Automation and meat processing

Wednesday, 08 April, 2015

Automation and meat processing

With quality and hygiene the top priorities in the meat processing industry, manufacturers are turning to state-of-the-art sensors that not only control production, but also record inline the quality of raw goods and manufacture.

When it comes to sausages, the German city of Böklund has been leading the way for more than half a century. At the end of the 1930s, Böklunder was the first company in Germany to introduce automated production. Since then the company has prevailed not only as the inventor of sausages in a jar, but is also one of the pioneers in introducing automation to the meat processing industry.

Meat is not only a hygienically sensitive product. It is above all a product whose anatomical features set limits to far-reaching automation. Solutions are being investigated which deviate from the standards of other branches and open up economic prospects to processing operations. The best example of this is the work from EDEKA Southwest in Rheinstetten, Germany, one of the most modern meat businesses in Europe.

Here, 20 production lines allow for the smooth processing of 4000 sides of pork and 1000 beef quarters daily round the clock. In order for a factory of this order of magnitude to work efficiently, all processes must be IT-supported - from the receipt of goods to the dismantling and production to the packaging and shipping.

Exact pictures for dismantling

Early analysis of meat quality is of central significance for the automated dismantling process in Rheinstetten. A special hardware and software solution, the ‘Image-Meater’ from CSB, fully classifies the sides of pork automatically. Cameras record the carcasses and sort them into different quality levels with the help of the measurement results. In this way the software determines the exact trade value of all parts such as ham, shoulder, pork belly and cutlets - contact-free and perfectly hygienically.

Wireless data for more hygiene

It goes without saying that the transmitter and the measurement amplifier must meet high standards. But high requirements are also placed on the measuring cable. In hygienically sensitive areas such as meat processing plants, avoiding the introduction of cables can be very attractive.

A whole line of wireless solutions that obviate the need for the laying of cables has emerged. Cable-free devices are being used to record all sorts of information. For example, the Wtrans-T resistance thermometer with radio measurement transmission from Jumo can be used to continually measure, record and transmit the temperatures in cooking and smoking chambers as well as the core temperature of the product.

Indirect insight into production

It is not only temperature and pressure that can be measured inline, criteria that once required chemical analysis can also be measured. The parameters are not directly measured, but indirectly - with a physical quantity which correlates to the desired value. The inline measurement of fat content is a stage of expansion for automation. It plays an important role in the standardisation of the fat content in the final product. In his plant, Seydelmann conveys this ‘indirect insight’ into production with high-resolution near-infrared spectroscopies (NIR) and X-ray technology. The real-time results of the NIR method achieve a precision on par with laboratory analyses.

In this process, the surface of the ground meat is scanned during transport and the fat content is continually displayed on the service terminal. This means that out-of-spec product can be identified in real time so immediate changes can be implemented while production is in progress.

X-ray technology enables an even more exact analysis. The fat content can be checked for deviations up to a certain percentage and allocated according to weight. Simultaneously, product safety increases, because contaminants such as bones, glass and metal can be reliably identified and removed.

The trend towards automation continues

Automated lines are still rarer in the meat industry compared to other food areas. But the trend towards automation in meat and sausage production has advanced, especially in areas such as packaging.

Where once individual machines ruled, now the processing of meat, ham and sausage is occurring more and more frequently on fully automated lines which not only maximise efficiency and profit - they also ensure higher quality and safer products.

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