TRIAL work analysing the performance of DEXA yield assessment technology for beef carcases is taking much longer than originally anticipated, and is unlikely to be completed for at least another 12 months.
However industry rumours circulating this week that meat processor Teys Australia was considering cancelling DEXA trials in beef carcases at its Lakes Creek plant in Central Queensland are inaccurate, Beef Central was told this morning.
In the absence of more rapid progress being made in analysing DEXA yield assessment performance in beef, Meat & Livestock Australia and its research collaborators have focused attention on the lamb version of the technology, which is now making considerable progress (see today’s separate story).
However one processing contact said DEXA was much easier to adopt for lamb carcase yield assessment than beef, because the physical mass of a typical beef carcase made it much more difficult to analyse, requiring greater x-ray penetration power and protective shielding to operate.
Teys Australia said it ‘remained keen’ to validate the DEXA technology’s yield predictive ability as part of the Lakes Creek beef trial. At the same time, however, the company also continues to examine other alternatives for lean meat yield assessment including the European-made E+V cameras (discussed below), which are already in wide use in European beef processing operations.
“Analysis and implementation of DEXA has gone a lot slower than what we would have liked,” a Teys contact told Beef Central.
MLA’s original vision for DEXA, when it was launched in 2016, was that it could start to appear in beef plants some time the following year.
Access to CT scanner challenging
One of the current hold-ups to faster progress is understood to be access to suitable CT-scanning equipment, necessary to provide a ‘gold standard’ against which DEXA and other yield assessment technologies like E+V can be measured and validated.
Discussions on that, involving Teys, AMPC, Murdoch University, MLA and others, are progressing.
Should DEXA be eventually rolled-out for beef carcase yield assessment in abattoirs as planned, convenient access to a CT scanner will be essential to allow each unit to be calibrated and checked for accuracy, Beef Central was told.
A portable version of a CT scanner that can be taken from site to site for DEXA calibration is one option being considered, but that would require specialised licensing for equipment emitting X-rays. As can be seen in thos photograph, one of the challenges is that CT units are capable of handling smaller lamb carcases, but are currently incapable of scanning an entire beef carcase, meaning the body must be broken-up into portions first.
Another possible option during the validation trial work in Central Queensland is using a local CT scanner located at the nearby Rockhampton Base Hospital.
Currently, the DEXA unit at Teys’ Lakes Creek plant is fully installed and operating, with ‘basic’ comparisons already being made against physically boned-out carcases.
Other technologies under examination
In the meantime, other technologies continue to surface that have potential to measure yield in beef carcases. Many offer attractive advantages over DEXA, being far cheaper to install, requiring little or no additional space on the production line, and emitting none of the harmful radiation that means DEXA must be operated in large, lead-lined rooms to avoid exposure.
One such DEXA installation in Victoria is said to have required 30 tonnes of lead sheeting, which caused subsidence in the plant’s cement floor due to its sheer weight.
The ALMTech consortium and Teys are both exploring cheaper and less intrusive technologies including a new 3D-imaging process for yield assessment.
In parallel with its DEXA carcase analysis at Lakes Creek, Teys has installed a European E+V whole carcase yield camera, for yield comparison trials. The E+V camera, described as similar to the industry’s original VIAScan technology from the 1990s, is relatively cheap, and does not present the same challenges to install as DEXA.
The technology is already well-proven in European beef processing operations, but the view is that Australian cattle phenotypes vary more widely than those in Europe, and the system would need to be re-calibrated for local use.
Once the Lakes Creek project has access to CT scanning technology, both DEXA and E+V yield assessment systems will be compared against the CT’s ‘gold standard’ for yield accuracy.
Teys originally started exploring potential to analyse lean meat yield in beef carcases about six years ago, using first-generation (now redundant) Single-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (SEXA) technology.
Other DEXA units are already installed in beef applications, but they are substantially different from the whole-carcase unit installed at Teys Lakes Creek. A smaller unit has been used in a robotics trial at JBS Dinmore near Brisbane, but this equipment only scans a small area of the carcase near the brisket to determine the robot’s best scribing lines, and is not compatible with whole carcase yield assessment.
Similarly, DEXA was originally installed in a number of southern sheep plants not to analyse carcase yield, but to define cutting lines for the plants’ automated robots.
As described in a separate MLA Press release item today, MLA’s attention is now focusing on developing the lean meat yield analysis potential in sheep carcases, made easier because their smaller size makes them much easier to penetrate using DEXA scanning.
Processing is a difficult and competitive industry so innovation should be encouraged. At Beef 2018 we were also told of laser technology in addition to E+V cameras which occupy less space than DEXA. Smaller works would require significant capital expenditure to accomodate DEXA technology.
If processors want greater efficiency they should be duplicating Kilkoy’s direction and install Robotic packaging to start with and reduce staff by 35 to 40 people, after all Brazil pays $5A per hour so wages are a significant cost of processing here.
“Rewarding producers” not a chance. In my opinion Dexa is another means for levying discounts on carcases, scientifically of course.
Thanks Tom for your defense of the delays and explanation of the need for the Australian beef industry to adopt automation to improve our terms of trade. My understanding is that it costs $350 a body to process in Australia, $250 in the USA and $150 in South America. Of course these arguments were advanced by the FutureTech zealots as more and more cattle producer levies were poured down the ever-growing automation hole. Not to say that you are not correct, but any developments we adopt are available to processors in other countries. Much of this technology comes to us from beyond our shores.
There are a couple of questions I would ask Tom. In sheep meat processing, DEXA provides processors with optimal cutting lines to harvest the meat so advantage flows to the processor not the producer. With your DEXA machine at Lakes Creek, are you also looking to optimise meat recovery or are you developing grids so the producer will be rewarded based on the quantity and quality of beef supplied on hoof? Secondly, who is paying for all this slow development of the technology? Is this Teys’ money or are producers tipping in levy funds via MLA?
By the way congratulations on your recent promotion.
This is just typical of the industry. Any sign of innovation or change is pushed down. Who would ever propose innovation with all the zealots above. MLA should stop innovation, we should sell all the cattle in saleyards. Is the next storey about the lamb industry adopting this technology because it reduces processing costs?
It’s hard to see how Teys’ actions could be described as ‘pushing down’ innovation, Marcus. DEXA (or some other yield solution’s) development, and ultimate adoption, is just taking longer than expected. Hardly surprising, with any new technology, surely. Editor
This was Richard Norton & Sean Starling’s baby from the get go. They promised the world and got the attention of the producers, Government Ministers and the press. They were going to get a better deal for the producers and increase returns to the farm gate because processors could not be trusted.
Well, looks like Tey’s have spent a great deal on it themselves (outside of provided R&D funds) to try and make it work as have other processors. It seems to me the processors are trying to have a genuine crack at making it work for their benefit and the benefit of the producers.
Is this Future Tech here we come again? Farmers losing out again in the long run and processors having people in Lab coats running around holding up production for tests, measurements, and sampling. It will be interesting when everything comes out in the wash, will the key conductors of this this project be still around or moved on with their great paying careers with the mess left behind for others to clean up? I wonder?
Measuring yield is important but not to consumers. Higher carcase yields produce more saleable meat which implies a lower cost of production. The main beneficiaries thereby appear to be be processors and retailers. There are a few viable methods to determine yield, but DEXA is not one of them, in my opinion. Despite the extreme hype from Joyce, Littleproud, Quinlivan, Norton and Teys, it was never going to get up. For one thing, how are consumers going to react on finding that their clean green beef is being zapped with cancer-causing X Rays?
There’s no suggestion that DEXA, when used appropriately, causes cancer, Sue. DEXA has been used in clinical human health for a considerable time, with no ill effects. Editor
The latest announcement on DEXAcomes as no surprise, algorithms it appears nobody has worked out how to get them to give an accurate picture. How long ago was a Minister announcing in Rockhampton that Dexa is a great step forward. In 2016 the MLA MD Richard Norton announced that to a complete surprise of many how Dexa was going to revolutionise the industry and be put out in all OZ meat plants, 90 odd in total at a cost of $150 million and this would happen by 2017 and now 2018 there may be problems, one appears to be the 30 ton of lead sheeting which is causing problems in a plant in Victoria where the cement floor has subsided.
Now there is talk of exploring cheaper less intrusive technologies including European made E+V cameras which are already being used in Europe for yield assessment. Surely levy paying producers should be entitled to ask a number of questions, why was there no trials conducted before the announcement in 2016. How much has MLA spent on Dexa, perhaps the Minister may care to call a firm like Ernst Young to conduct a proper audit into Dexa venture and give a detailed report into the cost. If this was carried out it may show how much out of control MLA has become and how an experienced skills based board could allow an announcement to be made without due diligence it really makes one wonder.
Yes the technology is taking longer that we would like. However, this is often the reality of when you are introducing step chain innovations into long established existing systems. There is no doubt that it works. We have proven the Technology in “DEXA in a Box”. The machine installed in Rockhampton is working, producing viable images of beef sides. The delays have been about getting this to happen at a chain speed that is one of the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere.
These types of technologies are a vital underpinning of providing objective individual measurement of product ultimately linked to consumer value. Beef is an expensive protein and we will only keep a share of the consumer wallet if we give them exactly what they want. Feedback to producers based on individual measures from systems like DEXA will greatly improve our ability to do this.
It is also well established that Australia is an expensive manufacturer of beef. Ultimately this will threaten our position in global markets if we do not address it. Automation offers a potential solution but has been out of reach without visioning systems. DEXA and similar technologies get us to the starting line to develop and adopt automation in our processing plants similar to what is happening in the lamb industry.
An important debate is how we are going to address our cost to operate and at the same time ensuring we keep our share of the consumer spend on protein. In the end these are not nice to haves, rather they go to the heart of staying in business for everyone in the beef industry.
Good summary thanks Jon. Reading between the lines and speaking with Scott Technologies, it seems we are still someway off having machinery capable of determining carcass value to reward Australian Cattle Industry Council members fairly for their product as was promised by MLA just prior to their 2016 AGM. I recall there was an argument advanced by MLA as to whether a trial was necessary for the DEXA machine. Clearly, the trial is critical to the expenditure of $150 million of member levy monies on 90 of these machines as predicted by the MLA at the time. It made good headlines for MLA, but, as was found with the FutureTech investment by their predecessor AMLC, gold is not always at the end of the rainbow. That indulgence by industry bureaucrats wasted more than $40 million of cattle producer levies and earned Kilcoy a new kill floor. Our members need reassurance we are not being led down that path yet again by zealots with no skin in the game.