Moving from whole bird to cut-up chicken parts

A guide for processors aiming to advance their secondary process

ACM NT Compact2

Poultry processors in specific regions of the world are witnessing market shifts that require them to adjust their secondary process. A good example is Sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, chicken consumption is on the rise, albeit from the low base of 5.77 kg per capita per annum. Chicken is the region’s favorite meat, and cut portions are particularly popular in the towns. In fact, there is a noticeable consumer trend shifting from purchasing whole chickens to buying pre-cut chicken pieces. If local processors are to compete with imported cuts, they need to consider moving to an in-line distribution and cut-up process with a greater degree of automation.

A rising trend

Sub-Saharan GDP growth at 4% per annum over the coming years, increasing urbanization, a rising middle class and an expanding population are all expected to increase demand for broiler products by 55% over the next decade. Supermarkets and Quick Service Restaurants are already expanding rapidly across the region with one major international QSR chain having recently doubled its footprint.

Many Sub-Saharan markets, particularly in West Africa, are importing frozen cuts mainly from the European Union but also from the USA and Brazil. In Ghana, for example, over 70% of the poultry consumed is imported in cut form.
For processors looking to increase their own production of cut products, and grab a portion of that market, Marel can offer systems, which will help them do this.

QS 3 Station

Moving to in-line distribution

In many entry-level plants, a team of operators visually inspects each carcass for damage or other defects and then puts it on a scale to weigh it. If the carcass has been downgraded, it will usually be cut into portions, as in the vast majority of cases any damage will be restricted to one limb only. If the carcass has been passed as an “A” grade, it will join others of its size in a bin or other container before being packed.

Moving to an in-line distribution system can be a useful first step when volumes increase. Marel’s in-line distribution system uses a conventional overhead conveyor, onto which is installed a programmable electronic system consisting of a QS3 quality grading station, a weigh station and a variable number of release stations.

In-line quality grading

After having been rehung manually to the overhead conveyor, carcasses pass through a QS3 quality grading station where a single operator grades all products. The advantage here is that all grading work is done by a quality control specialist, who will apply a consistent grading standard to each carcass. The quality controller downgrades carcasses by moving a switch under each carcass, which moves with the carcass through the station and is synchronized with the overhead conveyor. A mirror at the back of the unit allows the quality controller to see the back of each carcass. A sensor at the station’s outfeed picks up which switches have been moved to the downgrade position, transmitting this information to the system’s electronic control unit.

Cone Line

In-line weighing and automatic release

Carcasses then pass over a weigh station, where they are weighed automatically. Each carcass’s weight is sent to the system’s control unit, so that the system now knows the weight and quality grade of each product on each shackle. According to the program set by plant management into the control unit, each carcass will be automatically released at one of a number of release stations, which can be installed anywhere on the overhead conveyor after the weigh station. A typical arrangement of release stations will have one release station for downgrades and the appropriate number of stations for sized “A” grade birds in 50g or 100g increments. There will also be a station for very light or very heavy carcasses.

Not only does the system keep downgrades separate, taking them to where they are either packed whole or cut up; it also sorts “A” grade carcasses into specific sizes, releasing them into a series of bins and thereby contributing to greater efficiency in the packing hall.

Improve cutting productivity

In most entry-level processing plants, carcasses are cut into portions by skilled butchers, who then do all cutting and deboning work on each carcass. As volumes increase and skilled workers become more difficult to find, investment in a manual cone cut-up line should be considered. A cone line, where each operative does one job only, has three major benefits. By splitting the cut-up process into a number of specific tasks, it effectively de-skills the process. De-skilling the cut-up process means that skilled butchers can be replaced by cheaper staff, who can be trained more quickly. Thirdly, on a cone line, cutting staff have to work at a pre-set speed, potentially improving productivity.

If the processing plant has already invested in an in-line distribution system, carcasses can be released automatically at the cone line itself thereby improving the logistics of the secondary process area.

Marel has decades of experience cutting chicken and will always be happy to train staff in what for many entry-level processing plants will be a completely new way of working.

Arabian Farms ACM NT Compact

Mechanizing cut-up

Once cutting volumes have increased sufficiently, a processing plant should consider mechanizing the process. The ACM-NT Compact is the small brother of the world-renowned ACM-NT automatic cut-up system. It has been designed as an entry-level system for processing plants, where space is at a premium. The ACM-NT Compact, capable of cutting up to 6500 carcasses per hour, is available in three standard lengths. System length will depend on the number of cutting modules required and the space available. Cutting modules are identical to those used in a full-blown ACM-NT system. ACM-NT is able to do virtually all common cuts. ACM-NT can cut whole wings or wings cut into their individual joints. The system can cut front halves or breast caps. From the back saddle, ACM-NT can cut rear quarters with or without a section of backbone and anatomic leg portions. Anatomic leg and rear quarters can be processed into thighs and drumsticks. ACM-NT can also do a variety of the best-known fast-food cuts. All cuts mimic careful cutting by hand with the huge advantage that ACM-NT never has an “off” day or gets tired.

As and when required, ACM-NT Compact can grow into a full ACM-NT system and all modules and track components can be re-used. Eventually, breast, front half and thigh deboning can also be automated with AMF-i, FHF-XB and Marel’s in-line Thigh Fillet System.

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