FROM shadow robots and magnetic conveying to waterless sterilisation and automated beef scribing, the innovation coming down the pipeline for Australia's red meat processors is phenomenal.
One of the reasons for that is a think-outside-the-box approach to attracting the best minds for the job of finding solutions to the varying challenges that are faced in abattoirs.
The processing industry's research and development provider, the Australian Meat Processor Corporation, is running Innovation Challenge call-outs as it determines key challenges that need new technologies to solve.
The forward-thinking approach allows for expertise from around the world and from sectors outside the meat industry to be leveraged, and it's generating some incredible solutions.
- Our annual Carcase Merit publication will be out on July 22, published in The Land, Queensland Country Life and Stock and Land. It contains many stories like this one, plus on-farm profiles of producers targetting certain carcase traits.
Hundreds of cutting-edge technologies are being investigated and trialled, all designed to enhance the efficiency, productivity, product quality and safety of red meat.
Industry Innovation Program Manager Stuart Shaw said the Innovation Challenges address areas which fall into themes across the five AMPC strategic pillars including advanced manufacturing, people and culture and sustainability.
All the advanced technologies coming forward have the ultimate aim of underpinning Australia's reputation as the world's premier exporter of high quality red meat, he said.
"In the past, we have relied too heavily upon a small group of R&D providers so now we are reaching out to people across the country and the globe - we want 100 minds rather than 10 on the job," Mr Shaw said.
"Quite often solutions come completely out of left field, such as from other industries where you wouldn't typically think to look."
Other food or agricultural industries, airport security, the automobile industry and even NASA have been sources AMPC is drawing on for new technologies.
ALSO IN BEEF:
- Bull selling season set to sizzle
- Rising beef retail prices fail to curtail at-home demand
- Macca's ditches its vege burger
And to try to attract people to the challenges, it is using a far broader language, thus words like gamification are becoming linked to meat processing.
"The types of people who build software applications and computer games are perhaps not spending a lot of time in meat industries but their skills can be very valuable to what we are trying to achieve," Mr Shaw said.
Already, more than 40 'challenges' have been issued and each one is now at a different stage - some have a couple of solutions on the board, others are within 18 months of having prototype equipment on floors.
"R&D is typically a long-term business, with solutions taking a decade or more to come to commercialisation, so to be moving this quickly on some challenges really speaks to the value of casting the net so widely," Mr Shaw said.
A large number of red meat processors in Australia have installed solar photovoltaic cells to drive their business towards the industry's carbon neutral 2030 goal.
The efficiency of these solar arrays has diminished due to a build-up of bird droppings, mostly from seagulls, and other coverings such as dust.
So an Innovation Challenge call-out has gone out seeking an ethical and cost-effective way to keep the birds away.
Ideally, the solution would prevent birds from perching on the panels, although alternatives like automated cleaning could also work, AMPC's call-out says.
Waterless lamb frenching is another challenge underway.
Mr Shaw explained frenching cutlets - the final point of product presentation - is done manually by skilled staff.
With each 8-rib rack requiring at least 21 knife actions, and up to 23, it is an activity which results in up to 210,000 knife actions per operational staff shift within a plant operating at 10 carcases per minute.
This task has both a workplace health repetitive strain and knife laceration safety concern, in addition to another area where yield can be lost and waste generated.
In some plants, a water frenching solution is used, but it's not suitable for all Australian locations due to the water usage, water source, and resulting trade waste additional load.
Work is underway on a number of investigations into waterless frenching including using wire cutting, ice jet cutting and robotic knives.
These have all had a level of success but none to date have resulted in a commercial product offering.
Start the day with all the big news in agriculture! Sign up below to receive our daily Farmonline newsletter.