Back to R&D main

RTL Beef and Lamb Market Readiness

Project start date: 05 January 2010
Project end date: 29 August 2013
Publication date: 01 August 2010
Project status: Terminated
Livestock species: Sheep
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (2.5 MB)


Robotic Technologies (RTL) in conjunction with several other stakeholders including Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and a New Zealand lamb processing company  have been developing automated lamb boning equipment.  The overall vision is developing a fully automated process from the chiller exit through to the packaged product. The development has been occurring in stages/modules starting from the chiller output.
One of the modules is named LEAP III and is an automated lamb primal cutting system guided with the use of x-ray technology.
The solution required three major components:sensing or scanning equipment to accurately identify cutting linestransfer mechanisms to take a carcase from the chain, clamp it and hold itautomated cutting set up to accurately separate carcases, along the cutting lines previously defined, into forequarter, middle and hindquarter
The forequarter and middle can be loaded onto conveyors for downstream processing by a LEAP IV and LEAP V module. The hindquarters would be automatically transferred to another line or an integrated boning machine (LEAP II)
Research (first prototype at CRF)
The first version of the LEAP III system  went into production in 2006 at CRF Colac, but without x-ray visioning to position the cutting lines (projects P.PSH.0364,  P.PSH.0202, P.PSH.0146). This approach did not provide the accuracy, yield benefits or reliability expected and was removed from operation in 2009.The difficulties encountered by CRF includedinefficiency in manual sensing. With the absence of an automated measuring system, the CRF system was not able to run consistently at 10 carcases per minute, thus limiting its potential. It was necessary to have a person dedicated to the measuring task, which increased the running cost of the equipment. Furthermore, with human input comes human error, and with production speed pressures this was to the detriment of carcase yield, not to mention machine wear and failure due to unnecessary "bone-strike".forequarter splintering. While the blade system employed on the CRF machine was very effective at cutting between ribs when accurately positioned, the lower forequarter cutting positions in particular resulted in bone splinter on the blade bone. This was overcome at CRF using a blade set with more of a saw profile than the original knifing unit. The drawback of this was yield loss due to sawdust.machine degradation. CRF was the first plant that tried to run LEAP III consistently in a commercial environment, as part of its day to day operations. Being an early prototype, the CRF system suffered a number of general mechanical and electrical reliability issues, in particular the ones derived from material fatigue and design for durability. Many of these were solved over time. However a number still persisted and although resolved on the next iterations of the machine design, they required major design changes.
While unsuccessful, this project provided extremely valuable knowledge, allowing Scott Technology to revise and enhance the design of the system and implement multiple improvements.
The original concept relied on robots performing the cuts but that was changed to a linear system, and the CRF prototype was based on two towers with a guillotine system each. Design improvements continued with one of the main changes developed being the use of rotary blades instead of a guillotine in the first tower where the forequarter is separated from the rest of the carcase. This improvement is now part of the LEAP III Primal Cutting system currently offered commercially.
Subsequent facilitated adoption
An improved system with full x-ray visioning was then successfully installed in New Zealand and used as a basis for an improved Australian LEAP III design.
The first successful Australian LEAP III ovine primal cutter (including x-ray) was installed in late 2011 under project P.PSH.0574 by Scott Technology at the Australian Lamb Company (ALC).  Since installation the ALC system has processed over 350,000 head in the first five months with less than four hours of downtime.
The system conducts two automated cuts separating the shoulder and barrel, and separating the barrel and legs.The installation has been operating successfully at commercial line speeds for a number of months and the ex-post analysis demonstrated a net benefit of between $1.32-$1.49 per carcase. Current performance represents a return on investment in close to 1 year.
A second LEAP III system was installed at JBS as part of a larger LEAP III and LEAP IV integrated system (P.PIP.0327).
A third LEAP III system is currently being installed at at Colac (now under the ownership of ALC), as a replacement for the previously unsuccessful CRF early prototype system. This facilitated adoption P.PIP.0352 project will be the third and final demonstration & optimisation site of this technology.
Various ex ante cost/benefit analyses (CBAs) have also been completed.  These include the following.
Ex ante CBA in 2010 (project P.PSH.0539). $1.78 to $1.86 per head net benefit.Ex ante and ex post CBA in 2012 (project P.PSH.0574) comparing predicted benefits in a New Zealand LEAP III site to the actual performance at an Australian processor.Ex post CBA in 2013 (P.PIP.0327) at an Australian processor showed $1.32 to $1.49 per head net benefit.
All CBA results have been conservatively adjusted to remove plant specific, commercially sensitive data and hence actual results observed at individual plants may differ from those reported.
Supporting activities included a LEAP animation film to explain how a LEAP system would operate (P.PSH.0394).
LEAP III x-ray systems now installed at three large Australian processors are showing excellent financial returns to their organisations.  The system is now considered fully commercial and has been integrated with other LEAP modules such as the LEAP IV system.
Some initial intellectual property costs were co-funded under project A.PNT.0103, but these are now being met by the commercialiser, Scott Technology Australia.

More information

Project manager: George Waldthausen
Primary researcher: Greenleaf Enterprises Pty Ltd