Sometimes the advantages of using automated and robotic trimming and deboning equipment are not about the technology and equipment in and of itself, but the engineering of the whole line that can aid in speed and other efficiencies along with food and worker safety.
For example, from the ergonomic standpoint, automated and robotic trimming and deboning equipment is improved over many of the tasks previously done manually, says Paul Billingsley, corporate processing manager, at Sanderson Farms, in Laurel, Miss. In addition, looking at square footage, processors do get more throughput, which provides additional efficiencies, he says.
Sanderson Farms has added automated white-meat deboning at a few of its plants and automated dark-meat deboning at a few facilities as well. In the plants that Sanderson Farms added automated white-meat deboning, it was because of labor availability, Billingsley says.
Sanderson Farms partnered with trimming and deboning white- and dark-meat equipment manufacturers running trials in their plants and working with their research and development teams over an extensive period of time. In turn, Sanderson Farms was able to provide feedback on what it needed and improvements that needed to be made. The processor still has trials in place on equipment that it currently is not using in processing.
Not surprisingly, advancements still are occurring in automated and robotic trimming and deboning for poultry processors.
“Equipment manufacturers go to where the need is, and obviously right now with labor, there are improvements coming in automated equipment at a very fast pace — more so than I’ve seen in a long time,” Billingsley says. “To really stay on top of it, the partnerships with the vendors, the manufacturers, are really important, because I can’t stress enough how quick the technology is improving.”
While automated and robotic trimming and deboning manufacturers are following processors’ needs, they still face challenges as compared with manual trimming and deboning.
“The biggest thing is always going to be matching the yields that you can get and, in some aspects, the quality that you can get from doing a manual operation,” Billingsley says.
The good news is automated and robotic trimming and deboning equipment and technologies are getting better in these areas. Improvements are expected to continue as automated and robotic trimming and deboning equipment continues to grow as well.
“We’re just beginning to really scratch the surface on what we can do with automation, and that comes from partnerships like that we have with equipment manufacturers,” Billingsley says. “We’re lending them floor space to run trials and giving them real-time feedback. There are just a lot of benefits to it, especially with the tight labor market. But, we’ve got to have the yield and the quality, or you can’t do it. And so that is why we’ve invested time with the vendors to make sure that the equipment meets the needs that we have.” NP