Weighty matters

May 26, 2009
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Processors and retailers running businesses on already-shrinking margins want to be as accurate as possible. The growing number of those processors getting into case-ready fresh meats must meet that fixed/net weight or lose their edge. Weight also affects pricing, and in these tough economic times, pennies literally can make a difference for those who sell and buy meat products. As product lines diversify, many protein companies now produce variable-weight products such as traditional primals and subprimals to logs and loaves of deli meat, as well as pre-portioned, pre-packaged fixed-weight items. These operators — and others that may concentrate on certain types of offerings — rely on weighing systems that can handle the load at several points in the chain.

Weighing systems used at various points in the meat chain are centered, first and foremost, on correct information. Over time, this accuracy has improved on all machines. There have been enhancements as well in motion weighing, to the point where users no longer have to rely on averaging weight samples to arrive at a final weight statement but can calculate more accurate measurements of a product in motion across a scale due to the advent and merger of both new scale and software technology. In addition to in-line weighing systems, checkweighers have also become more precise, due to the fact that a system of checks and balances is literally built into the machine. And with food safety top of mind for most processors, systems that include metal-detection sensors have also become popular, if not necessary. As the need for speed continues to ramp up in many plants that handle high volumes, processors look for weighing equipment that is accurate but won’t slow the flow.

Many suppliers have developed systems that enhance automation and can handle heavy traffic. In fact, there are systems on the market that have been designed to weigh fresh meat using a multi-headed radial scale, whereby fresh products are automatically pulled to weigh pans to gauge net weights, therefore automatically depositing batches and reducing giveaway.

At retail

Increased retailer demand for exact-weight meat and poultry products is a major driver in the portion-control category. The ability to slice, assemble and autoload proteins in accurate, exact-weight portions is essential in today’s competitive marketplace. It’s an idea driven by consumers who want more value and serving options for their dollar.

Over the years, retailers like Wal-Mart have driven the trend primarily to simplify inventory control and increase sales volume. With this in mind, the necessity for greater accuracy in cutting and weighing of boneless and bone-in products has increased significantly.

Systems have been created for weighing and batching at high speeds to extreme accuracies, offering a capacity of up to 360 pieces per minute, per line. The concept comprises a twin-automatic or semi-automatic infeed system that conveys parts to a twin high-speed precision weighing unit, passing the weighed parts to the specially designed compact separator and packing unit. It can prepare huge volumes of tray-pack portions to a target weight with giveaway averaging 1 percent or less.

Suppliers have designed machines that have the capability to automatically and extremely accurately cut both types of primal materials to weight — incorporating the ability to manage these portions downstream: placing them into a wide variety of exact-weight tray-pack configurations, including brother-sister chops/steaks — and variety packs — all with a high degree of efficiency.

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