A Close Shave
By Lynn Petrak, Special Projects Editor
New deboning systems designed for safety as well as efficiency.
Boning up on processing innovations includes keeping up with the latest deboning technology. While a good blade used to do the trick before automation revolutionized everything, today’s advances reflect a refinement of technology with new designs based on the protein itself, as well as the needs of the laborer and the processing company.
Deboning systems are used at various points within a plant. Slaughter operations, to start with, require some type of deboning process, the complexity of which depends on protein type. Given the industry focus on pathogen control and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), safety has been a major focus of equipment used in carcass handling in recent times, along with the traditional desire for greater yield, reliability, and cost efficiency.
MBA Suppliers, Omaha NE, provides several types of machinery and tools used for post-slaughter processing. Over the past year, the company has updated its American Legacy line, which includes hydraulic beef head chisels, cheek meat pullers, and jaw pullers. The new designs take into account processor demands for greater yield and product free of any bone fragments. Among other features, the jaw pullers are designed to prevent the breakage of teeth, which may end up in fragments in trimmings.
“We’ve refined this equipment tremendously, making them much more ergonomic, so workers are less susceptible to injury and fatigue,” explains Bill Kroupa, executive vice president, adding that problems with on-the-job fatigue ultimately lead to losses in yield.
Kroupa says that large meat plants that handle 200 or more carcasses an hour usually install two head-removal systems, while smaller plants often opt for one. Installation, start-up, and thorough training on the equipment is offered through MBA Suppliers.
The removal of the spinal cord and sheath is also a pivotal part of beef processing after slaughter. That challenge became even more critical after a case of BSE made headlines in late 2003, and as processors have increasingly sought to reduce risk material. Bettcher Industries, Vermilion, OH, saw a major increase in interest in its new Whizard® TrimVac spinal cored removal tool that completely removes and vacuums away the spinal cord and sheath material away from the carcass, reducing the potential for contamination.
“We introduced it in late 2003 and the response was overwhelming. The plants loved it from the standpoint that it really provides a super-clean spinal channel,” says director of sales Scott Gregory, adding that the tool replaces standard hooks and scrapers that can cause cross contamination.
Down the line, off the kill floor, there have been other innovations in deboning technology. Bettcher has improved systems for chicken-thigh deboning, offering its popular Whizard® trimmer in combination with a YieldPlus™ deboning and trim management system from its Gainco Inc., subsidiary, which specializes in product distribution and data collection systems. The combined deboning/data collection system features an infeed weigh station, infeed distribution station, data collection system that monitors yield and throughput in real time, and deboning station with ergonomic operator interface. Gregory relays that the new process results in fewer bone fragments than in traditional thigh-deboning equipment.
Another area of emphasis of deboning technology on the processing floor has been on quality, which has become as important as yield. Processors’ desire to get rid of bone and other material like sinew and gristle is based on higher consumer expectations, as well as a climate of increased competition, say suppliers.
To that end, Des Moines, IA-based Townsend Engineering Company offers advanced meat-recovery systems, and it continues to refine its deboning technology. Townsend recently improved its Desinewed Minced Meat (DMM) series of machines, used after manual deboning of main red-meat muscles to harvest quality meat left on the bones. “Desinewed red meat is by far the most current technology in the field of advanced meat recovery,” notes David Radford, the company’s sales manager for the nation’s Southern region.
Radford says that process control is one of the most important features of the latest meat-harvesting systems. “Our filtering design is revolutionary. It allows the meat to flow more freely from the bone,” he explains. “What you are reclaiming are high-quality, structurally-sound meat products.”
For poultry, Townsend offers a Desinewed Minced Poultry (DMP) model, which is in its early stages for applications in the U.S. after becoming popular in European plants. “It delivers highly structurally-sound products, as opposed to traditionally mechanically- separated product,” says Radford of the machinery, which is used to harvest products for use in items like chicken sausage and processed chicken patties. “It has the mouthfeel and bite of ground beef, as opposed to mechanically-separated product, which is more emulsified.”
Likewise, quality of finished product has been the impetus behind the Raptor meat-grinding system, developed by Diamond Stainless, Riverton, UT. “The Raptor will take a whole or parts of fowl and broilers and grind the meat and kick out the bones nearly in tack at ten-thousand pounds an hour,” says Rae McFarland, (The Meat Man), a meat-industry consultant who has worked with Diamond Stainless on this system. “The goal is one of producing a product that is free of bone particles.”
In addition to poultry, the Raptor can be used for desinuing gristly trimmings and shank meat for beef and pork. This is the first year that the Raptor systems will be marketed to U.S. processors, McFarland adds.
Design principles
Suppliers are well aware that in addition to quality and yield, ergonomics continues to be a major issue driving machinery and tool design. Townsend’s R&D team kept ease of use and ergonomic issues top of mind when improving the Automatic Deboner (PAD) 200 developed by the company’s European division, which is used to remove meat from shoulder cuts. “Our current model is far advanced for ergonomics and yield, so you don’t have to make all of these cuts and do deboning by hand,” says Radford.
Bettcher’s team, too, understands the importance of employee safety, both immediate and long-term, in the use of deboning systems. “Ergonomics is extremely important to us, and we continue to be concerned about the operators who use our tools,” notes Gregory. The Whizard trimmer, for example, has undergone several refinements in its years on the market, he points out. “The tool is now lighter and comes in five different handle sizes, so we can fit the tool to the operator,” Gregory explains. “There are fewer parts so they are easier to maintain, and we have developed higher-speed motors and serrated blades, as well.”
In addition to making it easier on those who operate deboning tools and equipment, innovators in meat-grinding  technology also note that the basic function of the machinery is to perform unique functions.
“These meat-grinding machines remove defects that humans can’t do. But these grinding machines are different from the true MDM — mechanical deboning machines— that take meat cuts that have most of the meat removed and can’t get the rest of the soft tissue off any other way,” notes McFarland. NP
Technology providers participating in this article include:
• Bettcher Industries Inc., phone (440) 965-4422 or (800) 321- 8763
• Diamond Stainless, phone (801) 254-5009
• MBA Suppliers Inc., phone (402) 597-5777 or (800) 467-1201
• Townsend Engineering Company, phone (515) 265-8181 or (800) 247-8609