Pukeuri boners get robotic workmates

Alliance Group Pukeuri plant manager Geoff Proctor views  robotic technology in the boning room....
Alliance Group Pukeuri plant manager Geoff Proctor views robotic technology in the boning room. Photo: Sally Rae.
A $7.5 million upgrade at Alliance Group’s Pukeuri meat works is the biggest investment at the site since redevelopment following a major fire in 2006.

Commissioning is under way of robotic  cutting machinery in the  boning room.

The machinery, developed by Scott Technology, features an X-ray unit that analyses each carcass and instructs two cutting machines where to cut.

The primal cutting machine separates carcasses into hinds, middles and forequarters.

A middles cutting machine then separates  middles into racks, loins, flaps and saddles.

The technology meant higher product yields and  safety benefits, plant manager Geoff Proctor said.

The machinery was able to automatically adjust to different carcass sizes, which was a challenge in red-meat processing.

While human saw operators did  well, they could be "fractionally" out and the technology improved the accuracy of the cut.

The boning room had to be expanded to install the machinery.

Although slightly fewer people were needed in the boning room,  no-one had been made redundant.

The machines had circular cutting blades, rather than band-saws, which  improved hygiene and health and safety,  and reduced strain for the workers.

The same technology was installed at the company’s Smithfield plant in Timaru earlier this year.

The machinery there was fully commissioned and was working "very, very well", Mr Proctor said.Chief executive David Surveyor said the technology upgrade formed a key part of the company’s strategy to lift returns to shareholders by improving the efficiency of livestock processing.

Alliance Group’s latest market update said post-Brexit exchange rates in the UK were continuing to result in frozen lamb product being diverted away to more profitable markets.

However, chilled negotiations were under way with price improvements required to cover exchange rate issues.

Demand in Europe remained firm on the back of low volumes, particularly middle cuts.

The Chinese market remained sluggish with local production in full swing and some improvement was expected as consumption increased during the winter months.

ASB’s latest Farmshed Economics report said the biggest test for lamb prices awaited over the spring, particularly how Brexit impacted on UK consumers and their demand for lamb would have a large bearing on where prices settled.

Similarly, the New Zealand dollar would have a large role to play, while tight local supply should underpin prices "to a degree", the ASB report said.

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