Sheep processing takes another LEAP forward

05 December 2018

The latest innovation in automated sheep processing has been installed at two Australian processing plants to further improve carcase value, increase processing efficiencies and deliver operator safety.

The LEAP V automated bone-in forequarter processing module is now operating at Victorian plants, Wagstaff Cranbourne and JBS Brooklyn.

A world-first, the system uses a 3D-vision camera to scan each forequarter, creating a virtual model and identifying cut locations for optimal carcase value and consistency. A robotic arm then grasps the forequarter and uses a bandsaw to make the precise cuts.

It’s the third module to be launched in the LEAP suite of automated technologies, joining the LEAP III primal cutter and the LEAP IV middle system, developed as a result of long-term collaboration between the MLA Donor Company (MDC), Scott Automation & Robotics, and processors.

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) Value Chain Technology Program Manager, Christian Ruberg, said the lamb forequarter is an important component of the carcase requiring a series of bandsaw cuts to separate the neck and shanks to produce the square‑cut shoulder portions.

“At processing line speed in the lamb boning room, this is a repetitive and physically demanding task,” Mr Ruberg said.

“The fully automated cutting solution features the flexibility of a robot and servo motor-controlled bandsaw, capable of processing the main bone-in cuts of the carcase forequarter including knuckle tip removal, neck cuts, shank and brisket removal and vertebrae splitting.

“While the other modules feature specifically built automation for high reliability and throughput, the LEAP V utilises robotic flexible automation, in which the robot can not only compensate for variable carcase sizes, but also manage variable cutting requirements or specifications.

“Again, this is a world-first in meat processing technology, and adds additional value in productivity, processing at five carcases a minute.”

Wagstaff Cranbourne has installed one LEAP V machine to manage cycle speed, while three have been installed at JBS’s Brooklyn plant to process 10 carcases per minute.

The technology further adds to the LEAP series of modules, designed to deliver a more consistent product, increase workplace safety by separating the operator from the cutting blade and contribute to labour efficiencies.

Mr Ruberg said the LEAP suite’s development was an example of MDC’s ability to address market failure.

“Automation and its associated production efficiencies are very important to the competitiveness of Australian value chains, but processors have limited technical resources to tackle this complexity and risk, while technology suppliers have limited resources due to the limited market for this specialised equipment,” Mr Ruberg said.

“The MDC partnership model is critical in addressing this market failure by pooling processor and technology provider with available MDC research and development funds, and managing risks.

“No producer levies are used in MDC projects – instead it matches Australian Government funds with voluntary investment from commercial partners.”

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