Full speed ahead
Feb. 5, 2018
JLS maintains remote access to its equipment so that processors using the robotics can get assistance and service if needed.
Reed says what’s spurring the growth of robotics is the equipment’s ability to outperform traditional methods of packaging. “That competition is people’s hands. The cost of people’s labor is higher than these robotic machines,” he explains.
It’s not only that, many people don’t want to do this work anymore,” Ivy says. “Working in a cold, wet plant is not appealing to many people if they can do something else. Our customers are saying it’s harder to find employees.”
With much of its automated equipment devoted to loading sausage and hot dogs, most of Drake’s business is outside the US. That’s because more sausage and frankfurters are manufactured and sold outside the US. “Mexico and South America are bigger markets,” he says. “Especially for hot dogs – I call it hot dog economics. Those products are inexpensive proteins, and the people in many of those countries don’t have the income for other center of the plate proteins.”
JLS Automation, based in York, Pennsylvania, partners with Reiser, a leading supplier of packaging and processing equipment for sausage, frankfurters, poultry, seafood, prepared foods, bakery and cheese products. The company has committed to automation and robotics in a big way. JLS was started in 1955 by Joseph L. Souser and his wife Polly, as a manufacturer’s representative firm.
The business reinvented itself in 1993, moving into packaging automation. By then, Souser’s son Craig was running the company, and is the CEO and president today. Twelve years ago, the company became involved in the food industry. The company moved into robotics and found niches that it could move into to provide automation in packaging, including robotics. One major niche area JLS moved into was meat. Over the past few years, the staff doubled in size and during the past year, doubled its revenues.
“The meat industry wasn’t too involved in automation yet, nor robotics, so the partnership with Reiser became very helpful,” he says. The company works with very large to small processors. For example, JLS created a robotic machine for a processor with 20 people on a dedicated line, that was one of their first chub loaders.
Souser says JLS does the design and the assembly of their robotics, but the frames themselves are fabricated elsewhere. “We put everything together here,” he notes. Integrating robotics into meat and poultry plant environments that are physically challenging takes a lot of work. “Since often the plant workers need help with technology, JLS provides a lot of service to the processors. We maintain remote access to our equipment, so we can help them if need be,” he says. “We have a ‘JLS View’ that’s like an ‘augmented reality’ – which means we can be at the machine with the operator remotely. We can insert videos to help the workers know what to do.”
The head of JLS says the changing ways people buy food in grocery stores, the rise of meal kits, and other developments puts pressure on processors and others to make changes of their own, including more automation in production. “We’re being challenged with new applications – a lot of pressure is being put on the supply chain,” he says.