The Cornelia plant converted to NPIS in November 2015. “We converted in February of 2016,” Rackley says. “We had to rearrange our lines in order to make it work, but it’s worked well for us.”
For the Fieldale employees that act as inspectors, it’s a premium pay job. Their training comes from former USDA veterinarians and the Fieldale company veterinarian helps establish the training program and create a manual as well.
Fieldale is currently developing a mentor program that’s helping newly hired employees adjust to the work and understand the safety and quality goals of the company. In addition to new hires being trained by veteran workers, the mentoring program will include video training for new employees. The Murrayville plant will adopt the new program soon.
“It’s already started at two of the plants and it will get implemented here after we complete their processes,” Rackley says.
The company’s dedication to employee well-being, food safety and quality control have earned it supplier of the year awards from multiple customers.
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Detection and production
For the past four years, Fieldale and Gainco, a local equipment supplier, have been developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Gainco provides Fieldale with two machines that play critical roles in the quality and volume the company produces. Anritsu x-ray machines ensure that bone fragments aren’t left in products. Gainco’s multi-functional trim tables give Fieldale a tool to monitor and measure productivity, as well as improve quality.
“We started looking for ways to improve our quality on our deboned meat, so we tested some equipment with Gainco and other vendors and we chose to go with Yield Plus and put the Anritsu x-ray behind the tables to verify that there were no bones left in the meat,” Rackley says. There are currently nine of the x-ray machines and five trim tables being used at Fieldale Farms’ operations.
“The trim table weighs the product going to each individual trimmer, and we’re able to track performance by each individual. We track them by yield, pounds per man hour, pieces per minute, total pounds produced and quality.”
Fieldale employees have access to the data anytime via dashboard-like screens mounted in the breakroom and on the processing line. Employees use this data to track their own performance.
The high-tech tables work in tandem with the yield scanning system. Developed by Georgia Tech Univ., Yield Scan takes a picture of the carcass and measures the meat left. Monitors on the line and in the breakroom display the results of each table.
A lighting system similar to traffic lights measure performance at a glance. Red light is poor, a yellow light is “getting there” and a green light indicates high performance.
Over the years Fieldale has added equipment and automation to meet demand, but it’s always been a decision based on needs and return on investment. In the past five years, due to labor issues and the ability to produce more volume, the Murrayville facility has added two Meyn, mechanical deboners.
“We’re always looking to improve through new equipment or different technologies,” Rackley says. “We’re always looking for that and we’re reviewing the next generation of mechanical equipment to see if there’s any merit and benefit to us putting it into this facility.”
While the mechanical deboners represent 35 percent of the plant’s deboning process, Rackley says management still prefers hand deboning. “Mechanical is getting close, but we still get a better yield with hand,” he says. However, manual deboning capacity is limited to about 42 fronts per minute, while automated deboning increases capacity up to 100 fronts per minute, Rackley adds.
The Murrayville plant runs six cone lines for manual deboning with 11 employees per line. All six lines operate on the night shift while four operate on the day shift. Breasts and tenders are pulled and cut while wings get sent to a cutting wheel that splits them into three cuts and then they’re graded, bagged and boxed.
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Challenges and changes
Fieldale Farms faces many of the challenges that all poultry manufacturers face, and one that’s trending through the entire industry – as well as other industries – is labor. It seems that low unemployment, competition from other poultry plants in the area and the opening of an Amazon warehouse in the county slated for the near future, have Fieldale and other businesses in Hall County, Georgia, coming up short on help.
“In this area, there are a lot of poultry plants,” Rackley says. “So, we’re all competing for the same labor.”
At only 3.25 percent unemployment in Hall County, anyone that is willing and able to work already is, Rackley says. He adds that when the rate is that low, the only people left are those who don’t want to work, can’t work, or are always in transition from one job to another.
“Even the local restaurants, hotels, everybody is suffering for labor,” Rackley says. “Every industry in the county and surrounding counties have signs up everywhere needing labor.”
Many companies answer the challenge of scarce labor through automation. When a company needs to grow but lacks a labor pool to draw from and support and sustain that growth, automation is often the answer.
Currently, Fieldale’s Cornelia plant is going through an expansion and renovation to add square footage for additional equipment and production. “They’re adding automation and equipment to improve their processes,” Rackley says. And the Murrayville plant will see expansion soon as well.
“We are looking to expand this plant for future growth and automation,” Rackley adds. The Murrayville plant has plenty of land to build on and will just add square footage to the existing facility.
While Fieldale’s Murrayville plant is now utilizing electric stunning, Rackley acknowledges the trend toward controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) in the industry. As more restaurant groups switch to the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) guidelines, which include CAS, Fieldale will consider switching over. “There are a lot of people switching, so we’re going to look at it to see,” he says. “As far as the company making a decision that, ‘yes, we’re going to it next year or in two years,’ I don’t know that. All I know is that we’ll be looking at it.”
Rackley started his career with Fieldale Farms in 1999 as a supervisor and over the years has performed many duties and seen many changes as he has worked his way up to the plant manager position. “I started out as a supervisor and then switched over to tray-pack manager,” Rackley says. “Then I became second processing superintendent, then assistant plant manager and then plant manager in 2010.”
Through the years he’s seen plenty of changes and expects more. Rackley remains loyal to his employer of 18 years. “Fieldale is a great company to work for,” he says. “They believe in taking care of their employees.”