Innovation continues to be a force in poultry processing and specifically in cut-up technology. Adding intelligence, such as vision and weighing technology, within the cut-up line has provided greater flexibility, more control, higher quality and increased processing throughput.
“Faster line speeds and efficient automation that compares to manual processing will always be a focus area for processors,” said Oliver Hahn, chief executive officer of Baader USA/Canada, Kansas City, Kan. “We employ intelligent automation that captures data for each bird to determine the best route within the cut-up line to maximize production efficiency.”
Johannes Bergsma, product manager, cut-up, at Meyn Poultry Processing Solutions, Ball Ground, Ga., said demand from retail and foodservice is more volatile since the start of the pandemic, which requires more flexibility among processors from a product-mix and delivery time point of view.
Especially challenging are supply chain disruptions and poultry growers having difficulty in delivering consistent birds.
“Quality and food safety drives one development in cut-up technology, and the shortage in labor another,” Bergsma said. “Today’s cut-up lines are integrated with quality grading. Weight and meat quality are carefully measured to produce the optimum product-mix. Cut-up lines have become more automated and more complex with a dual or even triple cut-up line.”
That means 15,000 birds can be transformed smoothly in exactly the required product mix of fillets, tenders, drumsticks, wing varieties, legs and thighs.
“Depending on the local culture or the season, chicken parts have added value compared to whole grillers,” Bergsma said. “A processor can earn substantially more money by selling separate legs, wings and fillets. It’s also the big numbers game. One gram extra on the chicken part with the highest value may not make the difference but when you process a million a week it adds up.”
David McNeal, director of product management for Foodmate, with its US offices in Ball Ground, Ga., noted processors are looking for labor savings in all new technologies, primarily in cut-up or deboning.
“We manufacturers are charged with listening to our customers and coming up with out-of-the box, efficient and technology savvy advances that will essentially reduce labor,” he said. “Automation is, however, in the forefront of any advancement.”
New and improved
Baader has integrated wing segmentation into the cut-up line, saving significant labor and extra transportation steps.
“With the increase in automation, removing the wings prior to automatic deboning machines allows for seamless throughput and higher efficiency,” Hahn said.
The Baader cut-up line and its proprietary shackle design allow for increased food safety (bird is not contacted during bypass operations) and maximum processing flexibility for their customers.
“Furthermore, our smooth shackle turning points increase chain life and decrease undesired movement of birds during processing,” Hahn said.
The Baader patented Wing-Tip and Mid-Wing Segmenting Modules process left and right wings independently with no rotating blades for the highest possible percentage of A-grade cuts.
“Additionally, our wing segmenting modules integrate high quality wing cuts into any cut up line to reduce labor caused by secondary handling,” Hahn said. “When combined with the Baader 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. Therefore, the company’s Thigh Filleting System processes left and right legs simultaneously and the thigh meat can be skinless or skin on.
Bergsma said that Meyn cut-up equipment like the Physic has the highest yield performance at the highest capacity with the fewest workers, money can buy.
“The next step is high-speed, in-line thigh and drum deboning,” he said. “That saves again manual labor and guarantees track and trace from start (arrival) to end (portioning and packaging).”
One of the successful solutions Foodmate came up with is simple, yet creative — the introduction of 10-inch spaced cut-up lines.
“Spacing the cut-up shackles at 10-inches for live bird weights of seven pounds and down, has allowed processing plants to operate these lines at 125 to 140 birds a minute,” McNeal said. “Processing more birds on fewer cut-up lines allows for staffing reductions due to fewer lines being needed.”
Additionally, the cost of ownership was reduced due to having less lines and modules to maintain.
“The integration with weighing and vision allows for each carcass to get the optimal disposition of final cuts,” McNeal said. “For example, if only the wings are damaged with a bruise, the new Foodmate production control, grading, and distribution system platform allows for this carcass to get the wings removed and still be available for an A-grade split breast. The technology is looking for the best possible fit within the recipe inputted based on weight, grade and frequency.”
Adam McCoy, national account manager for Foodmate, noted a lot of the new, highly successful equipment Foodmate has developed offers integrated X-ray technology. This ensures perfect cuts and quality and the amount of data that can be captured is a game changer for processors.
Howard Saul, national account manager for Foodmate, noted the company has emphasized innovation in its solutions.
“Our R&D team has introduced to the market modules and systems that have had huge impacts on operations, such as its new Thigh and Drum Cutter, which is able to take a wider weight variance and still deliver greater than 95% anatomical cuts,” he said. “Usually, we identify a source of pain for the processors and work backwards from there. The plants will help guide us towards the right solution.”
Training becomes essential when implementing automation and higher-level technology.
That’s why Baader maintains a service force that can provide necessary training to operate complex equipment. In-depth manuals and troubleshooting materials are also included with every installed machine, and the company has developed training maintenance videos and walkthroughs to assist plant personnel.
Bergsma noted Meyn’s most important trigger for R&D is the continual contact with its customers.
“This is vital for evolutionary improvements of the equipment we offer,” he said. “At the same time, we develop scenarios to think about future needs of our customers. That drives our long-term development of the game changers of tomorrow.”
He added that after a short initial training, most of the equipment can be up and running fairly quickly.
“In general, large processors enter service contracts where we provide the customer’s floor managers and workers with regular training updates to operate at maximum efficiency,” Bergsma said.
With the labor shortages not going away, the industry will always need the equipment suppliers to provide additional technology. The more technology that can be provided, the easier the labor shortages become.