QMS research project installs robotics into abattoir

A cutting-edge robot has been installed at meat processing plant Scotbeef, as part of an ongoing research project into measuring meat quality.

The research, which was funded by Quality Meat Scotland and the Scottish Government, forms part of the Integrated Measurement of Eating Quality (IMEQ) project. Now in its second year, it is being led by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and other partners.

After a series of off-line trials, the robotic system has been installed in the meat processing plant in order to test the machine’s technical robustness and how it can be developed for integration into the processing line.

The cutting-edge technology is being used to determine carcase pH, temperature and surface-based ultrasound probes at certain positions on the carcase. It uses a robotic manipulator with novel camera technology and special end-of-arm tools. The camera scans the carcase and generates an automatic three-dimensional contour map, which allows the robot to guide the pH/temperature probe to the target muscle in the half-carcase online.

Professor Charlotte Maltin, science and innovation manager at QMS, said: “The red meat industry could benefit by up to £5m a year, based on current prices and throughput levels, as a result of added revenue and efficiency gains generated by the future commercialisation of this type of automated approach.”

“As well as improving efficiency in the processing sector, the research could provide a wealth of important information to producers.

“Farmers should be able to harness this information to improve their business efficiency and adopt the best management systems to produce beef of a consistently high eating quality.”

Dave Ross, research engineer, sustainable livestock systems group, SAC, said: “During the course of this summer and autumn, the automation system and sensors will be used in real-time research to assess the overall performance of the system in measuring meat and carcase quality related parameters.”

In the current abattoir studies, the automation is focusing on pH and temperature measurements and the development of the ultrasound probe, but work on semi-automatic and automatic means of measuring pH, temperature, meat colour, carcase fat, eating and nutritional qualities is also under way. IMEQ examines integrating these measurements with video image analysis (VIA) technologies into a new process for use on the line in abattoirs, leading to a system that is faster, less labour-intensive and less expensive.

The project is initially focusing on beef, but the technology will be extended to lamb and pork at a later date.

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