The Roboticist Chronicles: Chewing the Fat on Automation In the Meat Processing Industry

 

ARC Specialties President Dan Allford often refers to the “three Ds” of automation, looking into industries that are dirty, dull and dangerous and seeing if robotics can step in.

Allford is exploring another area that fits the three Ds by looking into automation in meat processing. There are challenges, but Allford is confident it won’t be long before both slaughterhouses and local butchers have tools that can improve the well-being of employees while taking them out of dangerous or repetitive environments.

With COVID outbreaks in many plants, Allford says modernizing the meatpacking industry is “long overdue.”

“You have to understand why. Every carcass is different,” he said. “That’s one really difficult thing on food processing. You need some kind of adaptive control or sensor system to deal with that, unless you just grind the whole thing up into sausage. That’s not going to work.”

Allford said cuts like going across the backbone are relatively easy to automate, but separating the meat from the bone is more difficult to teach a robot how to do. Even so, it’s a problem he’s eager to overcome.

“When it’s going to get challenging is when we’re trying to do things where we’re trying to remove the meat from the bone, yet not waste much,” he said. “That’s challenging and interesting to me. I’m looking forward to getting down to some of that work, because then we’ll have to use all sorts of sensor systems.”

That may include using technology ARC developed for human surgeries that detects where bones are before determining where to make a cut.

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