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Hook assist Development Phase 3a ('Cobotics')

Project start date: 15 January 2009
Project end date: 15 June 2011
Publication date: 01 October 2006
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Sheep, Goat, Lamb, Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: National
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Manual assist devices are designed to assist rather than replace manual labour in processing plants by reducing the forces required to carry out certain tasks on the slaughter floor, boning room or other processor related areas.  
A major focus is in beef tasks which requires the butcher or boner to apply force to the product or cut being prepared to separate it from the carcase.  This repetitive and physically arduous task gives rise to workplace health concerns and can limit the career of highly skilled staff.
Benefits of these devices include improvements in OH&S as well in an increase in processing yield for some of these technologies.
MLA has co-funded several technology options in this area, ranging from simple, low cost devices to sophisticated exo-skeleton type systems.
Research & development (beef boning)
Key technologies funded include:

In 1994,  the Carni Liberator System from Proman Technology AB from Sweden was funded by the Meat Research Corporation and introduced in 1992 to facilitate the assessment of the benefits and efficiencies when compared with conventional boning chains. This technology was assessed in project M.284 as well as under PIP.054A in 2004.
Aitch bone puller (Proman) Teys knuckle puller (A.PIA.0124, P.PSH.0378, P.PSH.0487). These customized aitch bone pulling systems were developed in conjunction with a Swedish company called Proman. The system consists of a sophisticated drive mechanism that operates an arm that provides a power stroke.  The end of the arm has a chain with a hook that attaches to the aitch bone.   The system is controlled and operated by a PLC which has different settings and can be adjusted to provide up to three phases of different power and speed settings during the pull cycle. The hook is attached to the aitch bone, the pull cycle on the equipment is activated, and as the aitch bone is removed the boner marks with a knife to assist removal.  
Scott Technology knuckle and aitch bone puller (A.PIA.0120, A.PIA.0124, A.PIA.0130, A.TEC.0048, P.COM.0123, P.PIP.0227, P.PSH.0286, P.PSH.0335, P.PSH.0359, P.PSH.0454, P.PSH.0614, A.TEC.0079). Scott Technology pioneered a number of manual assistance aids in the form of power or pneumatically assisted arms, which can be guided by the operator with minimal effort yet can delivery the required forces.  Investigation has indicated substantial benefits the red meat supply chain with improved yield and reduced workplace injury.  The manual assist devices allow the operator to take more care in precision cutting rather than a focus on applying the required pulling force, and this improved productivity performance was found to continue across the whole working shift.  A number of projects developed the sophisticated power assist mechanisms and controls, cost benefit analysis, and in-plant development activities. It was designed for the removal of aitch bones from the hindquarter but can also be used for the removal of knuckle bones. It consists of a roof‐mounted pneumatic ram with a connected arm that has 2 horizontal pivot points. Boners place the hook on the aitch bone, and using a thumb control value activate the ram to provide downward force on the aitch bone as it is pulled away from the hind quarter while marking with a knife in the other hand.
Hookassist/Scribe assist (PRTEC.033, A.CIS.0020, A.COM.0143, A.OHS.0042;A.OHS.0046, A.OHS.0050, A.OHS.0059, A.PIA.0109, A.TEC.0087, P.COM.0149, P.PIP.0301, P.PSH.0527). This was a far more sophisticated manual assist device than the Scott Technology knuckle and aitch bone puller, suited for a wider variety of potential tasks. The HookAssist system platform (based on Cobotics™), was developed to a prototype system by  KineaDesign in Chicago, then transferred to Scott Technology for further trials and development.Cold rib deboning (P.PIP.0229). The de-boning of beef ribs is an important step in the beef boning room and the manual process is repetitive and physically arduous. This project developed a novel solution to assist operators with a mechanical aid.Cold rib deboning/fleecing operator aid. As part of the multiple industry workshops undertaken by MLA, it was identified that if the beef gambrel/hook could be removed from the slaughter insert location and relocated into a nearby location on entering the boning room, additional product could be recovered for sale.
Preliminary trials at NCMC showedn that on average 170 grams of meat can be recovered and sold as tendon meat and 150 grams can be recovered and sold as trim per side. This equates to 640 grams per body processed. These 640 grams currently is sent to render.

Although due to the increased forces of this application compared to the aitch boning project (whole carcase side rather than a cut of meat) required the use of hydraulics rather than pneumatics, which then incorporated additional complexities pertaining to not being able to locate the cylinder in the product room, the project team utilised the learnings from earlier manual assist work, especially the control mechanism.

The project was designed to follow the same successful approach used by the first aitchbone developments.
• Phase 1 – Multiple paper sketches and designs.
• Phase 2 – Preferred sketches and designs are built with simple and cheap materials (agricultural prototype) [multiple iterations may be required).
• Phase 3 – Detailed design and costing of preferred solution (includes pre-project cost benefit analysis).

After the development of initial designs, proof of concept device tests, and some work on costings, the project team recommended termination of the initiative based on cost benefit, complexity, and other limitations to the design and later successful commercialisation. Early termination was accepted by MLA as appropriate so as not to lock up resources which could otherwise be more gainfully engaged.
Research & development (miscellaneous manual assist)
Key technologies funded include:EZI-LIFT lifting solution (P.PIP.0250). This development evaluated the use of material handling equipment in the demanding meat processing environment.Modifications to JBS IMS  K6D-A Knuckle Puller (project P.PIP.0301).In 2002, project P.PIP.0018 investigated the use of a sternum hook as a simple, inexpensive alternative to the use of electric back-stiffening probes during downward hide pulling.Under project P.PIP.0390, JBS evaluated the Torras carcass lifter for lifting and or pulling applications for:Beef quarter lifting (dock, load out and relocate from boning room to load out)Whole lamb carcasesPulling beef knuckles, aitchbone and large hind and forequarter cutsProject P.PSH.-958 Lift assist and manoevring prototype feasibiity. Terminated - solution although capable and well designed would not be fully effective or commercially viable in the meat lumping role.
Support projects
Support projects included multiple cost/benefit analyses (included under the appropriate technologies) as well as the following:Meat lumping review (A.TEC.0103). This developed an industry best practice guide that summarised the available technologies, systems, practices, and the use of these in relation to manual handling of meat and meat lumping.
The Carni Liberator is no longer in widespread use, having been replaced by either Proman and Scott Technology knuckle and aitch bone systems,  The latter are commercially available and have demonstrated high yield and OH&S benefits.
Development of the more sophisticated Hookassist technology has been placed on hold while a full cost/benefit analysis and market assessment is completed.

More information

Project manager: David Doral
Primary researcher: Kinea Design LLC 00974838