Integrated anatomical wing separating and whole wing cutting are essential steps for an automated deboning line.

With the increased demand for labor savings, automatic wing cutting, dark meat and breast deboning have become an essential part of high-speed cut-up systems.

The current pandemic showed how vulnerable workers in processing plants can be. Automatic cut-up lines decrease manual labor.

Globally, poultry processing line speeds are slowly progressing to 15,000 birds per hour (bph). However, that is much faster than the legally allowed speed in the United States.

Eric Nolten, vice president of commercial operations for Meyn America, Ball Ground, Ga., noted cut-up lines are operating at speeds of 7,500 bph, so, the ideal set-up is a dual cut-up and deboning line per single slaughtering and evisceration line.

“I think the most notable trends are the increased use of smart data (matching the flock characteristics with the desired output based on parameters like weight or quality) to channel each broiler to the most ideal cut,” he said. “Based on these data parameters, broilers, legs and wings can pass through a cut-up machine or bypass it.”

Another trend is the increased weight range a cut-up machine can process in one setting so there are fewer setting adjustments needed during processing.

“Human interaction remains an important part of automation,” Nolten said. “Safety for personnel working with these pieces of equipment is always under consideration, and we keep updating our equipment to be seen as the safest equipment in the market.”

Marel Poultry offers processors an automatic modular in-line cut-up system capable of handling up to 6,500 broilers per hour. Driessen noted the ACM-NT system will handle both air and water chilled products.

“Flexible, modular and precise, ACM-NT uses the unique Sigma overhead conveyor; its layout is infinitely flexible,” said Roy Driessen, industry marketing manager of poultry at Marel, with US operations in Lenexa, Kan. “Systems can be configured to suit the exact processing and layout requirements of each individual plant. A combination of the unique ACM-NT shackle and turning mechanisms within the system allows products to be held and positioned perfectly for each cutting operation, resulting in optimum yield as well as top presentation and quality.”

Oliver Hahn, chief executive officer of Kansas City, Kan.-based Baader Poultry USA, said integrated anatomical wing segmenting and whole wing cutting are essential steps for automatic breast deboning. However, most processors are not willing to sacrifice final product quality and yield in exchange for automation.

“Baader offers integrated anatomical wing segmenting and whole wing cutting which is an essential step for automatic breast deboning,” he said. “Our patented Wing-Tip and Mid-Wing Segmenting Modules process left and right wings independently with no rotating blades for the highest percentage of A-grade cuts in the industry.”

Additionally, Baader’s wing segmenting modules integrate high-quality wing cuts into any cut-up line to reduce labor caused by secondary handling. When combined with the company’s ProFlex Cut-Up Line, processors can automatically bypass the wing segmenting units to create various wing products without stopping the lines.

“Boneless, skinless thigh meat is growing as one of the most versatile and sought-after chicken products,” Hahn said. “With the largest US install base, the Baader Thigh Filleting System is an industry-hardened solution that provides our customers with quality products. The system processes left and right legs simultaneously and the thigh meat can be skinless or skin on. The Baader system keeps the knee cartilage on the bone, thereby reducing trimming labor and increasing yield.”

Adam McCoy, national account manager for Foodmate US, Ball Ground, Ga., noted he has seen more interest from a growing number of customers wanting the intelligence to grade better.

“In our ongoing commitment to deliver what our clients need, we can add another level of precision and efficiency to our customers using our intelligent solutions in sorting and grading for cut-up systems,” he said, citing the company’s ChickSort 3.0 software, which ensures that every part of every bird is accounted for. “Utilizing an advanced dashboard to display real-time process status, management can see at a glance what is being produced where. We plan to continue to invest in smart technology; that is not a trend that will go away.”

Travis Martin, engineering manager for Foodmate, noted another trend is the need for cutting more wings inline (integrated) for automated breast deboning.

“Automation in itself is in high demand and is a strong trend, as it consistently reduces labor considerably,” he said.

The ChickSort 2.0 software is used with Foodmate’s OPTI Flow cut-up system to provide real-time process status of the birds as they move through the processing line. Source: Foodmate US

The R&D process

Faster computing processes have allowed processors to focus on maximizing the accuracy of weighing and vision grading of birds, which in turn, allow processors to meet the ever-tightening specifications of their customers. That is why the R&D process is so important for continual improvement.

According to Hahn, innovation has been and will always be the driver for its success and continues to invest significant resources to integrate new technologies and achieve greater advancements in overall performance.

“Innovating within the food value chain leads to new opportunities for us and our customers,” he said. “Close relationships with customers, the science community, animal welfare groups, environmental groups, regulatory bodies, etc., deliver the necessary input for future developments. Everything can be improved and Baader is never done striving for better performance.”

Nolten said since a cut-up line may involve up to 15 different individual machines, there is always something to improve.

“Due to the high volume, every gram of yield improvement pays off immediately,” he said.

According to McCoy, Foodmate’s R&D team is constantly improving equipment.

“Either the customer or our team notices what needs to be improved, then we implement changes and test the theory,” he said. “No time wasted in lengthy approval process. We see the need; we work on it as immediately as possible.”

Looking ahead

Faster line speeds and efficient automation compared to manual processing will always be a focus area for processors and that’s where the industry is headed in the years ahead.

Hahn noted the ability to weigh and distribute birds to different lines with either automatic or semi-automatic hanging out of the water chiller continues to be a challenge within the industry and one Baader is looking to solve.

“The industry will continue to seek ways to hang, weigh, and grade these birds, at maximum speeds and minimum labor,” he said. “This will mean finding a way to singulate and accurately weigh and vision grade every bird that exits the chiller, without the help of human hands. Once the bird is captured in a shackle, processors still need an automated form of intelligence or software that can find the best fit for each bird, based on the orders that each plant has to fill on any given day.”

That’s why it’s important to not only focus on processing needs, but also in deciding which birds should go to which cutting units and how to distribute with the least amount of labor.

“Finally, smart communication between machines along with machines to processors will optimize production results through intelligent linking of real time data,” Hahn said.

Nolten noted that line speeds will go up.

“Some processors already expressed their desire to speed up to 18,000 bph and eventually even to 20,000 bph, so cut-up line speeds will have to grow as well,” he said. “Another development is the increase of data due to camera imaging or x-ray techniques. By utilizing bird-specific data, each cut can be further optimized per individual bird for maximizing the yield per bird.”

Driessen noted capacity, yield and quality. ACM-NT is an extremely valuable and versatile tool for poultry processors everywhere and that’s where the industry is headed.

“It can save labor, an increasingly important issue as hourly capacities climb and workforce is hardly available,” he said. “It does this, however, without compromising in any way the yield or presentation of the end product. In short, this system can truly transform the overall efficiency of a cut-up operation.”

Martin believes more demand in auto deboning will drive cut-up lines to provide higher yielded cuts and push for more inline wing segmenting since cone lines will be less prevalent.

“What I see coming is the industry is going to move away from chain driven lines to a magnetic driven line to where we can run a plant at speeds of 175-plus but with buffer zones in the system so the bird can be staged before moving on,” he said. “Robotics will also be playing more and more of a factor; they are here now but will soon be the primary ‘worker’ in the plant in very near future.”