Beef and sheep meat processors are well down the road to removing the need for inspectors to come on-site to conduct audits, thanks to cutting-edge augmented reality smart glasses technology.
Australian immersive technology solution company Bondi Labs has been working for several years on wearable, artificial intelligence enabled hands-free technology that would allow for the remote seeing and assisting of tasks and operations within a meat processing facility in real-time.
The initial catalyst for the work was addressing supply chain transparency and quality assurance non-compliance issues in real time globally to build greater trust and confidence in those supply chains.
This work identified the opportunity to help address the enormous cost to the meat processing industry - estimated to be as much as $100m annually - of audits and compliance inspections that are carried out by third party auditors and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.
With the support and leadership of the Australian Meat Processor Corporation, the sector's research and development arm, Bondi Labs is fast-tracking this world-leading research to provide plants with what will be an invaluable tool for addressing major coronavirus issues which are impacting the sector.
"To remotely see and assist tasks and operations within a meat processing facility in real-time can yield significant gains in productivity, efficiency and risk mitigations," Bondi Lab's chief experience officer Josh Hall said.
The project builds upon previous work where hands-free smart glasses technology was used to stream live vision from a Brisbane plant to Beijing-based Chinese Government food safety auditors to address labelling and other compliance concerns.
"Due to coronavirus, we want to leverage the same technology and apply it more to domestic needs," Mr Hall said.
"The need to keep people out of the plants to prevent the spread of the virus has ramped up the urgency of the work."
Smart glass devices, which provide the ability to conduct video calls while the wearer has full use of their hands, transmitting live video footage and audio to anywhere in the world, are about to be sent out to five East Coast processing plants, covering both species, for trials that will then expand to many more plants.
When expressions of interest were called, more than 20 companies, most owning multiple plants, put their hand up - an indication of how desperately needed remote auditing is in meat processing.
"We are hoping to be able to demonstrate success across a broad range of plant environments quickly and see the technology up and running on a widespread commercial basis by the end of the year," Mr Hall said.
Larger operations report they host up to 80 on-site audits, some of them lasting several days, in a single plant in a year.
Bondi Labs report the cost of equipping and gearing up existing quality assurance management team members to physically undertake the audit, joined remotely by the inspector, would likely be covered off in the first two audits.
Hardwear and softwear costs are currently around $3000 per unit, but new manufacturers are fast coming into the market and costs are expected to drop quickly.
"It's not a silver bullet but removing people who don't need to be in a plant, and who are travelling between plants, is a massive step forward in risk mitigation," Bondi Lab's managing director Jonathan Marshall said.
"While auditing purposes are a key focus right now, the technology has a broad range of potential, from training and maintenance to showcasing product to potential customers around the world."
Mr Marshall believes the demand for such technology is growing exponentially.
The post-pandemic world would be one of 'verify first, then trust', he said.
"Red meat customers want real-time evidence based visibility into processing plants," he said.
"This technology has the potential to be a real competitive advantage for Australia and with AMPC we are leading the way with its development."
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