There are plenty of challenges poultry processors are facing today, many increasing due to the pandemic. One is a steep decline of workers available to do the front-line jobs, and another involves understanding and maintaining newer, more sophisticated automated technology that is put in place to help solve the first challenge.
“Labor availability is an ongoing dilemma for poultry processors the world over,” said Roy Driessen, Marel’s marketing manager for poultry. “This is becoming a disruptive force in the industry, threatening both continuity and efficiency. It is a challenge to have all shifts occupied with qualified people operating all at the same high level.”
Automation can provide an answer to reduced dependency on labor, but it is not always within every processor’s reach. Some recognize the bigger picture and the advantages of automation but struggle to apply it in their facilities.
“With the demand for poultry meat being on the rise globally, and labor shortage being an ongoing challenge for many years within the poultry processing industry, time is too precious for the processors to wait for external solutions bringing the answer,” said Aize Land, sales manager at Meyn Food Processing Technology, based in the Netherlands. “It is time to find the answer to the challenges from within.”
Other challenging operational issues in the industry are achieving the highest possible levels of yield, quality and processing efficiency at all times.
“Retailers and quick-service restaurants increasingly insist that their suppliers offer full traceability,” Driessen said. “Those that cannot provide this risk losing valuable business.”
New and improved
Alex Pangilinan, marketing specialist for Kansas City, Kan.-based Baader Poultry USA, noted the company offers a solution to turn deboning waste into ground poultry profits.
“Previously discarded wishbone stamps and trimmings from the deboning process can be a part of our customers’ overall deboning yield, thus allowing processors to improve results and their bottom line,” he said.
Baader offers two solutions for automatic white meat breast deboning. Pangilinan noted the BA656 is ideal for processing front halves with wings attached at 65 birds per minute, while the new BA661 is ideal for big-bird processors as a direct replacement for the industry standard double-sided manual deboning lines.
“The machine saves skilled labor by automating complex cutting and scoring processes before manually harvesting fillets and tenders,” he said. “This process utilizes the full potential of human and machine allowing our customers to maintain control of final product quality and yield.”
As a full line supplier from live bird intake to dispatch, Lenexa, Kan.-based Marel is busy continually updating all aspects of the process.
“The Marel Atlas modular live bird handling system builds on decades of relevant experience,” Driessen said. “Its self-nesting SmartStack modules create a class-leading environment for birds during their trip to the processing plant. Using the pallet as an extra tier increases carrying capacity by up to 38%, reducing the number of trips necessary, saving fuel and lowering the all-important carbon footprint. SmartStack modules are easier to clean too.”
Marel continues to develop its cutting and deboning systems as well. Examples are the modular Thigh Fillet System and Q-Wing. The Thigh Fillet System installed in an ACM-NT automatic cut-up line is capable of deboning up to 240 thighs per minute to standards of yield and quality previously only possible using skilled manual labor. Meanwhile, Q-Wing uses IRIS vision technology to grade individual wing components automatically into separate flows of “A” grade and downgrade product, saving labor and lifting overall wing packing efficiency.
Foodmate US’ latest offering includes the OPTiX Thigh Deboner with the auto-loading option.
“The new automatic leg transfer system has been a heavily requested module,” said Adam McCoy, national account manager for the Ball Ground, Ga.-based company. “We are glad to see the development of this new technology. It provides the perfect combination of equipment, solving two problems simultaneously. It adds the ability to distribute whole legs, either by size or piece count, via a leg conveyor, and reduces labor by auto-loading the machine.”
One Pennsylvania-based plant utilizing the OPTiX, noted it has allowed the company to cut back on overtime on weeknights and weekends, and helped to streamline production.
Foodmate also has the new MAX 2.0 Breast Deboner, which can switch from butterflies to single fillets, and allows customers to reduce staffing, improve yield and have a more reliable bone free product.
Meyn’s most iconic processing solutions are the high-speed in-line organ harvester, the Meyn Maestro Plus and the Meyn Rapid Plus breast deboner M4.2.
Where automation steps in, the need for labor steps out, Land noted.
“Take for example our breast deboning system. In manual process, a worker generally places the front half on a cone,” he said. “If the worker is skilled, motivated, and not too tired, the job can be accomplished with high accuracy and yield. If one of these conditions is not met, the quality and quantity of the output will be much lower.”
Meyn released the Maestro Plus for fully automated in-line organ harvesting at high speeds at IPPE 2020. The record high yield of the Maestro eviscerator technology combined with new organ harvesting modules boasts minimum waste, maximum profit and its compact design offers more flexibility in plant layout.
“This year we released our self-adjustable Meyn Wing Cutter HY Pro for grillers of variable shape and size in one single setting,” Land said. “Our software solution Meyn Connect is undergoing constant optimization to keep on track with the recent demands of the market.”
Naturally, there is a steep learning curve when companies introduce smarter technology into the plants, and equipment manufacturers are working to ensure that their customers are able to get the job done.
“With the level of technology greater than many of our customers possess, our Asset Integrity Program (AIP) provides advanced training to keep our system operating at peak performance and it has been such an invaluable resource for our customers,” said Howard Saul, national account manager for Foodmate US. “Our customers have leaned on us in varying degrees of assistance; some rely on us for quarterly CAM visits, some monthly visits, and then others for subsequent scheduled rebuilds.”
Good management also needs good information.
“The Marel Innova software platform not only efficiently allocates available products to incoming orders, but also provides up-to-the-minute information on all aspects of the process, which it displays on centrally situated, easy-to-read dashboards,” Driessen said. “Managers can see immediately if there is a problem and exactly where the problem is. Its remedy can then follow quickly with minimal negative consequences for uptime and for the plant’s bottom line.”
And after a few months, most processors can stand on their own operating the equipment and reaping the benefits.