Twenty-three hundred miles - and worlds away from the Pacific Coast - a live shrimp whizzes past Andrew Wesolek's head. Wesolek oversees day-to-day operations, including the construction and programming of an automated feed system for Seafood Systems Inc., one of America's first indoor shrimp farms.
"Yeah, they like to jump," Wesolek stated. Shrimp jump from tanks when startled.
Although residing in a land-locked barn, shrimp instinctually behave as if still teeming the Pacific - not in tanks, destined for Midwestern dinner plates.
Talk about a shrimp out of water.
The Okemos, MI-based shrimp farm is a pilot aquaculture research and development facility dreamt up by company founder and president, Russ Allen - the modern-day, seafood equivalent of Johnny Appleseed. Allen, a veteran shrimp farmer, transformed Belize and Ecuador from shrimp niche players to powerhouses. After dotting Central America's coasts with successful, independently operated shrimp farms, the Michigan native returned home to raise a family.
Allen also wanted to continue raising shrimp.
Seeking to diversify and expand Michigan aquaculture, Allen created a self-contained, completely enclosed shrimp farm. Rather than rely on greenhouses and a coastal location, Allen developed a self-sustaining system. He transformed an aluminum barn into the ideal space to grow, breed and harvest 10-limbed crustaceans.
"We are revolutionizing shrimp farming," Wesolek stated. "The goal is to eventually produce five million pounds of shrimp per year out of a new, larger facility."
According to Wesolek, technologically advanced aquaculture is a large opportunity for America. Currently, the bite-sized creatures create a jumbo, multi-billion dollar trade deficit annually - as most farmed shrimp is imported from Pacific Rim nations (e.g., China and Thailand) and Latin America. American aquaculture could narrow this gap, while creating additional jobs through a tasty, locally grown, environmentally friendly product.
Pivotal to Allen's goals was a high-capacity automated feed system to feed his stock of Pacific White Shrimp (known as Litopenaeus vannamei or Penaeus vannamei). According to Wesolek, the labor-intensive process of feeding shrimp scientifically formulated, high-protein pellets had to be repeated several times daily.
"I used to manually feed them at least three times a day - every day," Wesolek said. "The shrimp don't care if it's a weekend, holiday or a day off, they need to eat."
Seafood Systems needed a workaround. Like Goldilocks, feeding must be "just right," as underfeeding or overfeeding significantly impacts shrimp. Excess feed deteriorates water quality; underfed shrimp mature slowly, taking them longer to become grow into the sizes needed for beloved deep-fried jumbo shrimp.
Given Seafood Systems' size, an easy-to-program, plug-and-play distributed control system was needed to provide the burgeoning three-person operation with ease of use and flexibility.
"I reviewed other companies' products, but WAGO provided a lot of features for the price," Wesolek said. "We needed something that would be easy to install, wire and program. WAGO provided that."
The system relies on a WAGO 750-841 ETHERNET TCP/IP Programmable Fieldbus Controller; 750-530 8-Channel Digital Output Module DC 24 V; a 788-304 DIN-rail mount, pluggable single-pole, double-throw relay; 787-622 Power Supply Unit and a 758-500 5-Port ETHERNET TCP/IP Industrial ETHERNET Switch.
Acting as the fourth shrimp farmer, the system disperses feed at precise, predetermined intervals. Using the WAGO PLC as the control center, Wesolek programmed a tailored feed curve to optimize shrimp growth and health. The intelligent system utilizes tank-specific input data, such as growth stage and amount of stock, to disperse precise amounts. Seafood Systems' resulting network and system can automatically feed the shrimp up to 24 times daily, if desired. During development, Seafood Systems accounted for the many different sizes and variations of shrimp feed to ensure it could accommodate them. Currently, the system uses four different types of feed - a number limited only by physical space in the R&D facility.
After analysis of tank data and the feed curve, the system sends digital outputs to feed dispersal units, supplying the feed. An FTP client connects to, and automatically backs up, pertinent tank data on a local computer running an FTP server. The PLC can also send an SMS (text) message to the operator's cell phone if an error halts the system.
Although the system seems completely autonomous, it features a PLC-based user interface, providing access tank data over the network from a local machine because every one can be set independently. This enables the operator to change how many tanks, and at which times, each tank is fed. It is also from this interface, that the operator inputs the data on the stocked animals, enabling calculation for how much feed the shrimp require.
"It's the versatility that we really enjoy. Before, we could only feed during the day because that was when we were working, but now we can feed at 4 a.m., when nobody's around. This really is the key: it saves us time. I just press the button - actually the system even 'presses the button' automatically - and the shrimp are fed."
However, Seafood Systems plans to expand the system's capabilities.
For instance, naturally occurring bacteria consume excess feed and waste, deteriorating both oxygen levels and water quality, which impairs stock growth and well-being. Seafood Systems is calibrating the system to more closely monitor tank properties such as oxygen levels and Ph levels, ensuring stock health and growth. The results: more, and bigger, shrimp.
"The system will allow us to tie all those variables back into how much we are feeding the shrimp," Wesolek forecasted.
The system has also raised Seafood Systems' competitiveness.
"It is helping us tremendously," he said. "We can continue research and expand the system's capabilities - the automated feed system allows us to do more with less."
Seafood Systems envisions building a large-scale commercial facility, creating jobs to process up to five million pounds of shrimp annually. Allen hopes his innovations will benefit the fledgling U.S. shrimp farming sector and general American aquaculture.
"We've developed this automated feeding system so we can also sell it to others in the future; it has pretty unique capabilities," Wesolek stated. "It works with fish too and will also work for large, outdoor ponds - it's scalable on many levels. We can feed a large amount to just one tank/pond or feed many tanks all with the same system."
"Michigan locals think it's cool and are impressed that we are actually farming shrimp," Wesolek beamed. "They see it as new and innovative. Most people also really like that our shrimp are locally grown and they know where it came from. They're the best shrimp they've ever eaten!"
For more information on Seafood Systems, contact them at [email protected]. For more information about WAGO Corp., visit their website at www.wago.us.