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Tim Edmonds

Location: Dartmouth, NS

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Industry

Year: 2003


Created the Air Chamber Crab Processor, a machine which provides a cost-effective, safe, and healthy method of removing meat from the hard-shell segments of crab. Edmonds' engineered machine has helped Canada's crab-processing industry more than double in size and is utilized in fish plants around the world. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Engineer's Innovation Transforms Crab-Processing Industry

Nova Scotian technology wins prestigious $10,000 Manning Award

Calgary, AB (September 3, 2003) - The Air Chamber Crab Processor represents a "sea change" in technology that has helped Canada's crab-processing industry more than double in size. Tim Edmonds of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has won a prestigious $10,000 Manning Innovation Award for his machine, which provides a cost-effective, safe and healthy method of removing meat from hard-shell segments of crab.

Edmonds, manager of Product Engineering at InNOVAcorp, a provincial Crown corporation, developed the Air Chamber Crab Processor (ACCP) after a Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries official asked for help with a major health problem affecting the industry.

Many workers, using machines that rely on a burst of compressed air to blow the meat out of Rock and Jonah crabs' legs, were getting ill with an asthma-like respiratory condition called "crab asthma."

"People were getting sick and it was hurting the industry and preventing it from growing," Edmonds says.

Research revealed that the manually operated machines were exposing workers to fumes and microscopic bits of crab meat (including a gaseous protein), produced by the bursts of compressed air.

Building from small working models, Edmonds engineered an automatic crab-processing machine designed to remove the meat quickly and efficiently, without exposing workers to any health hazards.

His ACCP machine forms a sealed air chamber using a special rubber-topped belt and a flexible rubber lip seal over the back of each crab leg. Once this air chamber is created, compressed air is forced into the chamber to gently push out the crab meat in a controlled and safe way.

The ACCP reduces labour costs by up to 85 per cent compared with hand-picking crab leg meat, and it reduces labour costs by 66 per cent compared with manually operated meat-blowing machines.

There are now 47 ACCPs operating in Atlantic Canada as well as the U.S., Scotland, Ireland and Norway - representing a substantial percentage of the global market for these crab leg meat processors.

Outside of Canada and Maine, the machines are marketed by Charlottetown Metal Products.

Edmonds, employing local machine shops and suppliers, builds every machine right in Dartmouth, often customizing components depending on the crab species or the shell segment being processed.

Automation is crucial to boost productivity and keep the cyclical fisheries industry competitive, Edmonds notes. "In a number of cases, it would not be economically feasible for fish plants to process the small Rock and Jonah crab, unless they had the most modern equipment to do the work."

Robert Weld, manager of engineering at Clearwater Fine Foods Inc. in Bedford, N.S., agrees that without Edmonds' labour-saving innovation, "this industry would not have developed this way."

Edmonds has won the $10,000 Manning Innovation Award. Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program has encouraged and recognized leading Canadian innovators with more than $3 million in prize money. This year's four major winners, who will be honoured at the annual gala dinner Oct. 3 in Halifax, will share a total of $145,000.

For more information about the award-winning Air Chamber Crab Processor, please contact Tim Edmonds at (902)-464-4460 or email: tedmonds@innovacorp.ns.ca

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Manning Innovation Award Tim Edmonds, Air Chamber Crab Processor

Nova Scotia fisheries official Charles McKenna knew that if the problem wasn't fixed soon, Atlantic Canada's entire crab industry might go under. McKenna decided to call on InNOVAcorp and a bright engineer who always has good ideas - Tim Edmonds.

That call led to innovative technology that has transformed the way hard-shell crab is processed - not just in Atlantic Canada but around the world.

The problem facing the industry was "crab asthma." The condition was affecting fish plant workers who used machines that rely on a strong burst of compressed air to blow the meat out of Rock and Jonah crab legs.

Some workers experienced acute asthma-like symptoms when working on the manual leg-blowing machines. Others suffered a chronic respiratory condition, even when they stopped working on these machines. Workers' Compensation claims were climbing. Several crab plant owners were even considering shutting down. Something had to be done.

Edmonds approached the problem like an engineer, systematically examining each step in the mechanical crab leg meat-blowing process.

With the existing machines, the burst of compressed air that workers manually directed to the back of each crab leg certainly blew out the meat. Trouble was, this process also "atomized" bits of the meat. The burst of air produced fumes and microscopic particles containing an irritating gaseous protein, breathed in by workers.

Edmonds needed a way to control the air pressure, to position each crab leg so the air would remove the meat, but in a controlled and safe way.

Through the trial-and-error process that is a hallmark of engineering design, he tried and discarded many ideas. He did AutoCAD sketches and built several small models to see how his concepts would perform in the assembly line-like conditions of a fish-processing plant.

"Only part of being creative is having a lot of ideas," Edmonds notes. "The other, probably more important part of the process is saying, 'That idea won't work. Don't think about it anymore.'"

As the good ideas evolved, he came up with a design for a machine that did everything right. He called it the Air Chamber Crab Processor or ACCP.

As any lover of seafood knows, getting the meat out of crab legs can be a tricky business.

Some workers in the crab-processing industry still do the job manually. They use a short piece of steel to break open each leg and another small tool to dig out the meat.

Machines do the job faster. But the manually operated machines that use compressed air, especially in conjunction with a saw immediately in front of the operator, can cause problems.

"Some of those systems are fairly dangerous because not only is it repetitive, you're cutting each leg and your fingers are quite close to the saw," Edmonds says.

With Edmonds' automatic ACCP machine, two operators place each crab leg into soft rubber pockets, ground into a rubber backing attached to a food-grade urethane timing or conveyor belt. The pockets are carefully sized for each crab species, whether it's Rock, Jonah, Snow (the claw arms) or Brown crabs.

The conveyor belt moves the legs through a saw that cuts a small amount off each leg, making an opening large enough for the meat to be pushed through. The legs continue moving along under a hold-down roller, equipped with pockets that mirror those on the conveyor belt.

As the twin pockets come together, an air chamber is formed around the back of each crab leg. Each leg is pressed into the rubber belt, forming an air seal across the bottom of the leg's shell and an innovative lip seal across the top. These thin rubber seals conform to the shape of each leg, holding them in place while air pressure is applied.

"Bending the seal to form a true lip seal is critical to the operation of the ACCP machine - and unique in the industry," Edmonds says.

A simple rotary valve turns on and off the compressed air supply to each sealed chamber. The pressure in each air chamber moves through the crab leg and builds up against the meat in the shell. And the crab meat - thrust out like a pea from a pea shooter - is trapped in a chute and falls gently into a colander.

The ACCP captures fumes at the source and removes them through an exhaust system. The empty shells stay on the conveyor belt and fall off the end of the machine into a container.

The ACCP can process 120 to 200 crab legs per minute, using as little as one-seventh the labour compared with hand-picking the meat. "It's a wiser use of labour," Edmonds says.

The ACCP can process 120 to 200 crab legs per minute, using as little as one-seventh the labour compared with hand-picking the meat. "It's a wiser use of labour," Edmonds says.

Edmonds tested his prototype at Wallace Fisheries Limited in Nova Scotia, where then-owner Charles Kennedy provided financial support and allowed competitors to see the ACCP in action.

Today, two ACCP machines have enabled Seadeli Ltd. in New Brunswick to triple production of Rock crab with the same workforce.

Village Bay Sea Products in New Brunswick is processing more crab legs now with eight operators and four ACCP machines than it did with 30 hand-pickers. Company president Armand King says: "I strongly believe that without this new technology, the company would never have been able to increase its volume and also reduce its production cost to a manageable level..."

Pierce Fisheries Ltd. in Nova Scotia was able to produce a higher-value meat product from their ACCP machines because the quality is so much better than the meat processed with their old, manually operated leg-blowing machines.

Most importantly, the ACCP technology has virtually eliminated the "crab asthma" problem and resulting Workers' Compensation claims, as well as cumulative traumatic injuries.

Edmonds, who's 49, previously pioneered a cost-effective way to grow mussels in open water. He's now working on a machine to help develop a market for the claws of the under-utilized Toad crab species, caught off Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and the Gaspé Peninsula.

Especially in the cyclical fisheries industry, Edmonds firmly believes, "automation is the only way that we can keep jobs in Canada and improve our standard of living."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Tim Edmonds


Phone: (902)-464-4460

Website: http://www.innovacorp.ns.ca/

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca