“We shaped the building around the process”

Zach Prestage, CEO of Prestage Farms’ new turkey greenfield

Cutup Deboning Turkey Prestage

Zach Prestage is the CEO of Prestage Foods at the new turkey plant in Camden, South Carolina, USA, where Prestage has been operational since 1994. He talks about how specific choices in the new turkey greenfield turned out to be highly beneficial for yield, efficiency and staff.

Why did you start up this new operation? “My grandparents originally started in 1983 in the pork and turkey business. Over the years, we kept adding on and expanding. Today, we have operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa and Oklahoma. This new facility replaces an existing, outdated plant. We wanted a streamlined process using less labor, while processing about 160,000 turkeys a week. The only way to get that done efficiently was to build this plant. The huge advantage of a greenfield is that you can design it for the process. You can set up your process first and then shape the building around it. You could not possibly take an old plant and redesign it like this.”

Prestage Zack Arjan

Left to right: Jeff Davis (Marel), Jim Hipple (Marel), Zach Prestage (Prestage Farms) and Arjan Schrauwen (Marel)

How did you come to Marel?

“We already had a relationship with Marel because of our pork plant in Iowa, where about 95% of the equipment is Marel’s. We already had the experience, and we knew what the service would be like. For this plant, we did shop around, but in the end, Marel offered the best overall package deal. We actually voted on it and it was unanimous. So we went with Marel front to back. Eventually, we even included equipment that initially, we didn’t think would be Marel’s. Marel’s name and reputation in the industry played a big part. We knew we would need continued support for this facility. Our experience in Iowa demonstrated that Marel really offers this support. We even opted for the extended support agreement. Right now, we have at least six Marel people on site. That helps us a lot, as we have a new, eager maintenance team, but without poultry experience. So we welcome the Marel people to mentor our young staff and help get our preventive maintenance in place.

How is the equipment set up?

“In this facility, we have two kill lines, two evisceration lines, six air chill chambers, three cut-up lines and three deboning lines. The reason for this configuration is speed. The maximum primary speed would be 2x 50 birds a minute [2x 3,000 tph], but running at maximum speed all the time is not a good idea. Aiming for 90% will get us 90 birds a minute. On the secondary side, the three lines run 3x 30 birds a minute [3x 2,000 tph], also 90 in total. This way, the two sides match perfectly. Thanks to the six air chill chambers, the two sides of the plant are completely separated. Downtime in the primary process does not cause downtime in the secondary process and vice versa. Each day, we start deboning at about 5:00 a.m. with the aim of emptying two air chill chambers. When the primary process starts up later that day, they can start feeding into an empty chilling room. This method prevents us from having to stop one process when there is a stop in another. And at the end of the day, our secondary process stops earlier to allow the primary process to fill the chilling rooms again with products to chill overnight.

The speeds of our primary and secondary processes match perfectly

Zach Prestage
CEO Prestage Foods Camden SC

Why are you using air chilling?

Air chilling has gained a lot of traction in the US. People start to recognize air-chilled products and appreciate their good quality. But the labor aspect is what really took it home for us. Thanks to air chilling, the primary side of the plant works four days a week, Monday through Thursday, while the secondary side works Tuesday through Friday. Our four-day work weeks, three-day weekends are very popular and this way of working helped us a lot in attracting people. Everybody, including myself, is really enthusiastic about it.

Turkey Air Chilling Prestage

How do you handle different weights?

“We process heavy tom turkeys. They’re very uniform, which allows us to adjust the equipment more accurately. In each of our three cut-up lines, every piece of equipment and software has been set to that specific weight range. It’s an added benefit that SmartWeigher weighs every product right before chilling. 8,000 shackles later, the system remembers exactly the weight of each specific product, and we’ll sort it accordingly. This means fewer adjustments and better yield.”

Why did you choose SensorX?

SensorX is a great system. I’m glad we have four of them. But it wasn’t much of a choice actually. Our primary customer required a completely boneless product, that is the major breast meat loaves from the major fillet and tenders. So we probably would have put them in anyway; they do a really good job of rejecting when we miss a little bit of that wing socket or any bone piece that might still be on.”

Sensorx Turkey Prestage

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