The COVID-19 pandemic has completely transformed the routine of processing plants in Brazil. All internal processes, mainly involving the management of employees, have had to be rethought from one moment to another. In production terms, the impact remained limited. However, operating costs showed an enormous increase. The daily routine of industrial plants had to be redesigned. The arrival of employees from their homes, the change of uniforms, the meals, the access to the facilities, everything had to be distanced and protected to avoid the risk of spread of the COVID-19 in the work environment. Processing plants had to absorb the costs resulting from all these preventive measures. That's why companies started to seek ways to expand the automation of processes by gaining efficiency and trying to reduce costs generated by the pandemic.
Even before COVID-19, an increasing number of processing plants around the world were already facing difficulties in hiring employees for their processing lines. 'The human factor is the weakest link in the process. Once the pandemic is over, we expect that the trend towards automation continues,' says Ruud Berkers, Sales Director of Marel for Latin America. He points out that while labor is more expensive, the world's appetite for poultry products just grows. This requires greater processing power and higher speed lines. 'In a scenario like this, certain manual operations become difficult to be done efficiently and within certain required standards, which makes automation attractive from an economic point of view and for quality too,' says Ruud Berkers.
No more 'shoulder-to-shoulder'
Processing plants often feature fairly cold halls with many employees working close to each other, shoulder to shoulder. To allow social distancing, according to Ruud Berkers, the manual processes would need to occupy twice the space or the processing plants would operate with only half of its capacity in the existing space. 'Both situations negatively influence the production efficiency. So, whenever possible, automation will be an obvious answer to the challenges, in addition to the greater hygiene of the automated process, since human hands no longer touch products.'
Machines don't have days off and don't get tired.
Sales Director of Marel Poultry for Latin America
Hygiene and shelf life
Human touching represents the greatest risk of product contamination in poultry processing. From a hygienic standpoint, the less the meat is touched, the lower the chances of contamination by any type of pathogenic microorganism. As Ruud Berkers explains, products should move as quickly and smoothly as possible all along the line, in an environment where the temperature should be tailored to each stage of the process, from living bird shackling until arrival at the cold storage warehouse or cold room. 'Keeping fresh products in-line can add days to your shelf life. An in-line process also allows full product-by-product tracking, something increasingly required by supermarkets and fast food companies.'
Machines don't get tired
Automation offers also favors greater micrological safety of the meat. 'Our R&D engineers are always trying to make equipment faster and easier to clean and to reduce the number of points of contact between machines and products to an absolute minimum,' explains Berkers.
Currently, Marel can automate both primary and secondary processes without the need for human touching of the products, from live bird shackling to packaging. Operations such as forming batches and styling portions in standard weight trays, as well as portioning, slicing, and dicing, can all be fully automatic. Ruud Berkers continues, 'Machines don't have days off and don't get tired. They have a consistent performance and can dramatically reduce the need for potentially contaminating manual rework. In addition, the machines in an automated in-line process allow for traceability of each individual carcass and its parts at all stages of the process. People can't do that.'
For Ruud Berkers, automation brings along complete product traceability. This benefits consumers and the processing industry itself. Marel's Innova's traceability software module offers full traceability from source to shelf with interconnected systems. This provides a complete view of the raw materials through the processes. The traceability mechanism monitors and records every step of the process based on individual items or batches for all production processes, from receiving to shipping. 'The ability to track product-by-product is of paramount importance. If a consumer points out a quality problem, the retailer can contact the processor to determine what went wrong and where. This allows immediate corrective action to be taken.'
With so many transformations taking place in an increasingly short period, poultry processing plants will be increasingly hi-tech. As consumers today are extremely demanding concerning top quality, presentation of cuts, food safety and product traceability, they have much to gain from automated processes. Only highly automated production facilities can respond to the ever-changing market preferences and satisfy their needs.
Marel hf. published this content on 18 December 2020 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 22 December 2020 14:04:00 UTC