As part of the MLA/MWNZ joint eating quality program, several R&D prototypes were trialled so as to stretch primals in order to improve eating quality (see the SmartStretch R&D reporting).
Despite extensive testing in numerous production environments, MLA was unable to consistently improve eating quality in all cases, with eating quality improvements restricted to only some primal types.
During production trials of the SmartStretch machine a commercial opportunity was identified in the shaping of primals, regardless of any improvement in eating quality. This ocurred because stretched meat held tightly for more than 12 hours in a package will retain its share even when removed from a bag.
This has the following advantages:Portion controlMore attractive plate presentationAbility to provide standarised sizes for the food service industry
Extensive industry consultation and product trials were funded, as well as a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis process. The technology is branded as SmartShape, and the current shaping machine is licensed to a manufacturer in New Zealand.
Several units have been sold to processors in Australia and overseas.
However, it is unlikely that there will be much further commercial adoption of this technology until the following is addressed:Machine throughput is increased to 4-6 primals per minute.Labour requirements are reduced via further automation such as automated feed in and feed out and auto bagging (currently being trialled via a prototype).Lower machine cost via a revised machine design and some value engineering.
Further development of the technology
Current machine throughput is around 2-3 primals per minute, and various projects have explored increasing this speed via either add-ons (such as automated bag feeders) or an improved machine design. Under project P.PSH.0602, a horizontal design was put forward utilizing the flow through principal to speed up production rates and two methods of feeding this horizontal version were developed. One feed system used a "spoon" type feeder to place the meat portions into the compression rubber, the other used a continuous belt feeder to transport the portions into the compression rubber. A horizontal system was built and fitted with each of the above feed systems, but provided limited throughput and packaging benefits. No further work was carried out on this design.
Several other shaping machine designs have been considered, but none of these have progressed to a prototype stage.