7 December 2015

World-Leading Robots Installed at Smithfield Plant

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Two robots have been installed at Alliance Group’s lamb processing plant in Smithfield, Timaru as part of a world-first commercial deployment earlier this month.

The fully automated brisket cutting and evisceration robots have been developed as part of an extensive portfolio of research and development undertaken by Ovine Automation Limited (OAL), a consortium of New Zealand lamb processors supported with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. As OAL’s research and commercialisation partner, New Zealand-based engineering company Milmeq was responsible for the design, manufacture and installation of the technologies.

The robots automate the difficult and potentially dangerous part of livestock processing, resulting in improved product quality, hygiene and productivity.

The installation of the robots at Smithfield is the first commercial application of the technology and follows several years of testing as part of OAL’s research and development programme.

“Milmeq has a proud history of pioneering technology for the lamb processing industry, and this is another world-first development,” Milmeq Innovation Manager, Ross Clarke said. “We are excited to be installing this cutting-edge technology at Smithfield.”

“Seeing the robots successfully operating at Smithfield is a tremendous achievement for all concerned. It’s great to see a tangible success of the research conducted,” added OAL General Manager, Richard McColl.

The Smithfield plant installation was completed as the first step of a larger project Alliance Group is undertaking at the plant.

Alliance Group General Manager Processing, Kerry Stevens said that the co-operative was installing the latest robotic technologies to improve plant efficiency as part of a wider strategy to lift returns for farmers.

“The earlier OAL trial showed a range of benefits of installing the new technology including improvements in productivity and a reduction in food safety risks,” Kerry said. “This type of operational efficiency is a core component of our ongoing investment to ensure our red meat production continues to be competitive on a global scale.”

“We see this as being the way of the future for lamb processing throughout New Zealand and globally. I would anticipate that, in time, the automated brisket cutter and evisceration robots will be recognised as setting the industry standard,” said Milmeq CEO, Mike Lightfoot.

Following the installation at Smithfield, Milmeq has received enquiries from a number of lamb and sheep meat processors requiring automated brisket cutting and evisceration robotic systems, each with their own unique and specific production characteristics.

“It is fantastic to see the development that has gone into these robots now coming to fruition at a commercial level. We are now seeing interest internationally as well,” added Mike.

Milmeq is currently working with OAL on the development of several other next generation, robotic meat processing solutions, two of which are planned for commercialisation in 2016.