Equipment suppliers create innovative solutions to cut labor and improve yields.

From live receiving to cut-up and deboning, poultry-line solutions are trimming labor costs and improving yields at processing plants worldwide. There is a concentrated effort to drive labor from processes for various reasons, such as competition, food safety, quality, labor shortages and cost.

Poultry producers are facing a number of challenges in today’s marketplace. With rising feed, fuel and labor costs applying pressure on every manufacturer, efforts must be made to optimize the process of bringing poultry products to market.

Wm. Goodyear Co. is continually working to develop innovative ways to make the process as efficient as possible, says Harry Goodyear, vice president of the Monroe, N.C.-based manufacturer of high-quality picking fingers.

“The company continues to develop new rubber compounds that extend the life and improve the picking properties of the fingers used in the poultry industry today,” says Goodyear. “Being the long leader in providing fingers that cleanly pick feathers while keeping wing damage low and yields high, the quest for improvement continues to drive our research and development department.”

Not satisfied with just improving the quality of fingers used by the industry, Wm. Goodyear has developed a tool that improves the labor environment for the worker, allows for better sanitation, increases the life of the finger and reduces labor costs. Enter the company’s new RT Quick Change device.

“Concerned with the safety of the workers in the picking room, it removes the need for sharp knives or heavy equipment to remove fingers from the picking machines,” says Goodyear. “But that is only half the battle. The new device also makes the replacement of the removed finger as simple as a ‘thumb push.’ No longer are modified tools required to pull the fingers in place. With the elimination of knives and the improvement in the finger replacement process, the opportunity for worker injury has been greatly reduced.”

Cleanliness is a constant battle fought by poultry producers, says Goodyear, who adds that the fingers of the RT Quick Change can easily be removed from the machine for thorough cleaning.

“With the finger plate removed, sanitation crews can completely clean the picking machine every shift,” he says. “Many times chemicals that are harmful to rubber are used in the cleaning of the picking machines. If the fingers remain on the machines during that process, the life of the finger is greatly reduced.”

Goodyear also says the design of the finger used in the RT Quick Change is unique — that the geometry was engineered to optimize picking and extend life.

“By aggressively removing feathers, picking machines can be adjusted to let the fingers do the work without damaging the birds,” he explains. “When replacing worn fingers, the worker only removes the worn finger — they don’t have to cut out good fingers just to get to the worn ones. By extending the work life of the finger and reducing unnecessary waste, producers can better control their finger costs.”

Finger replacement is typically a time-consuming activity during the sanitation shift in a poultry plant. The RT Quick Change greatly reduces the time required, says Goodyear.

“As a benchmark comparison, if a picking machine had to be completely re-fingered, fingers cut-out and replaced, using the current practices, at least two hours would have to be scheduled,” he says. “With the RT Quick Change, the same task can be accomplished in as little as 35 minutes. With labor optimization being a goal of the poultry producer, this device makes perfect sense.”

With Lenexa, Kan.-based Marel Food Systems’ acquisition of Stork Food Systems, the company is now the largest provider, (with the most comprehensive portfolio of

equipment and software solutions) for the poultry processing industry, says Jeff Ray, marketing manager for Marel.

“With over 100 individual pieces of equipment, we are able to provide individual components for a particular production requirement or complete systems from start to finish,” he says. “Our state-of-the-art solutions provide labor savings, maximization of yield and production efficiency.”

Ray points to the company’s SensorX bone-detection system, Robo Batcher net-weight tray-pack system, IPL Robot loader, and B22 portioning machine as examples. The Marel SensorX system analyses each fillet for bone content. It presents detected bones on a display terminal for easy removal. The SensorX bone-detection system identifies up to 99 percent of bones larger than 2 millimeters, and 97 percent of fanbone and bones below 2 millimeters, says Larry Campbell, vice president of sales for Marel.

“All this with false positives below 5 percent,” he says. “With Marel’s trim or nugget solution, we can handle up to 8,000 pounds per hour and save up to 12 people per shift.”

The RoboBatcher batches to fixed weight and loads products in predefined patterns directly into trays without any need for manual intervention.

“This tray-pack system saves up to four employees per line per shift and improves give away by 3 to 4 percent depending on product and tray size,” says Campbell. The IPL Robot loads thermoforming machines, flow wrappers and tray sealers.

“Typically, two robots can save four to five employees per shift, while improving throughput [depending on the product and pack configuration], presentation and giving better hygiene results,” says Campbell.

The B22 portioning machine can cut on a 90-, 45- or 67.5-degree angle, says Campbell. “This provides s much more flexibility than most other portioners,” he says. “The machine offers high throughput up to 120 pieces per minute, per lane depending on product.”

Canton, Mass.-based Robert Reiser & Co. Inc. provides offers a fully automated system for ground turkey.

“The benefit of this system is hygiene — the product does not come in contact with human hands,” says Scott Cummings, regional sales manager for Reiser. “It is totally automatic.”

The company’s Holac Dicers are used to dice, slice, cube and shred poultry products such as chicken strips for fajitas and stir fry, poultry cubes for soups, turkey juliennes for salads. These dicers provide consistent-sized pieces for improved portion control.

On down the line

CFS Americas, of Frisco, Texas, specializes in complete lines for the further processing of poultry (full-cook lines including marination, mixing/grinding, forming, coating, frying, oven cooking and grilling, freezing and packaging).

“Some examples of existing automation include automatic batter mixers for control of coating pickup, and automatic multi-head scales in the packaging area,” says Tom Surmiak, business unit manager, processing, for CFS.

There are two “holy grails” for automation in further processing lines which could tremendously improve yields, says Surmiak.

“These include continuous measurement of internal product temperature after cooking, and continuous product-weight measurement at different process steps,” he says.

Surmiak says CFS has spent over two years and a lot of money attacking both problems with no results so far. Further-processing positions are easier to fill than primary processing ones, says Surmiak.

“Still, there is labor shortage,” he says. “There has been very little automation done in further processing. However, there have been many process improvements that have led to reducing labor — improvements that have to do with mechanizing the material handling at different processing steps.”

Some examples of these developments, says Surmiak, include the elimination of carts to feed the meat to forming machines, introduction of a “sheet” method to make fully cooked chicken meat for strips (fajitas), allowing mechanized feeding of the line by using sheeting horns and substantial labor reduction, and use breading feeders to feed breading machines.

“High-capacity, full-cook lines already have significantly reduced labor. For example, a 15,000-pounds-per-hour (output ‘in the bag’) line for chicken fajitas can have as little as two or three operators running the complete line from marination through freezing [not including QA or supervision],” says Surmiak. “Labor requirements can become bigger in the packaging area. For this high-capacity line, two operators can run the scale and the bagger for simple bags intended for foodservice. Employee needs for retail packaging, on the other hand, can be quite higher. For the same high-capacity fajita line, if manual loading is used, up to 12 to 14 operators might be needed for typical tray-formers or tray-sealers.”

CFS has recently introduced a RobotLoader to reduce labor needs for retail packages, says Surmiak.

“It has been used on nuggets and patties in Europe with many advantages,” he concludes, “including having the capacity of up to 800 picks /250 packs per minute, a sanitary design according to ISO 14159, AMI and NSF/USDA 3A, and has a complete wash-down robot with ‘Cleaned Out of Place’ (COP) system.