In 2011 Kepak saw new opportunities in the red meat retail market and decided to restructure their production accordingly. With a new value-added production, Kepak needed to rebuild and refurbish their facility in Ballymahon, Ireland. They concentrated specifically on the trimming part of the production, aiming to produce and manage trim for specific mince and burger recipes as effectively as possible.
When handling trim for specific recipes, it is important that a specific target fat/lean percentage is consistently reached and for specified quantities. “Accurate manual sorting of large amounts of trim, based on the human eye to decide on the accurate fat percentage, is extremely difficult and requires very skilled employees,” explains Kepak's Ballymahon Site Manager. “So automation was an obvious choice for us.”
“When we started the project with Marel, we were impressed with their approach to finding the right solution for us,” says Kepak's Site Manager. "They challenged our processing methods as well as themselves on creating the best and most effective solution for us, rather than going for the easiest."
The Trim Management System that Marel and Kepak developed, automates the analysis of trim for the fat/lean ratio and better enables Kepak to manage their trim and hit target fat percentages.
The set-up involves directing trim from two deboning lines to one of two infeed units of the Trim Management System – one for hind-quarter trim and one for forequarter trim. At the infeed units, two sorting operators visually pre-grade the trim by pushing the pieces – up to 5.5 kg - into one of the buffer bins (e.g. fat, medium, lean). The meat is then dropped onto a conveyor leading to the SensorX fat analysis and bone detection unit.
By scanning the meat for density variations, using X-ray technology, the SensorX can determine the precise weight and fat/lean content - Chemical Lean (CL), and detect any hazardous contaminants embedded in the meat.
The results of each CL measurement are sent to the subsequent Trimgrader and the meat is directed to the allocated gate to form a final batch of the correct weight and fat/lean ratio, specified by the processor.
Product with hazardous contaminant is removed from the process through reject gates on the Trimgrader. The contaminants are then removed manually before passing through the system a second time.
Many of Kepak’s European customers base their production on recipes which use a fixed number of boxes of trim. This makes fixed weight very important. So for Kepak, the ability to build final fixed weight batches with fixed (CL) is key.
The system was developed to fit the requirements of a range of customers in many countries and with varying specifications. Furthermore, the type-segregated infeed units (hind and forequarter) help Kepak to trace the trim back to one of its supplying abattoirs.
The Trim Management System at Kepak is a great success with customers. “Since implementing the Trim Management System we have had virtually no fat complaints from our customers,” Kepak's Site Manager says. "At first they were a bit skeptical about the bone findings and fat/ lean measures that we presented to them, but showing them the system and explaining the technology has changed that. All customers have now accepted it is trustworthy."
The Trim Management System is running with Innova software, meaning that all information is live. Having real-time information is vital, especially on bone rejects and final-batch target weight information.
“Our reports show that rejects are well under three percent,” says Kepak's Site Manager, “and the average from the daily reports show that fat/lean deviation is within one percent of the CL level. That is extremely valuable to us.”
The information from the system is also used for planning and evaluation purposes, helping the overall control and management of the company’s operations.
The system has delivered beyond expectations in terms of quality, safety, and accuracy, but service is still a huge part of the partnership with Marel. “We have entered into a service agreement contract with Marel to keep the system in good working condition,” Kepak's Site Manager explains. “It is vital for us that the system is always running, as it is an integrated part of the overall production facility.
Also considering that the technology in the Trim Management System is brand new, a service agreement gives us the peace of mind needed to concentrate on meat processing.”
The Kepak Group comprises three strategic business units: Kepak Meat Division (KMD), Kepak Convenience Foods (KCF) and AgraKepak International. Kepak’s business is driven by listening to its customers and working with its suppliers to deliver on agreed specifications. The company offers a broad range of fresh and frozen beef products to customers in the retail, food service and manufacturing sectors.
Kepak Group processes in excess of 250,000 cattle, 600,000 sheep and 300,000 pigs annually. Kepak Group has a number of manufacturing facilities throughout Ireland and the UK, with sales offices in the key European and international markets. The facility featured in this article is located in Longford/Ballymahon, Ireland.