Highly-trained workers using effective technologies results in less waste, increased yields.
Increasing carcass yields is a top priority for all meat packers because it helps to improve profit margins. But ask any packer what steps they take and what technologies they use to increase yields and you'll not get much of a, if any, response.
One marketing insider for a major beef packer puts it all into perspective from the packers' point of view: "We do quite a bit to differentiate our company in this area so we can deliver product on specification, but most of the data and information is very proprietary," he says.
People and technologies
In order to ensure the goal of increasing carcass yields is reached on a consistent basis, it requires having a combination of the right people who are using the right technologies.
"Increasing carcass yields depends a lot, in part, on the person doing the work," says Tim Linquist, West Coast regional manager, for Vermilion, OH-based Bettcher Industries Inc. "If the person doesn't have a good attitude, yields will suffer. Obviously, the right tool is key as well. Proper training is required also including how to maintain the tools and keep the sharpest and best steeled edge — whether on a Whizard Trimmer or straight knife."
Technology providers constantly introduce new equipment and systems that are designed to increase carcass yields. Relative to the fabrication side, Bettcher has released the Series II version of the Whizard Trimmer.
"This series is easier to maintain, can be custom fit to the operators, and is lighter in weight," Linquist says. "We also have a new high-speed motor and serrated blades that allow the trimmer to glide through the product with less effort. The operator simply has to guide it along. On the slaughter side, the Bettcher TrimVac is ideal for removal of the spinal cord and sheath."
The major challenge most packers face is employing reliable, well-trained, and quality employees, Linquist says.
"Bettcher has assisted in this area by adding depth gages to most of its Whizard Trimmers, which allow lower-skilled personnel to perform at higher levels increasing yields," he adds.
In terms of importance, along with increasing carcass yields is ensuring food safety. Not only has Bettcher developed a TrimVac to trim and vacuum away the spinal cord in beef, it has also developed a version of this technology for pork. Its design offers several features.
"One reason the 'ring knife' works so well in many deboning operations is that the round shape fits between vertebrate to easily remove high-valued trim," says Wayne Daggett, marketing manager. "The round shape precisely trims around stick wounds, removing lips [pork], eyebrows, and more."
Over the years, Bettcher Industries has worked with its customers to develop special blade sizes and profiles to maximize the effectiveness for the type of application.
"Flat blades tend to float across the surface, which is great for skin patching or defatting without scoring the meat," Daggett says. "Straight blades are designed from trimming applications, while cone blades help remove very specific parts of the meat."
What is truly unique is Bettcher Industries has a full team of 10 people who support meat processors shoulder-to-shoulder in the plant at no charge, he adds.
"They are industry experts who show them how to improve their processes to improve speed, yields, and employee safety," Daggett says.
Increasing food safety is also of the utmost importance to Jarvis Products Corp., Middletown, CT. Its Jarvis Steam Vacuum System Model CV-1, for example, is for the reduction of pathogens and removal of the spinal cords on beef, hogs, and sheep. The CV-1increases shelf life by reducing the amount of bacteria found on carcasses while increasing yields —since less trimming is required.
Its lightweight handpiece offers optimum operator comfort. And its high vacuum allows fast removal of contamination and spinal cords. Different nozzles can be used for different applications. All stainless steel construction results in maximum hygiene, and it is USDA approved.
The Linco solution
Packers need expert training in order to learn to operate state-of-the-art carcass-yield systems being used today.
"Once a worker learns to operate a system, you'll see improvement in terms of yield," says Per Kejser, vice president of sales and marketing, Linco Food Systems, Alphaertta, GA. "Once you put in automation, you reduce your labor cost, and your productivity goes up — and so does your yield on the final product. And the ergonomics for the operator is significantly improved. You have the benefit of less stress on the operators' legs and hands because it's a stationary position they're in, and they don't have to move along with an ordinary cone line."
Linco is one of the world's leading manufacturers of machinery for the poultry meat processing industry. Its LINCOflex Individual Yield Control System combines the LINCO Flexfeeder conveyor system with the LINCOflexBelt Weighing System and provides a complete, integrated production control, monitoring, and report solution through the advanced LINCOflex 2000 software system.
The LINCOflex Individual Yield Control system effectively enables production managers to optimize production flow and calculate yields based on real-time information from all levels in a manual deboning and trimming process, the company relays. The integrated system behind the system directly addresses the industry's demands for traceability by setting new standards, the company further relays.
Before deboning or trimming, the products need to be separated and fed correctly onto the LINCOflex Belt Weighing System. The LINCO Singulator solves this by providing a steady stream of products in a single line with correct distance between each product, ready for the belt-weighing system. The LINCO Singulator provides automated feeding of a single product type to the weighing system. The LINCO Flexfeeder provides automated feeding of multiple products at the same time — e.g., breast front halves, whole legs, and thigh cuts. By adjusting the speed between the Singulator and the Flexfeeder, the automatic feeding can be accurately balanced to the requirements for manual feeding of products in empty indexed trays on the Flexfeeder.
The LINCOflex 2000 control software automatically identifies each individual product type as they pass photocells and give each product a type name and unique ID.
An indicator in front of the loading operator shows the actual number of workstations ready to receive products. After weighing, the products are sorted by weight and type and are automatically diverted to the selected workstation. The volume of product and variety of types to be handled at the same time determine the optimum split of workstations for each product type.
If the input material or the output requirements change, the parameters of the workstations can be changed at any time while production is running.
The drop-off conveyor can be easily configured and altered to accommodate different combinations of right- and left-handed operators. The workstations have been ergonomically designed to provide the best possible working environment, and include features such as skid-fast gratings adjustable to suit convenient working height, cutting tables designed to prevent meat juice from entering the outfeed trays for finished products, knife holders, sanitation, and disposal of wastewater.
Each workstation has up to four discharge trays for finished products, and each can be programmed to one out of 20 different product types. In addition, two waste compartments are connected to an underlying conveyor, which automatically delivers the waste to a mechanical deboning machine, container, or vacuum transport.
If required, ID tags and an RF-tag system can be used to identify operators by name and right- or left-handed performance. The card determines the operator's access rights and is used to log on at individual tables. When logged on, a lamp indicates that an authorized operator is present at the table.
The deboning/trimming tables are also equipped with lights to support visual communication between the operators and the production supervisor, e.g., in case of a yield shift.
The LINCOflex Individual Yield Control System offers the possibility of placing monitors along the production line. This gives the operators a unique opportunity to monitor their own performance, as well as how colleagues perform. The yield monitor displays the individual operator's name, yield, target yield, speed, target speed, and product currently being processed. This information is frequently updated, and for every update the operators are sorted according to their yield and product type.
After the manual deboning/trimming process, the operators place the finished products into the pre-configured, automatically operated, outfeed trays. This is registered by sensors, and the tray is discharged onto the Flexfeeder below.
The LINCOflex 2000 system registers the products and optimizes the emptying of the discharge trays. This enables extremely high throughput rates an optimum utilization of the production capacity without compromising on the process of weighing individual products on the second LINCOflex Belt-Weighing system.
After weighing, the individual products are then portion controlled and batched on the drop-off conveyor — a unique feature of the LINCOflex system enabling different finished products to be packaged simultaneously to a specified target weight or count.
The Flexfeeder guarantees optimum capacity utilization and further enables transportation of products over vast distances in the production plant without losing track of the individual product.
"We have installed several systems in South America where we use them for salmon or seafood applications," Kejser says. "And we have several systems in Australia, and a system in Canada.
Less waste, more yield
CAT2, Conway, AR, is a global software solutions and processing equipment company that provides software tools for the food industry in plant monitoring, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and further processing. Its SPC (Statistical Process Control) Yield process for the poultry industry is a unique offering, says Mike Sarbinha, president.
"Most of the work we do is yield related," he says. "Historically, the problems come when we try and calculate yield, especially in poultry plants. We have to collect a lot of weights going into departments or plants, or out of departments or plants, in order to calculate yield."
This is a very expensive and difficult task to keep weights accurate in order to get an accurate yield, he continues.
"In the last couple of years, we have taken a different tact," he adds. "We've focused more on picking up where the waste is. Instead of doing the mass balance of bringing in waste and taking out waste, we've been looking where those wastes are by collecting waste in bins. We focus on where that waste is and thereby increase yield by decreasing waste."
Here's how this system works. For one customer, scrape tests have already begun. After the carcasses were deboned, 10 carcasses were placed on a special quality-assurance station with a built-in scale. Any meat left on the carcass was then scraped clean using a special U-shaped knife. The meat scraped was weighed by the people doing the deboning. In one case, they would scrape 10 zones on a carcass, and results would show that X percentage of meat was left on these bones.
"This way we very quickly focus on where the problem is occurring," he says. "And the biggest benefit is this type of yield measurement is real-time. Feedback is immediate. We put the figures up on an electronic scoreboard in the plant and people can see that line one, for example, is the best followed by line three. We've seen significant yield increases using this method. And it costs a fraction of what a lot of scales cost — and it is far more accurate. "
This system can also be used for red meat.
"We have typically seen that a one-percent yield improvement in deboned meat is very easily achievable in about six weeks — and then it got better."
CAT2 has also been working with some of its customers in qualifying trimmers by using the SPC methods.
“They don't let someone onto the line until they can prove they can debone to a certain degree of efficiency within a certain period of time using the system," Sarbinha says. "Then they allow them onto the general line."
Although there are many factors that can contribute to higher yields, such as better animals (i.e., a more consistent group of cattle with better feeding programs), in looking to the future evolving technology will likely focus on further automation.
"It's a combination of what we've discussed," Sarbinha says. "And another future technology will definitely be increasing the quality of products by using vision technology."
Technology providers participating in this article include: