Brainstorm: Automation in Poultry Processing (Part IV)
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?
As poultry processors automate manual processes and as automated equipment becomes more sophisticated, one of the most important business practices that will need to change is employee training. Automating manual processes and transitioning the labor force from unskilled work toward becoming skilled technicians helps eliminate highly repetitive manual tasks with high injury rates and addresses the challenges associated with a growing shortage of unskilled labor. Having well trained people operating, maintaining, cleaning and supervising automated equipment improves the effectiveness of that equipment.
As automated equipment becomes more sophisticated, business practices will also change in the areas of process monitoring and record keeping. Many automated systems facilitate record keeping and utilizing this capability will help satisfy the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act and enable processors to quickly deliver the necessary data to inspectors who visit the plant to verify compliance. In addition to addressing changing industry guidelines, improved record keeping can help assure that final product quality and food safety is being maintained.
The processors that understand the interaction of the line components and consider the system as a whole can better select machines that work harmoniously and integrate controls so the machines communicate seamlessly. This high level of integration, which could include connecting equipment to a plant-wide SCADA network, helps maximize the output of the equipment while maintaining the highest product quality and operational efficiency. In order to fully achieve the benefits of a well-integrated line, processors will likely become more dependent on suppliers who can provide deep industry expertise and integration services.