Meat firms' customer collaborations

By Alyson Magee

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meat products, Meat

Automation restricts human handling for safety
Automation restricts human handling for safety
Many meaty demands must be met by today’s processing equipment, reports Alyson Magee

Key points

Manufacturers of meat and poultry processing equipment are increasingly collaborating with their customers on new technology to address industry and regulatory demands.

Processors are looking for equipment to improve efficiencies, profitability, quality, food safety, traceability, sustainability and, particularly, flexibility. But they are also increasingly seeking solutions that fit seamlessly with their set up.

Marel works with its customers to develop innovative processing equipment to address such concerns and needs while performing at peak productivity, and invests an annual 5–7% of its income in research and development (R&D).

The global supplier has launched a number of new or updated models over the last year in response to industry demand, including its Incoming Meat Inspection (IMI) system for further processing and meat grinding.

Sensor technology (Return to top)

IMI uses Marel’s SensorX X-ray technology to calculate the precise chemical lean ratio (CL) of beef or pork trim. Enabling fat to be added when the CL in incoming product is too high, processors can increase profits by reducing claims or returns with low CL, while increasing food safety by detecting contaminants.

Interfood Technology undertakes product trials to ensure “the technology and any innovations meet the exact requirements of the given application,​” says Mark Bishop, joint md.

“We are constantly working with the manufacturers we represent to provide feedback from our customers an essential part of R&D since it helps ensure that the innovations are truly representative of what the market wants.”

For example, an optional cassette was added to the TVI range of pressing and slicing systems, from Interfood’s Fresh Meat Portioning Division.

TVI uses patented gripper-less technology to improve pack presentation for both bone-in and bone-less meat products. The cassette, also patented, slots into customers’ existing TVI systems to enable accurate fixed-weight product dicing and a change from slicing to dicing in 15 minutes without tools.

“Cutting, slicing and dicing continues to be an important sector in meat and poultry processing,”​ says Jim Sydenham, joint md of Interfood Technology. “Consumers are driving demand for more natural meat products, including whole muscle-type cooked meats such as gammon steaks and high quality bacon, which is generating growth in this area of slicing.”

Proactive scanning technology is becoming increasingly popular to accommodate the irregular shapes of costlier natural products and avoid wastage, says Sydenham.

Blade technology is also advancing “with extremely encouraging results from Weber’s new blade head and blade angle bringing even greater flexibility and improved slicing performance”,​ he says.

Another equipment manufacturer, Freund, designed micro toothing for its ZKM Circular Breaking Knife whole carcase-cutting range for pork, lamb, poultry and veal to address problems associated with traditional band saws.

The ZKM range cuts both bone and meat leaving a clean face to the meat, according to Freund, while offering potential to generate savings in yield and improve operator safety as the cutting is automated and thus hands-free.

German equipment supplier Treif was recently awarded the top innovation prize in a competition recognising technologies already used successfully in its home market.

The high-speed depositing system of Treif’s industrial slicer Divider 880 allows continuous slicing of products such as ham, sausage and salami, with slicing continuing while sliced packages are taken directly underneath the blade and transported safely without wasting time.

Fewer blade revolutions are required for the same output, reducing maintenance and energy costs while enhancing quality due to less wear.

Marel introduced a new I-Cut Profile last year, for slicing and grouping of pressed or un-pressed, fixed weight fresh meat portions with high levels of on-weight portions and low giveaway.

“Earlier generations of portioning machines, while capable of producing fixed weight red meat portions, were unable to group the slices which, therefore, could not be automatically loaded into trays or a packing machine,”​ says Tony Ambrose, marketing director of Marel in the UK.

Poultry processing (Return to top)

Tailored innovation has gone into the poultry sector, with Marel Stork Poultry Processing introducing an AeroScalder using humidified hot air rather than water-based systems to scald broilers, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

The technology reduces water usage by up to 75% and 50% for energy, and was awarded the EuroTier Golden Innovation award 2012 and best new poultry product at the AgraME tradeshow in Dubai earlier this year.

R&D also considers new regulations. Marel Stork developed its high-frequency Water Bath Stunner for poultry in response to EU animal welfare regulations introduced this year requiring higher electrical values and design and operation features.

TrayTrack, another new poultry sector piece of kit from Marel Stork, is aimed at large-scale operations and creates more efficient transfer to packing and labelling lines with less downtime and inefficient use of floor space.

The fully automated system transfers trays from the point of filling to a remote sealing, wrapping and labelling area using buffers to order different sized trays. Tray filling involving raw meat can be kept separate from sealing, wrapping and labelling operations, while product is moved between the two areas on an overhead conveyor system.

Interfood Technology is also aiming to boost efficiency at the packing end of the processing line with a new Packing Solutions division.

“End of line is an area of food processing in which significant cost savings can be achieved through automating the process,” ​says Sydenham. “In Packing Solutions, we offer end-of-line solutions from Buhmann and precision weighing technology from Sparc Systems.”

Flexibility (Return to top)

Flexibility, meanwhile, represents a unifying requirement across meat and poultry lines.

“When capital investment is being made in machines, processors are looking to maximise how they can be used and to ensure that their investment is for the long term, capable of handling their current requirements but also future-proofed should those requirements change through the development of different operations and new products,”​ says Bishop.

Treif's industrial dicer Twister allows operators to choose between continuous and intermittent cutting, adapt blade speed, and discharge cut product to requirements.

Use of a gentle cut gridset option adapts the Twister for processing delicate products such as cooked meat or boiled sausage.

Treif's Falcon hybrid offers similar flexibility, with the ability to slice bone-in or boneless portions by weight or slice thickness using a 4D camera system to optimise yield, and a grouping unit to separate deviant portions.

Holac, supplied by Reiser UK, offers versatility via its simple-to-change cutting grid, enabling processors to cube, strip, shred or flake all types of meat products and improve yield.

“With a Holac Dicer, processors can use the same raw materials they process to expand their product line,”​ says Ken Mossford, md of Reiser UK.

Holac’s Sectomat Slicers also offer versatility, and can slice and portion naturally shaped or formed product with speed and precision.

Automation (Return to top)

“Automation is definitely on the increase,” ​says Sydenham. “By adopting automated processes and removing or minimising the need for human intervention, a repeatable and consistent product can be achieved, driving increased efficiency and control of product quality.

“Reducing human handling of the product, particularly in the case of meat, also significantly lessens the potential for contamination, a significant factor given the ever increasing focus on hygiene and food safety.”

For example, robotics used in the Weber range offer advantages in high volume slicing applications, with pick-and-place robots repositioning portions for packaging without the need for manual repositioning and responding to variations in portion shapes and die formats.

There is an increasing uptake in automation, concurs Marel, but also an increasing effort to streamline upstream processes which cannot be automated, such as deboning and trimming.

Many equipment suppliers report greater confidence in capital investment alongside economic recovery, and Marel believes the Groceries Supply Code of Practice regulating trading relationships between retailers and suppliers will boost it further.

"If processors can be more certain of their supply agreements, they may be more confident to invest in new equipment for the long term,"​ says Ambrose.

For those who are struggling to gain financing, however, Interfood offers a flexible financing alternative to the banks including hire purchase, finance leasing and operating lease finance.

“With our finance packages, we work closely with a partner that specialises in funding specifically for capital investments in the food processing industry so that we can tailor a package to meet a given need,”​ says Bishop.

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