.

Mr Lewis says the unit has the potential to be of significant benefit to overseas scallop processors, with its ability to shuck up to four times more scallops a minute than the conventional manual system.

"Processing plants are finding it more difficult to attract seasonal labour, and there are injury costs associated with repetitious handling and sharp knives," he says. "We want to run the machine for an extended period to ensure that our early results are correct, but we are very confident that we've gone further than anyone before."

The company's R&D programme has been helped by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology's with just over $100,000 of funding allocated through Technology New Zealand.

Mr Lewis says the new technology could provide a spin-off standalone company for Alert Engineering's and has the potential to provide several new jobs, although he says it is still early days.

The next step is to get a container load of scallops in to run through the machine. But for the scallop shuckers, there'll be no seafood on the barbie this summer; all of the test scallops are weighed on arrival and after processing by MAF, the company pays for their destruction in a controlled environment

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