Hector Martin of Smalle Technologies explains how the aquaculture industry is applying innovative Industry 4.0 technologies to revolutionise fishery management strategies.
The term “Industry 4.0” is applied to strategies of digitalisation and automation of the manufacturing process, based on the integration of disruptive technologies which lead to intelligent, autonomous and decentralised plants (“smart factories”) which communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time. The denomination “4.0” stands for the fourth industrial revolution; and is related to a group of emerging technologies with high development potential, such as the Internet of Things, smart manufacturing, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
It is expected that the Industry 4.0 will allow a growth in the European manufacturing sector from 15 per cent to 20 per cent by 2030, as well as leading to benefits in different areas. For instance, the sustainability and the efficiency in the use of resources in the manufacturing processes can be improved using that approach. Moreover, the integration of consumers in the design and manufacture processes will enable the mass customisation of goods; and human-oriented tools and processes can improve work conditions.
However, the implementation of Industry 4.0 also presents challenges. Some examples of these challenges are the IT security issues that can arise due to the massive exchange of data between manufacturing systems or the required development of broadband industrial communication channels. In addition, the digitalisation of the complete value chain requires companies to share information and decentralise the decision making process, which is a significant change in the management structure of many plants. The significant investment needed to implement the 4.0 strategies initially can be a general issue for most companies, as well.
Building Aquaculture 4.0
Europe’s aquaculture provides 1.25 million tonnes of seafood annually, valued at over €4 billion according to EU figures. Nevertheless, that volume is not enough to satisfy European seafood demands, leading to a heavy dependence on external markets. Therefore, EU aquaculture needs to increase its competitiveness, through its expansion in terms of space, production and new value chains.
The European Commission, in its Horizon 2020 Innovation Action call in October 2017, introduced the term “Aquaculture 4.0”. In this call, the focus was on the application of the Industry 4.0 technologies, such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, to aspects related to the development of sustainable smart breeding programmes and feeding methods for aquaculture. The concept of Aquaculture 4.0, though, can be extended to fishery management strategies that include data collection and exchange between connected nodes, and real time cloud computing processes.
Many different technologies which are currently in an early stage of implementation can be embodied in the Aquaculture 4.0, such as Recirculation Aquaculture Systems (RAS), offshore smart farms or the automation of tasks to create unmanned inland farms. Another example is Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture, which consists of the cultivation of different species in such a way that the uneaten food and wastes of one species is used to feed other species. All of these examples of Aquaculture 4.0, and many others, include as one of their basic techniques the real time monitoring of the farm water quality.
Real time monitoring and wave energy in fish farms
One key aspect of fisheries management is the quality control of water. Traditionally, farmers carry out periodic onsite measurements of water quality in order to ensure the safety and adequacy of the living conditions of the fish in their immediate environment. The appropriate parameters to be measured depend on the fish species, but water temperature is almost always required; while dissolved oxygen concentration, water current, pH, salinity, turbidity or hardness are other water properties commonly required to maintain acceptable levels of fish growth. These water parameters are traditionally measured by technical staff using handheld instruments, taking a reduced number of recordings during working hours.
However, the variation of one of the key water parameters beyond a safe level can occur out of hours, unseen by the farm technicians. This can lead to undesirable effects such as poor growth, undetected disease symptoms or abnormal behaviour of the fish. Moreover, the persistence of that undesired situation for a long time can increase fish mortality – and what is worse, the farmer would not know the variation of the water quality indicator related to the cause of the issue.
For these reasons, the real time monitoring of water and farm conditions made possible by Aquaculture 4.0 developments is highly appreciated by farmers. It can provide a great deal of information at intervals of seconds or minutes, allowing a more accurate planification of the farming activities, the triggering of alarms in case of unsafe water conditions, the immediate correction in terms of time or intensity in fish care tasks; and also the construction of a comprehensive database which would help scientists carry out detailed and specific studies in order to improve the efficiency of the farm in the medium and long run. The remote visualisation of the measurements on an internet-based platform is also valued by users; particularly in marine farms, where the cages sometimes cannot be accessed quickly and at the desired time. The visualisation of the pond parameters on an office computer screen or on a portable device anywhere on the farm is also welcomed by inland freshwater farmers.
One Aquaculture 4.0 remote monitoring system currently in operation on fish farms is the OxyForcis, designed and manufactured by Smalle Technologies and currently operating in both marine and freshwater fish farms in Spain. The OxyForcis measures the water temperature and oxygen using an optical sensor placed inside the cage or the pond. The oxygen measurements are received by an electronic unit placed outside the water, firmly attached to the pond walls or cage structure, which is contained in a sealed box and self-powered using a small solar panel. The data can be recorded in that unit and sent to a remote server on the internet using wireless communications at user-defined intervals. In the inland farms, the OxyForcis automatically triggers an alarm to the farm supervisor’s mobile phone when the dissolved oxygen level falls under a predefined value, or temperature fluctuates beyond set parameters. This gives the opportunity to the supervisor to immediately perform corrective actions, such as activate the oxygen injection systems.
Water current is another relevant parameter for saltwater farmers. Smalle Tech offers an oceanographic measurement system, the DataForcis, which consists of an autonomous buoy equipped with a range of sensors, an electronic transmission unit and a power supply set based on solar panels. The most usual configuration of that buoy is with a water current sensor (an acoustic profiler) and a weather station, which can give valuable information such as wind direction/velocity and air temperature in a cost-effective manner.
Most of the electronic devices that are placed physically in the cages of marine fish farms in Aquaculture 4.0 systems are powered by means of solar panels. However, solar panels present poor performance in some latitudes, with few sun hours. They also exhibit a significant decrease in performance over time, due to fouling and salt deposition when operating at sea. In contrast, small-scale wave generators can continuously provide clean, renewable electricity to electronic devices. The eForcis is one of these generators. Developed by Smalle Technologies, the generator has been tested in several Spanish locations, such as Barcelona and Castellon; and on a buoy of the Spanish national port authority located in Mahon – providing energy for the sensors and electronic transmission systems of the buoy or the marine farm monitoring systems. The eForcis electricity production is independent from the weather and sea conditions as it is sealed in a box and not affected by water, salt or any other corrosive element.
Smalle Tech in Aquaculture 4.0
Smalle Technologies is a spin-off of the University of Barcelona, established as a company in 2012. It develops products and services for real time monitoring in marine fish farms and explore new sources of clean energy in order to decrease fossil fuel dependency and help repair the environment.
Smalle Tech’s team is made of physicists and engineers focused on research, development, and innovation. They are supported by a Business and Scientific Board which provide extensive experience; the company has also received support from several institutions and companies such as InnoEnergy, Fundación Repsol, Centro para el Desarrollo Industrial (CDTI), Empresa Nacional de Innovación (ENISA) and the European Commission, through Horizon 2020 SME Instrument grants (Phase I and II). Smalle Tech is also a member of the Spanish Aquaculture Cluster Acuiplus.
Smalle Technologies wants to contribute to the global food, energy and natural resources sustainability through innovation in Blue Growth sectors such as Aquaculture or offshore clean energy. We are part of the Blue Economy, aligned with Aquaculture 4.0 strategy.
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