Trade show floors, from the smallest regional shows to the largest international events, are great for seeing the present and future of the meat industry. You can walk the aisles and visit with suppliers to see what the current technological advances are. You also get the chance to see how the meat industry will look five years down the road. While attending Pack Expo this week in Chicago, I saw plenty of packaging innovations that processors of any size can utilize right now. I was also served a coffee by a robot, which is a pretty noteworthy example of future technology in action.

As recently as five years ago, the robotics displays at trade shows were marvels of modern technology, but their usage in the meat industry was limited. Robots could help with palletizing, but meat does not come in a uniform, square shape. How practical could they be for the meat industry? Today though, advancements in robotics are making it possible for robots to move further into a meat processing plant. They may not be seen behind the counter of a local meat market slicing steaks, but they will become a more prominent part of the meat industry. I’ve seen robotic packing lines in relatively small businesses, and I’m sure I’ll see them more frequently.

Think back 10 years ago in your own operation. If someone had told you then that you could, from your telephone, see exactly how your smokehouses are performing, would you have believed them? The automation that has taken place in the meat and poultry industry has trickled down to the smallest companies. The machinery in a small plant may not completely debone a chicken or grind beef into patties without human assistance, but today’s stuffers, grinders, smokehouses and packaging equipment utilize more technology than ever before.

If you see high-tech innovations at a trade show, don’t just walk by and think that it has no application for you. Technology won’t replace a skilled butcher, but it can help to fill the void left by a lack of available employees.

I just hope that nobody develops a robot who can write a news story. If they ever happens, I’m out of a job.