Over the nine years I’ve covered the meat and poultry industries, visiting plants and seeing the ways in which processors produce their products, I’ve watched as the industry slowly moved portions of its operations toward a more automated “experience” — a painstaking, but very necessary and valuable, venture.
What has been the holdup? Simply put, the protein-processing industry faces challenges other production industries do not. Cattle, pigs, chicken and turkeys are not widgets — even though there are standard ranges at which animals are produced and processed, every single animal is different in shape, size and quality.
Sure, there are widget-like products that appear (chicken nuggets, burgers, etc.) on the shelves of the grocery stores, and that where automation has always hung its hat for the protein-processing industry.
Yet, in the last decade or so, automation has answered the bell more frequently, figuring out the puzzle that is protein, and in the last two to three years, as the recession has moved away, robotics and automation have become wiser investments. Tom Egan, vice president, Industry Services for PMMI, wrote a column on the next-generation robotics that could find their way into meat and poultry plants, and we also recorded a podcast Q&A expanding upon some of those thoughts.