Meat & Livestock News

Revolutionary Automation in Meat Processing

TL;DR: Silver Fern Farms integrates LEAP, an advanced robotic system, enhancing meat cutting precision and safety at their Finegand plant, promising increased productivity and quality. This $10 million investment marks significant progress in meat processing automation, showcasing commitment to innovation and efficiency in the industry.

Silver Fern Farms’ Finegand plant has recently implemented a ground-breaking piece of technology known as LEAP. Officially termed the Primal, Middle, and Forequarter System, this innovation marks the latest development in robotic lamb cutting. Developed by Scott Automation, LEAP uses cutting-edge imaging to automate complex meat-cutting processes previously done by hand.

Technical Insights

Marthinus Hendriks, the regional project engineer for Silver Fern Farms in the South Island, explained that a DXA X-ray first examines carcasses. This step accurately gauges bone position and density, assisting robots in identifying optimal cut locations for the forequarter, middle, and hindquarter. Following this analysis, forequarters undergo further examination by 2- and 3-D cameras to plan subsequent cuts based on current market demands and production schedules.

As for the middle sections, similar imaging technology guides robots to execute precise cuts or remove specific flaps as required. These tailored pieces are then forwarded for packaging or further processing into high-value products.

Human Interaction

Despite these advancements, human expertise remains crucial for boning out hindquarters, a task that current technology cannot yet perform, specifically regarding the removal of the pelvic bone.

Goals and Benefits

Hendriks highlighted that the primary motivations for integrating this technology were to enhance safety, cutting precision, and meat yield, which collectively contribute to increased revenue.

Impact on Workforce

Bronwyn Cairns, the plant manager, noted that the robots have replaced seven positions within the facility. However, these individuals have been reassigned to other roles, ensuring no loss of employment. She emphasised the consistency and precision brought about by this technology, significantly boosting the plant’s capacity to produce high-quality, value-added products consistently.

“With this technology, we can deliver what we promise, every single time,” Cairns stated, reflecting on her four decades in the industry and expressing amazement at the precision of modern robotic systems.

Financial Commitment and Confidence

The adoption of this technology, representing an investment exceeding $10 million, signals a strong vote of confidence in the staff, the local sheep meat industry, and the South Otago community. Scott Automation dedicated nearly a year to designing and integrating this system at the Finegand plant, achieving a seamless transition with minimal disruption.

Ongoing Developments and Future Prospects

Andrew Arnold, director of meat processing at Scott Automation, shared insights into the broader application of this technology. The Finegand system includes several enhancements that improve cutting accuracy and product quality, setting a new industry standard.

Scott Automation is not stopping here; it is actively developing modules for both lamb and beef processing. These modules will further automate tasks such as removing back straps and tenderloins or cleaning fat without water, enhancing efficiency and product quality.

Additionally, partnerships with industry leaders like JBS and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation are paving the way for advanced beef automation systems. These initiatives are structured to allow phased development and integration, mitigating risks associated with such sophisticated technological upgrades.

This leap in meat processing technology not only revolutionises how tasks are performed but also reinforces the industry’s commitment to innovation, safety, and quality, promising a future where technology and tradition blend seamlessly for optimal results.