This article originally ran in the January/February 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.
The Food Manufacturing Brainstorm features industry experts sharing their perspectives on issues critical to the overall food industry marketplace. In this issue, we ask:
Poultry has long been one of the least automated food processing sectors. As automation equipment becomes more sophisticated, how will poultry processors see their business practices change?
Automation is an important trend within the meat and poultry industry, as computerized equipment increasingly replaces manual work. Currently, automated machinery can perform tasks including inventory management, material handling, quality control and product inspection. Automation improves yield by enhancing control and consistency, reducing the potential for process errors at each stage of production. By limiting the scope for these errors, manufacturers can optimize the process by which raw material is converted to commercial product, ensuring the highest possible levels of raw material utilization and the minimal amount of waste.
For this purpose, poultry and meat processors are increasingly implementing x-ray inspection equipment, as it can provide multiple, simultaneous inspections of different lines with conveyor speeds up to 120 feet per minute, for contaminants such as metal, stone, glass, dense plastics and calcified bones. Other benefits of automation and x-ray inspection include reduced risk of contamination as a result of human error, reduced labor costs, higher productivity and ensured product consistency. This in turn improves sanitization and aids process certification.
Concerning standard protocols for the integration of machinery in an industrial environment, the latest x-ray systems are network capable providing remote access. Remote access permits technicians to quickly diagnose and correct issues, reducing downtime and avoiding unnecessary service call costs. This feature becomes increasingly important as production lines now employ x-ray systems as critical control points in their Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) program and cannot run without this x-ray system being fully operational. X-ray machines with networking capabilities also improve the traceability of products through software that gathers and communicates data, such as barcodes, from different systems and stores it for future reference. This advanced software aids meat and poultry manufacturers in case of recall, allowing them to trace a product back to any point on the production line.