With an increasing demand for cut-up and tray-packed poultry and as global demand for convenient, ready-to-cook, packaged chicken pieces increases, processors have been investing in new technology to make the process easier and more efficient.

Jay Russell, vice president of Meyn America, Ball Ground, Georgia, says one of the ways companies are doing this is through innovation by utilizing intelligent cut-up modules, which allows customers to fulfill orders with a broad product mix, while protecting valuable yields.

“We’ve eliminated the need for multiple compact floor cut-up systems that require a redundancy with rehanging,” he says. “We now effectively portion cut-up poultry with the entire process in the overhead where we only hang the birds one time, allowing our system to weigh, grade, distribute and cut effectively in terms of what product mix is needed.”

The Meyn Physic HS was developed to support poultry processors by realizing the highest possible revenues, at speeds up to 7,500 birds per hour, while giving operators the ability to automatically weigh whole birds, halved birds, plus individual leg segments.

Russell explains that often plants will input the default recipes, for US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) A-grade lots, for example, and that’s based on skin tears, bruising, color of the bird and on skin mix.

“Most whole bird customers, whether it be Kroger, Publix, H-E-B, Costco, Walmart, Sam’s or any of the big brand retailers, are looking at methods to differentiate themselves,” Russell says. “It is our job to provide innovative solutions and technology to support our customers’ flexible production needs in order to automatically determine the destination for the birds they want to package and how.”

This allows plants the ability to utilize the technology that automatically determines whether a bird remains whole, or how it needs to be portioned based on customer specifications. This technology even manages the dark meat side from leg quarters to fat-free portions and drumsticks. Meyn has introduced a system that tracks birds from arrival through packaging in order to provide true farm-to-fork traceability.

Processing IQ

Oliver Hahn, CEO of Baader Linco Inc., Kansas City, Kansas, sees poultry processing systems moving toward integrated, self-checking smart machines exchanging continuous performance data with each other and plantpersonnel.

“Increasing yield and reducing labor remain the primary interest throughout the industry,” he says. “This can be achieved through integrating and automating manual or stand-alone processes into the cut-up line.”

Baader’s Thigh Filleting System BA632, which was released at the 2018 International Production & Processing Expo, is integrated with its cut-up technology and meets market demands for reduced labor and increased yield.

“Each machine gives the customer the option to reduce required labor by 50 percent or double the capacity up to 230 thighs per minute with the same labor,” Hahn says. “Anatomical wing segmenting and whole wing removal within the cut-up line is a critical processing step toward automatic breast meat deboning.”

Additionally, its In-Line ClassifEYE vision system captures a 360-degree image of each bird while its weighing systems capture the individual weight. Based on image characteristics (type of defects) and weight, the bird is directed to the ideal cut-up modules in order to maximize yield and satisfy production demand.

Dwight Curl, key account manager with Marel Poultry, headquartered in Iceland, with its US operations in Lenexa, Kansas, notes the latest trends involve sizing and grading birds for specific products upstream and the desire to have one-piece flow with little to no batching of products.

Marel’s technology consists of IRIS vision grading, which can evaluate whole products in less than one second and make a decision about the quality of that product; and SmartWeigher, an inline overhead whole product weighing system.

“Both systems provide the most accurate information for quality and weight allowing for the processor to get the most value from each bird,” Curl says. “The IRIS system was introduced approximately 10 years ago and SmartWeigher approximately six years ago.”

High-volume poultry processors face a dizzying number of challenges on every production shift.

Overcoming challenges

Some of the common issues and challenges high-volume processors face include maximizing yield, minimizing waste, limiting reworked product, real-time system monitoring, dealing with varying carcass sizes, efficient sorting, maintenance needs, imaging system abilities and keeping up with line speed/throughput requirements.

Curl says the most common challenge is bird variation and incoming bird quality and the company overcomes this by using vision grading and weighing technology.

“Vision grading helps detect different grades and sort accordingly, which minimizes waste,” he says. “If a bird front half is a grade A and the back half is a grade B, vision grading detects this and cuts and sortsappropriately.”

Marel’s equipment deals with varying carcass sizes mechanically, by locating product by physical attributes on some products as well as grading by size. Furthermore, Curl shares the best way to keep up with line speed/throughput requirements is the design of the NT shackle, which allows for smooth turning points at high-speed and aids in efficient grading and cut quality of products.

Hahn believes the biggest challenge of any automation process is quality of incoming product. The solution, he says, is controlling the processes upstream because the performance of each process prior to the cut-up line has an impact on its results.

Baader offers support from experienced hands-on experts that can evaluate an entire process and pinpoint issues causing production problems. Additionally, technology such as ClassifEYE Vision Grading allows its customers to detect problems early so these can be fixed upstream fast, minimizing potential rework at the end of theprocess.

Automation increases the complexity of a machine, which requires higher-skilled maintenance and operators. That can sometimes cause issues amongst users when trying to maximize yield.

“We provide training for our customers’ maintenance personnel to maintain equipment and offer preventative maintenance agreements,” Hahn says. “The pursuit of maximum yield can also increase bone content in certain products, so we optimize our machines to provide the highest yield with the lowest bone content.”

Russell says the first step in minimizing waste is cut accuracy, followed by sanitary bypasses.

“Every cut counts, and we don’t always get a second chance on the same bird,” he says. “With traditional systems, if you have multiple cut-up modules inline and you know you’re sorting utilizing a weight distribution curve, you could get trimmings if you’re not bypassing around, which is why we developed true module bypass technology in order to eliminate drag points – any type of trimming point to where you’re going to just contribute to unnecessary yield loss across the cut-up modules themselves. But, it all starts with cutting the bird correctly the first time.”

The company has developed cut-up systems to provide full product flexibility with the highest yields, utilizing new modules and methods to capture and protect against waste.

Baader Linco equipment is designed to accommodate a wide range of bird sizes and a bypass option is available for birds exceeding adjustment ranges.

Maintaining production

Curl says that very little maintenance is needed for high-speed weighing with the EZ Hang Shackle and EX Yield Leg processor.

“The SmartWeigher has eliminated the need to be calibrated daily,” he says. “Calibration is only needed after a major rebuild or loadcell replacement.”

The biggest maintenance issues for Meyn regarding cut-up systems involve blade management programs, which Russell says is the main critical component of any cut-up system. Along with general preventative maintenance techniques, blades need management and the modules need to be re-setup correctly following sanitation processes.

General maintenance as well as higher skilled preventative maintenance is needed in order to maintain high performance machinery; therefore, Baader offers custom preventative maintenance contracts to support its customers’ in-house maintenance programs.

“Our equipment is designed to handle a wide range of sizes within a flock without adjustment,” Hahn says. “Each piece of equipment can be adjusted to accommodate varying bird sizes. If the product exceeds the adjustment range, our equipment offers a bypass option for selected weight specifications, so these can be processed in different cut-up modules in order to maximize the value of each bird.”

Monitoring and measuring

High-speed vision grading allows processors to grade each individual bird by USDA and customer-specific criteria. This allows companies to meet orders, and possibly upgrade unaffected products by identifying an isolated deformity.

“The challenge with poultry is that it is real time, so every second counts in terms of revenue generation for a customer,” Russell says. “Having the real-time monitoring allows the plant to make smart decisions on what they want to do with what’s coming in. For instance, if they’ve had an extended downtime or have attained new customers, they need to have the flexibility and the ability to adjust to changes.”

Marel Poultry utilizes INNOVA for its real-time software monitoring system.

“It allows the system to see incoming weights and grades and makes a decision based on the highest valued products,” Curl says. “Products can be prioritized by highest value as well as downstream productioncapabilities.”

Baader’s production management software uses accurate weighing, line synchronization and ClassifEYE Vision Grading to optimize the usage of each bird. Hahn notes the system allows for improved production planning and upstream processing corrections.

“Its primary task is to detect the quality grade of each bird enabling the best distribution according to the data,” he says. “The system is intuitive, using sample pictures to customize your own grading. Baader vision grading offers full, real-time insight to the number of downgrades and plant efficiency and alerts you when production gets off track.”