A NEW $3.7 million research and development project is expected to pave the way for the introduction of safer and more productive boning rooms in Australian beef abattoirs, through greater use of automation.
The 50:50 joint venture partnership between Scott Automation & Robotics and the Meat & Livestock Australia Donor Company, will apply new technology now being used in some lamb processing plants to the beef industry. The process could unlock returns of up to $15 per head and major workplace safety benefits in the industry.
The new beef automation project will provide a closely-aligned complement MLA’s DEXA objective carcase measurement initiative, with the x-ray images generated by that technology used to precisely guide automated cutting modules.
Integrating the technologies in this way is now in commercial use in lamb processing, as can be seen in this short video.
MLA’s research, development and innovation general manager Sean Starling said the introduction of beef boning automation in conjunction with DEXA would benefit the entire supply chain and make Australia’s high-cost processing sector more profitable and sustainable in the long term.
Mr Starling said MLA was committed to ensuring the project delivered the broadest benefit to industry and, with the Australian Meat Processing Corporation’s support, had established a steering committee of leading meat processors to guide the project. The committee includes representation from JBS Australia, Teys Australia, Northern Cooperative Meat Co, Kilcoy Pastoral Co, NH Foods, Wagstaffs, Australian Country Choice, and Thomas Foods International.
“Following previous advances in robotic beef rib-cutting technology (see video example below, performing rib cutting under a trial at JBS Dinmore), the development of beef DEXA systems and the success of the world-class LEAP lamb boning automation – which is returning a $5 per head benefit – we’re now ready to apply the same automation technology in beef processing,” Mr Starling said.
The first module in this ‘beef boning automation’ program will be the automated removal of the chine bone from striploins and cube rolls. The project will also investigate automated trim removal and striploin and cube roll marbling measurement while deboning.
“The introduction of automated systems will not only allow more value to be generated from each carcase, they also have the potential to replace a dangerous and physically demanding manual task,” Mr Starling said.
Scott Technology chief executive Chris Hopkins said developing new technologies in a challenging commercial environment was not easy, and the partnership with MLA was important not only to share the risk, but also to ensure that the processing industry was fully engaged in the project.
Mr Hopkins said the opportunity now existed to take learnings from the earlier lamb boning automation project with MDC to speed up the development of beef boning automation technology.
“Our customers are telling us that they want automation for beef boning and we believe that with the current environment and new technologies, the timing is right,” Mr Hopkins said.
“With the benefit of our experience from the lamb program and MDC’s assistance, we are confident we can aggressively develop beef boning automation to achieve real outcomes and more value from every carcase for industry in a faster time span that the lamb development.”
Mr Hopkins said the investment by Scott Technology alongside MDC was an ongoing demonstration of Scott’s commitment to developing solutions that benefit the industry and ensure it remains an efficient and globally competitive part of the Australian economy.
- See this earlier Beef Central article on trials using robotics (incorporating decision-making over cutting lines provided by DEXA) for rib cutting at JBS Dinmore. (Editor’s note: this reference originally incorrectly suggested DEXA was not part of this trial – since corrected.)
- The ‘beef boning automation’ program addresses key priorities within the Meat Industry Strategic Plan (MISP 2020) and MLA’s own Strategic Plan 2016-2020 – namely, the achievement of productivity gains through the value chain from the adoption of tools and technologies including automation and objective measurement.