DEXA payback contingent on automation, Hereford conference told

Terry Sim, 13/06/2019

MEAT processor JBS Australia paid back its lamb chain investment in DEXA objective carcase measurement and robotics technology at its Bordertown plant in three years, Hereford Australia’s National Breed Forum was told yesterday.

About 140 delegates from throughout Australia and overseas attended Hereford Australia’s first two-day forum at Hamilton in south-west Victoria to hear domestic and international speakers from the trade, research and breeding sectors.

This included the latest updates on the uptake of DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) technology from JBS Australia and Meat & Livestock Australia speakers.

JBS Australia farm assurance and supply chain manager Mark Inglis agreed DEXA and robotics had helped the company with its lamb processing costs, but the company was also looking past DEXA to other technologies for beef.

“In lamb it certainly has (helped processing costs), there is no doubt,” Mr Inglis said.

“We’ve put DEXA units and robotics in at Bordertown (2015) and at Brooklyn. At Brooklyn we spent $13 million on the installation, and at Bordertown $8 million,” he said.

“The payback at Bordertown was about three years, so there is a really good payback. Brooklyn is going to be a bit longer, obviously, because of the cost.”

Mr Inglis said JBS was also using DEXA in a trial to run a robot for rib-cutting on its beef chain at the company’s Dinmore plant in Queensland.

“To financially justify putting DEXA into a plant, our opinion is, it needs to be linked with robotics – that is where the cost benefit is. If you put DEXA in purely to provide producer feedback (on meat yield), the payback is too long,” he said.

JBS Australia’s Mark Inglis addresses yesterday’s Herefords Australia forum

“So as a processor, linking it to robotics is more attractive. And then the upside is, if we link it to robotics, we then can give producers that extra information back around lean meat yield.

“We are certainly going heavily forward in that direction on lamb,” Mr Inglis said.

“Are we in beef? I can tell you as a company we are not even looking at DEXA. We are looking at hyperspectral cameras and we are looking at objective carcase measurement to be able to help us for chiller assessments of lean meat yield,” he said.

“But DEXA, to us, is not going to give us eating quality outcomes — lean meat yield is antagonistic to eating quality, so you need to balance it.”

Mr Inglis said JBS could ‘handle’ a little bit less yield through its beef boning rooms, because it was the eating quality side of the equation that was actually paying for it.

“We (the industry) can all make more money out of eating quality, differentiating our brands, than we can out of running DEXA units to drive yield,” he said.

Mr Inglis said linking robotics to DEXA decreased the investment cost payback time, but the technology did not remove many labour units from the processing chain.

“When we put it into Bordertown for lamb, it took about 7-8 people out of the boning room. They didn’t lose their jobs: what it allowed us to do was to go from one shift at that time to two shifts; it created an extra 200 jobs by putting the robots in, because it organises your room better,” he said.

“And then they ended up having a housing shortage in Bordertown for all the extra staff.”

Mr Inglis said DEXA-linked robotics added value to cuts by enabling ‘millimetre-perfect’ robotic cutting through the lamb carcase in the right spot.

“It makes sure you get every single bit of that loin and every single bit of that rack in the highest dollar value – that’s where the money is.

“And by keeping human hands away from the product, the shelf-life it just went through the roof, which is what we all want, especially when exporting product to the US.”

Mr Inglis said DEXA was not the only technology out there in the objective measurement field. He said he had met with people marketing CT scanner equipment which was being used on live horses.

“A DEXA unit footprint in a plant is ‘huge’, and requires about 10 tonnes of lead (used for radiation shielding for human protection), meaning floors have to be reinforced”

He said the footprint of a DEXA unit in a plant was ‘huge’, and required about 10 tonnes of lead (used for radiation shielding for human protection), meaning floors had to be reinforced.

“But those CT scanners, we could set up in a much smaller space, mounted on an arm that scanned a carcase as came past.”

Mr Inglis said DEXA might have been the catalyst for the objective carcase measurement process, but going forward, there were going to other technologies come on board.

“And I think it will happen fairly quickly,” he said.

MLA’s general manager, producer consultation and adoption manager, Michael Crowley, said from a smallstock point of view, DEXA was “really going ahead.”

“If you look at which companies are looking to install DEXA in small stock, it is to drive some level of automation,” he said.

“When we look at it in beef, we are looking at it in a couple of ways. Again, I think what will drive DEXA will be processors looking to drive some level of automation, and I think what we will also look at is how yield outcomes will be compared back to a DEXA outcome.”

Mr Crowley said in the short-term the industry probably “would not see a flood of DEXA installations.”

“What we will see is a handful,” he said.

He said there was a commercial DEXA beef trial installation at Rockhampton (Teys) and once the value of having the technology was proven others would “take it on.”




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  1. Steve Taylor, 13/06/2019

    What message does the producer take from Teys declaration that lean meat yield is the ultimate indicator of carcass value, and JBS claim that this is antagonistic to eating quality.

    Thanks for your comment Steve. In earlier Beef Central stories, Teys has clearly flagged that as the company progresses towards Value Based Marketing and payment systems including yield, that there is a major producer education component required – to ensure that suppliers do not pursue yield, at the expense of meat quality. Editor

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