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Automation set to boost meat processing

Media Release

29 May 2009

Automation technology set to boost productivity in meat processing

The New Zealand meat production industry is set to benefit from a multi-million dollar investment in automation technology research and development.

Ovine Automation Ltd (OAL), which represents a significant majority of the New Zealand meat processing industry, has been awarded $7.4 million (+GST) over five years by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FRST). This will be matched by an investment of $7.4 million from the company.

Industrial Research Limited (IRL) and Millers Mechanical will provide the R&D expertise for the project that is expected to provide significant productivity gains in lamb processing.

“New Zealand lamb is recognised the world over as a premium product but we need to do more than market well to extract and retain in New Zealand the true value from this iconic product,” says IRL Chief Executive Shaun Coffey.

He says local producers are faced with stiff competition from overseas where labour and land costs are much lower. “It is clear that the industry needs to compete not only on quality but also needs to continue to drive efficiencies in production.

“I am confident that this pan-industry approach will pay dividends. From the advent of refrigerated shipping to the invention of the electric fence, New Zealand has always been a leader in applying science and technology to improve productivity and open new markets.

“With the majority of ovine industry players on board in this project, the New Zealand meat processing industry will maintain it’s position at the cutting edge of sheep and lamb processing ,” he says.

The R&D programme will be focused on the further development of two experimental IRL technologies – gas de-pelting and a device known as the intelligent Y-cutter.

The Y-cut is an industry term for the cut that opens the fleece on the front legs of the sheep from the hocks to the brisket in preparation for the removal of the pelt. It is a crucial but difficult part of the process with workers reporting a high incidence of repetitive strain injury.

Gas de-pelting involves using pressurised gas to remove pelts from carcasses in an automated process that is faster and more effective than traditional manual pelt removal.

The programme will also investigate integrating an automatic brisket roller and other tasks into a Y-Cut robot that also performs automated belly rip down.

IRL Business Development Manager Geoff Bates says the key to the success of the R&D programme will be the inclusion of key technical people from the industry throughout the development process. This has been facilitated through a technical subcommittee, created by OAL, to work alongside IRL and Millers Mechanical.

“A fundamental concept of the development programme is the integration of various technologies and processes to maximise the benefits, yet minimise the costs. An example of this is the sharing of sensing and referencing information between the various machines rather than duplicating sensors for each piece of equipment,” he says

Ovine Automation Limited Manager Richard McColl says the programme is a unique opportunity for the industry to work collaboratively to make a significant change to ovine processing.

“This would not have been possible without the good will of OAL shareholders, FRST, IRL and Millers Mechanical Individually it would have almost been impossible to achieve but collectively it will happen.”


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