Perfect trim: X-ray fat analysis used for automatic bin sorting at FPL Food, USA

4. Dec, 2018
See how the MeatMaster™ measures fat content in portions of beef trimming for automatic sorting into batches according to predetermined fat content.

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We travelled to Georgia, USA to talk to Tyler Randolph at FPL Food about their experiences with FOSS MeatMaster

Can you introduce us to FPL Food
Tyler Randolph: FPL Food is one of the largest beef processors in the Southeast. Here in the FPL facility in Augusta, Georgia, we're a slaughter plant, so we are taking the cows and then basically our export is combos of trim meat. The lean pieces of meat have much higher value. You can sell it for more than the fat pieces, and so our goal was that we wanted to be able to make more of the lean combos, which is 2,000 pounds worth of meat and less of the fat combos because we want to be able to optimise the value of the meat.

FPL Food went searching for a solution to optimise the value of the meat
We did a lot of investigation to find out if there was anybody out there that was doing this process. For our process, we have a very high volume of trim, but one of the big things is that the pieces of trim come from anywhere. That's from very small bits and pieces all the way up to 50-pound single chunks, a very large variation in size. At the time, we couldn't find anybody that had this as an off-the-shelf product that could do what we really needed in the space and the budget we wanted. FPL internally designed this trim management system, and we then needed to find partners that could actually turn this high-level design into reality.


We did a lot of investigation on different fat analysis processes that are in-line, both NIR and X-ray, we did a lot of on-site testing and came to the conclusion that the FOSS MeatMaster II was going to be able to give us the best performance for application. When it came down to the sorting and the actual material handling, conveyors, and all that side of it, we partnered with Friesens.
It was very much a team collaboration between three different companies, FPL, Friesens, and FOSS to bring this together and to really iron out all the little details. The trim management system is split up into two pieces, and they're essentially a mirror image of themselves. What happens is that a random flow of meat is coming from our trim tables and then that goes on to two different conveyors that basically stage the meat up, and it pours then on to a scale conveyor.


What happens at the scale conveyor is that the Friesen system is essentially accumulating a certain amount of meat to create a clump, and then once we hit that clump weight, about 20 pounds, 30 pounds, 40 pounds—it's user-definable—that clump is then sequenced through the MeatMaster II. Then those clumps go on to a long sort-away conveyor where the paddles are sweeping those clumps into the different combos that the sorting algorithm, developed by FPL and Friesens, has deemed as the best match for that meat. I've seen the system supporting up to 60,000 pounds of trim an hour.


Another important feature to this is that there is a platform that is walking in between the two sorting lines, and we have an operator up there who is making sure all the sorting is happening smoothly. One of the advantages that we have found with this, is the fact that our floor supervisor has real-time information, showing exactly what's coming through his trim line. He's actually using that information to change how he’s trimming the meat on the fly, and that real-time information has had huge effects on our bottom line, of being able to really get the best value out of the meat we have.


One of the big things that we've kind of learned from using the MeatMaster II and some of the reasons that we've gone over to using the X-ray, is that we can do 100% inspection of the meat for chemical lean. That basically eliminates all the sampling error that's associated with trying to determine what the chemical lean of a 2,000-pound combo of meat is because even one point of lean difference has a lot of money associated with that.

Are you happy with the result?
Since the installation of the MeatMaster II and the Friesens equipment, it has held up very, very well in the full wash down and all the harsh environments. Our maintenance guys can break it down in just a few minutes. There is a really convenient cart that all the parts come right off of the MeatMaster to, they go onto the cart that keeps it from getting damaged, makes it easy to clean. Our sanitation department loves the equipment, very happy on how easy it is to clean and how well it's holding up.


This is definitely a methodology that can be used in very different applications similar to the meat, for anyone who really is interested in being able to sort things in a real-time way and be able to really care about the accuracy and the numbers. FPL has been very happy with the performance and accuracy of the MeatMaster II, and our tests at the very beginning had validated versus the lab results, very happy with its repeatability and accuracy which is better than the advertised value. Now that we've gone to using the MeatMaster II, we're not going to be able to go back.


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