FACCSA-MISSA: giving the industrial point of view in the RoBUTCHER Project

5. mai 2023

The main contributions of FACCSA-MISSA to the RoBUTCHER project have been to coordinate the End users Reference Group (ERG) and give the point of view of the industry to the rest of the members of the consortium, indicating the requirements of speed, efficiency, quality, accuracy, logistics… that the robot must meet in order to be implanted in the slaughter lines.

Over the past decades, the meat industry has lived a constant process of transformation which has resulted in the so-called Industry 4.0, in which digitalization and automation are essential. Both are, in turn, the key elements of robotics, which is increasingly applied in the sector. However, the peculiarities of the meat industry, heterogeneous and complex, cause it not to be so simple application as in others sectors.

There have always been staff shortages in the meat sector globally, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. To avoid this and improve food safety, the food industry has made a definitive bet -although it had already been doing so in previous years- for robotics.

The development of robotic technology for the meat industry responds to several factors: the decrease in available labor, the difficult working environment in slaughterhouses and cutting rooms due to the conditions and tasks to be carried out, the increasing demands on hygiene and, of course, the need to increase production efficiency in a complex environment to respond to the great challenge of meat processing: developing a technology that allows safe, healthy and quality products to be obtained.

To date, automation and robotization in the meat industry has been developed mainly in large companies, due to the high cost of acquisition and implementation and the need to process a large number of animals to amortize the investment. However, there are countries and certain areas that, due to their own geographical characteristics, do not have large slaughterhouses and cutting plants where the slaughter of pigs is concentrated. This project aims to make viable and profitable the automation and robotization of slaughterhouses and cutting plants of any size, even the smallest.

The MFC (Meat Factory Cell) proposes a total paradigm shift in the process of slaughtering and cutting pig carcasses. One of the main changes proposed is the move from a linear production chain to a modular, robust, flexible and scalable model. However, the cutting of the carcass in primary cuts, carried out in the MFC, generates a series of challenges that must be solved before being able to see slaughterhouses and cutting rooms with this system.
In first place, we find a change of order in the cutting of the carcass respect to the current system of work in linear production lines. In the MFC, internal organs are removed from the carcass at the end of the process, in the last step. In addition, the pig is cut lying on its back instead of hanging upside down. The internal organs, intestinal package, etc. are placed in a rack, to facilitate the inspection of the official veterinary services.

On the other hand, the carcasses would be cut up warm, and it would be the different primary cuts that would be cooled later. This poses a series of challenges to be solved such as the reorganization of the internal logistics of the factories and the possible advantages and disadvantages of cooling primal cuts instead of carcasses (distribution in cooling chambers, yield, etc.)

Other factors to be taken into account are the social aspects in which the implementation of MFC in the meat industry would have a direct and indirect influence: new professional profiles, possible increase in the number of women working in the industry, increase the number of slaughterhouses and cutting plants in rural environments thanks to the greater economic viability of its automation, etc.

All these effects derived from a future implementation of this system in slaughterhouses and cutting plants in different European countries, have been analyzed through different reference industries in the sector (members of the ERG), such as Nortura, Grupo Jorge, Danish Crown, COVAP, Municipal Slaughterhouse of Kulmbach and FACCSA-MISSA.
Throughout the duration of the project, numerous meetings have been held between different departments of the ERG member companies, where all the advantages, challenges and possibilities that the MFC would bring to the meat industry have been discussed. FACCSA-MISSA has been the company in charge of coordinating these technical meetings, compiling the information and providing it to the rest of the consortium members for their study and application.

Thanks to the RoBUTCHER project, we are getting closer and closer to being able to see automated the cutting process of pig carcasses in slaughterhouses in any region or country, regardless of their size or the number of pigs slaughtered per day. Making the industry more robust, flexible and scalable.

The RoBUTCHER team in front of FACCSAs factory outside of Malaga