Coronavirus is now a truly global problem. Different countries are at different stages of the pandemic and so are their poultry markets. China, South Korea and New Zealand are returning carefully to normal life. In Europe, of the larger economies, Germany has perhaps managed the disease best and has started to open up. In many parts of the US, the disease is still a feared and potent threat. Poultry plants in the US are still battling against Covid-19 with thousands of workers having fallen ill from the virus and poultry meat production dropping by 15% (beef and pork even by 30%).
The full force of the disease has yet to hit some parts of the world least well equipped to deal with it. A currently defenseless world is wary of a second or even third wave of the disease.
Even before the coronavirus struck, poultry processors in some parts of the world were finding it difficult to recruit staff. This situation is now a lot worse. Processes in many plants, particularly after chilling, are still manual with operatives often working shoulder to shoulder. Potential recruits for these jobs are justifiably scared of contracting a potentially dangerous disease. On the other hand, social distancing measures, which would see operatives working 1.5 meters or even 2 meters apart, are unwelcome to processors. In plants with no possibility of installing plastic splash guards or creating the extra space needed, such measures would surely result in lower hourly throughputs.
How can Marel help? Let’s first look at a situation potentially problematic for processors at the current time, for which Marel has an excellent solution.
More and more supermarkets in many markets are now insisting on so-called unit weight/unit price tray packs for breast fillet and other portions. Producing an accurate and attractive fixed weight pack manually, which in some cases can also stipulate a fixed number of portions, is very labor-intensive.
Enter Marel, making good use of its expertise in robotics to create RoboBatcher, a high-tech solution for breast fillet, leg and drumstick portions. RoboBatcher weighs each portion and allocates it to a tray to achieve the desired pack weight with minimal giveaway. It styles each portion neatly on the tray. RoboBatcher will handle up to 300 breast fillets per minute or 210 legs per minute. When working on breast fillet, it will handle up to three different pack recipes and three different tray sizes simultaneously. When working on legs or drumsticks this reduces to two. The only human input necessary after the machine is inspection. Besides saving labor, RoboBatcher will also save space; the higher the hourly throughput, the greater the savings of both.
People-saving batching tasks
RoboBatcher is not the only people- and space-saving batching system on offer from Marel. For processors looking to batch bone-in portions, deboned breast and leg fillet, nuggets, strips and marinated meat into fixed-weight bags for sale retail, Marel’s Multihead Weigher program is a possible solution. MHW machines are available for different capacities and for fresh or IQF product. The equipment is able to handle up to six jobs simultaneously with plant management able to program the priority level of each job.
Lack of workers
Many plants still debone breasts manually. Often this is because they had access to plentiful cheap labor. Until now, investment in an automatic system wasn’t an attractive financial proposition. Today however, with the need to socially distance and a lack of willing workers, a labor-intensive breast filleting process is much less attractive. Marel’s AMF-i breast cap and FHF front half deboning systems are proven solutions, which have been refined over the years. These can match or even exceed the performance of the most motivated manual operators. They do not have “off” days and cannot catch coronavirus! Marel filleting systems can process breast caps or front halves into virtually all the breast fillet products currently on the market.
Solving more labor issues
Thigh fillet is becoming an ever more popular product even in typical breast fillet markets such as the USA. Filleting thighs is still often a manual operation and like the manual filleting of breasts is very labor-intensive. The Marel Thigh Fillet System, integrated into an ACM-NT cut-up system, is an excellent way of solving thigh filleting labor issues and will automatically fillet up to 14,400 thighs per hour to butcher standard quality.
Marel breast and front half deboning systems, RoboBatcher and MHW machines can be integrated into existing layouts (provided that space is available). The same goes for the Thigh Fillet System if its purchaser already has a Marel ACM-NT cut-up system.
A more radical rethink
There are, however, some people- and space-saving investments, which will require a more radical rethink of the process. Such upgrades are too far-reaching to relieve corona-related issues for now, but they will secure business continuity in the long run.
Processing plants may still cut and debone product by hand, often on cone-lines or systems such as Marel’s StreamLine. Moving to an ACM-NT automatic cut-up system, capable of cutting up to 7,200 carcasses per hour, offers many advantages besides saving labor. The system will do most of today’s cuts. Yields are excellent and the quality of portions cut on the system will rival those of the best manual operations. The installation of Innova PDS-controlled SmartWeigher and IRIS vision systems will even take more workers out of the process. Product assessment and production-to-demand matching is delegated to non-biased equipment that keeps working and is insensitive to pandemics.
Take up the logistic challenge
Another change that could combat high labor intensity – an undesirable aspect in pandemic times – involves the logistics from full trays to the tray sealing and labeling equipment. This process requires quite some labor, for instance to change the type of packaging (resulting in a line stop) or to move buffer pallets.
Marel’s fully automated TrayTrack system provides a smart solution to this logistic problem. The overhead conveyor distributes full trays intelligently over a number of tray sealing and labeling lines. It matches trays as perfectly as possible to the capacity of available tray sealing and labeling equipment. Buffers and manual interventions are no longer necessary.
Ready to help
Coronavirus is not a problem with a quick solution. It will affect the way we all work long-term. In the poultry industry, it will accelerate the move towards automation, where such automation is possible. If you’re a poultry processor, you’ll always find Marel at your side help you overcome problems caused by labor availability and the need to socially distance. At Marel we stand ready to help!