Production Technology: The thick of it

April 13, 2009
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The skinny: A pork carcass is normally cut into different parts, known as cuts. These cuts are removed after the slaughtering, dehairing and chilling process has taken place. Each cut normally must have the outer skin removed before further processing can begin. These cuts are both round and flat in shape. In North America, the standard flat cuts from a pork carcass are the belly and the fatback. The round cuts include the ham, picnic, butt and jowl.

Although a pork carcass may be cut differently in various parts of the world, all cuts will either be round or flat in shape. The removal of skin (rind) from both flat and round pork cuts is achieved by using a skinner. Although there are various skinner technologies on the market, the trend is toward those that offer greater automation, worker safety, product yield and less labor.

Many say that manufacturing technology has advanced to the point that suppliers can produce skinners that would have been impossible five to 10 years ago. Thus, the new wave of machines is stronger, and has less moving parts, increased longevity and improved cutting accuracy without major price increases.

For example, some state-of-the-art automated skinners now have the ability to scan the product and skin and/or de-fat to predetermined parameters, thus giving the maximum possible yields.

The process

Fat removers and derinding machines developed for pork loins have several operating modes but most commonly are set for automatic.In the automatic operating mode, the first step is to establish how much of a fat layer needs to be left on the pork loin, which is often determined by an individual company’s specifications. On a computer screen, the operator will set fat thickness. The pork loin is then placed fat-side down on the camera belt. The fat-layer thickness of the product is measured and evaluated by the camera. The blade holder automatically sets the required cutting depth. The de-fatted loin will move onto the next process via a conveyor belt. The second step is the derinding process. The fat that was removed from the pork loin will drop onto a second conveyor belt rind-side down and will feed into a derinder. The flip: In the manual operating mode, the operator will set the thickness of the fat layer which he or she will remove from the pork loin.

As suppliers seek to make their machines safer and more hygienic, there are automatic skinners available today that skin as well as slice. With one model of automatic skinner, the operator is able to skin one side of a flat product, have the product returned, flip it over and skin the other side. Products can also be horizontally sliced after being skinned, and round products can also be sliced lengthwise from one-quarter to three-quarter inch thickness.

Despite these recent advancements, processors say more automation can still come to pass for skinners.

Some automatic machines produced today are too large and too expensive for plant floors that are already facing crowded conditions. Continued progress in the automation of skinners for smaller production areas or applications is needed, such as with butt or ham lines (in the case of pork products).

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