At a cost of approximately $700,000, the new robot, similar to robots used in the car manufacturing industry, has been recognized as highly accurate. Ron Penn, General Manager of Linley Valley’s Meat and Livestock division says, “It scans the carcass . . . takes an image of it and then directs the robot exactly where it should be cutting.”
By taking these precise measurements, the robot can be programmed to make cuts based on each pig’s individual anatomy accomplishing 3 important goals of maximizing the production of high-value meats, reducing waste caused by accidental cuts to the carcass, and providing a product that meets consumer preferences and requirements.
In addition, Dean Romaniello, Project and Senior Manager of the company’s Meat and Livestock division, said that the use of robotic cutting during meat processing significantly reduces the potential for contamination.
Romaniello noted that the company sees food safety as a major concern. Prior to instituting the use of robotics to the processing line, the company spent more than $10,000 per month to perform microbial testing and worked closely with Singapore’s AVA quarantine inspection agency. This is largely due to the fact that meat processing involving manual labor often bears a higher risk of accidental cutting to organs, such as the stomach and the intestines, which harbor bacteria that may be harmful or even deadly to humans.
However, now that the company has equipped its plant with the laser guided robotic cutting system, Romaniello predicts that the cost and necessity of testing will be cut in half.
Moreover, if improper incisions are made, the tainted carcasses must be carefully handled and heavily trimmed resulting in the loss of large quantities of meat. Managers at Linley Valley estimate that by using traditional methods of manual cutting, contamination could affect as many as 20,000 pigs annually based on current production levels. However, by implementing robotic technology, Linley Valley is confident that it can reduce that number to 5,000 pigs or less.
Romaniello pointed out that “critical to the value of this laser guided H-bone saw and belly opener equipment for the evisceration line is that stomach breakage, caused by manual error, is reduced from four percent to less than one percent.” Accordingly, the use of robotics allows for a much smaller margin of error.
The company first started looking into the use of the laser precision cutting technology two or three years ago when they experienced regional labor shortages. Penn explained that many skilled workers at the time went to work instead for the mining industry.
With the help of a matching dollar grant from the Australian government’s Food Innovation Grants Program, as well as support from Food Equipment Australia, Banss Meat Technology of Germany, Australian Pork Limited, WA Pork Producers’ Association and the Pork CRC, Linley Valley has become a leader in Australia’s pork processing industry by adopting the sophisticated cutting equipment.
Linley Valley, however, is not the first company worldwide to utilize this type of technology. Specifically, companies in Denmark, Canada and the United States are among Australia’s major competitors in the lucrative Singapore market that have already invested in robotic cutting machines equipped with laser guided imaging. Despite that fact, it is still a major step forward for food safety in Australia and globally.
Penn announced that the investment will bring the company closer to its goal of “achieving the world’s best practice for traceability, quality, food safety, innovation and workforce practices.” He plans to “continue to work collaboratively with industry bodies and other meat producers and processors to identify and then tackle critical industry-wide issues,” and hopes that the company’s newly installed technology will serve as a model for other companies within the industry.