When it comes to poultry, the whole carcass processing procedure – from slaughtering to evisceration, and cutting, sizing and packaging – can be automated in a single line. With meat, however, automating the entire processing line is not as simple. In this sector we find individual machines performing tasks such as carcass splitting, deboning, trimming, slicing, weighing, and packing.
Locally, automated equipment are available in the form of deboning equipment like de-rinders, saws or rib-pullers that can be fitted to the processing line, and automatic lamb cutting equipment cutting carcasses in half.
For further processing the carcass is most often cut into the primary cuts: hind leg, middle and fore-end. Fully automatic equipment performing this operation was developed by the Danish Meat Research Institute(DMRI) and is marketed by Danish company ATTEC, global leaders in cutting technology.
ATTEC is a worldwide supplier of automatic and semi-automatic cutting and deboning equipment for pork, lamb and beef, with representation on all the continents. They are in a partnership with ITEC GmbH, and together ATTEC and ITEC are partners with PHT in Austria, Germany and South Africa, supplying hygiene systems, cutting and deboning equipment, ergonomic and conveying systems.
Jarvis Products, a poultry and meat processing equipment specialist headquartered in Middletown, Connecticut, USA, and represented worldwide, including South Africa, has developed robotics for hog head dropping, brisket and aitch bone opening of hogs, and forequarter and hock cutting of cattle.
Marel, a worldwide leader in automated poultry processing lines, also offers a meat deboning line called the Meat Deboning FlowLine, which provides 100% automatic traceability from farmer to carcass and worker to labelled product item, without the use of trays or boxes. This applies to both individually packed primals as well as to batched products such as trimmings.
The system automatically selects cutting patterns for individual animals and displays the pattern on the workstation terminals. The flexible cutting patterns can contain variations based on production orders, animal fat class, animal weight and decisions made by the trimmer. The system provides yield and costing reports for production lots, individual trimmers and individual animals.
VORAN, represented by PHT in South Africa, supplies automatic splitting devises for both pig carcasses and large carcasses such as beef and horse.
On the international front, USA company MoviMED, based in Irvine, California, is a machine vision integration industry leader and an authorised FANUC Robotics Integrator with a team of experts that optimises plant operations through robotic automation and robotic vision integration. FANUC South Africa offers breakdown and scheduled service for all FANUC equipment in Southern Africa.
After hock removal, the carcass is ready for further processing such as rectum removal – a task known as de-bunging. In 2010 MoviMED demonstrated a method for de-bunging pig carcasses based on a system that uses a 3-D vision-guided robot. Pig carcasses are hung upside-down and moved along a conveyor to a de-bunging station, where a robot equipped with a pneumatic vacuum cuts and extracts the colon before the meat is further butchered.
Machinery Automation & Robotics (MAR) in Silverwater, Australia, developed the Robotic Small Stock Carcass Splitting System, which replaces the actions of current manual band saw operations for small stock lamb, sheep and goat processing. The system can be used to split hot or chilled carcasses installed pre or post chiller. Robotic carcass splitting utilises advanced dustless blade technology to minimise saw-dust, improving yield, shelf-life and appearance.
While beef is not suited for automatic cutting, MLA has identified the manual scribing task (pre-cut through the bone) of beef carcasses as a very high priority for automation. This has been identified as one of the most dangerous and physically difficult of all meat processing tasks. It is also where a significant amount of processing yield can be lost. The Robotic Beef Scriber is currently under development in collaboration with Meat & Livestock Australia.
In some instances, portions of meat may need to be deboned and sliced before they can be packaged. The Hamdas-R pork thigh-deboning system from Tokyo, Japan-based Mayekawa Electric has successfully automated the deboning process. The system is used to recognise the size and shape of bones. By integrating an x-ray recognition system with four RX160 robots from international mechatronics company Stäubli, the system is capable of deboning 500 hams per hour with only ten workers.
Mayekawa Electric is not the only company to have deployed x-ray-based robotic vision systems for this purpose. Scott Technology in Dunedin, New Zealand, part of the Scott Group setting the benchmark for automation technology in the global meat industry, has also developed such a system for lamb deboning.
After carcasses are x-rayed, images are distinguished using an x-ray detector interfaced to a PC. Because the carcass passes twice between the x-ray tube and detector at different angles, the two different images allow a 3-D map of the lamb’s skeleton to be produced. After images are processed, critical ribs and structures are identified and used to control a custom cutting machine that divides the meat into ten different cuts.
Following meat cutting and deboning, meat is sliced, packaged and shipped. Again, vision-guided robotics are speeding up these processes. To ensure that portions of meat are accurately portioned and cut, manufacturers of food slicing and packaging equipment are incorporating volumetric scanning systems into their products.
At Charkman Group in Boras, Sweden, for example, a fully automatic slicing line is in operation. Capable of handling up to 150 packs per minute, Charkman’s system can slice and pack a variety of products – high volumes of salami, ham, turkey, rolled pork and other cooked meats – and can be programmed to handle 26 pack variations and sizes. At the heart of the line is an intelligent portion loading (IPL) IRB 340 robot from ABB called FlexPicker, which is guided by vision software from Cognex.
The ABB Group operates in more than 100 countries and is a global leader in power and automation technologies with low environmental impact. ABB South Africa has a strong local manufacturing capability with manufacturing sites around the country.
A few years ago the Dutch company STORK MPS launched the F-line modular series of dedicated robots, which are now operational in a number of countries. They have been installed in slaughterhouses with line speeds of 600 pigs per hour (or more) in a single line layout or 1 200 pigs per hour in a double line.
In the F-line concept, the following processes have been automated:
• cutting of the pelvic symphysis;
• opening of the abdomen and the thorax;
• removal of the fat end;
• neck cutting; and
• removal of the leaf lard.
The Danish company SFK-Danfotech has, in co-operation with the Danish Meat Research Institute (DMRI), developed a series of dedicated robots for automation of slaughter line processes. The robot series is manufactured as separate modules, each robot having its separate hydraulic station and PLC (programmable logic controller). All robots have capacities for between 360 and 400 carcasses per hour and may be installed separately or as a line, dependent on the requirements of the slaughterhouse.
The series of robots consists of:
• a measuring unit to determine the length of
the pig carcass;
• throat cutter;
• fat end dropper and ham divider;
• carcass opener;
• evisceration equipment;
• equipment for back finning; and
• a carcass splitting machine.
At the end of the line...
Overveld Packaging, Holland, in partnership with Yaskawa Motoman, is a company which continually keeps up to date with the changing demands of the most progressive and modern companies.
The company continually dedicates itself to developing new products, techniques and methods, ensuring that machinery is capable of meeting the high demands of customers.
The Motoman MPP3 robots are complete and have an open structure, and can therefore simply be integrated into almost any packaging line. The machines can easily be coupled by means of an Ethernet-connection, which implies that several robots can co-operate.
The Cobra picker is a concept for modern robot technology. As a result of the combination of a solid basic frame with in-feed and out-feed conveyor and a Yaskawa Motoman MPP3 robot, this system is very fast(high speed), stable and precise. There are no other systems known with a combination of these advantages. This machine is designed in such a way that it can be implemented directly in the food industry, but also specifically the meat industry.
Further, the Cobra can also be used for the packaging of small objects like bottles, chocolates, biscuits, etc. The machine can pile these products in boxes, trays or blisters. The Cobra MPP3 is capable of doing automatic robotic portion loading of:
• Shaved meat
• Meat balls
• Rice disks
• Fish, fish sticks
• Pancakes, wraps
Products are picked off a flat conveyor and placed in a flowpacker, multivac, tray or dish. By using camera (vision) technology, it becomes very simple to locate and position products.
The robot has the ability of running 50 different programmes. At request, this can be extended. The programmes can be imported by means of a clarifying touch screen, but it is also possible to use the barcode reader, which increases the speed of settings and reduces the chances of mistakes.