Smart Production

Building a new meat processing facility? Here are some essential tips

4 Minutes

Are you building a new meat processing facility or modernizing your plant? Then you may have many questions. One that I often hear from my customers is: What do I need to consider with regard to digitization? In this blog article, I will summarize my most important tips.

Get an overview of relevant KPIs

As a decision-maker, you know as well as I do that you can only manage what you measure. The Management Cockpit is the heart of your new facility. In cutting, in production or at the warehouse - the right measures and KPIs are essential prerequisites for monitoring the performance, identifying problems and taking direct action in order to optimize your business processes.

What you need is hard facts such as gross margins, pre- and post-calculations, sales figures. Do you obtain this information at the press of a button? If so, you can respond more accurately and more calmly to changes in the raw material markets. Only recently, the African swine fever made us aware of the severe consequences from a cutback in raw materials: suddenly, even well-positioned businesses were under enormous pressure due to the substantial increase in pig prices.

Capture data consistently at your meat processing facility

Why can some meat companies draw on better data than others can? I believe it is the data capture that makes the difference. The more consistent the input of process and operational data, the better! First of all, the IT systems and, in particular, the ERP system need to be filled with data, starting from raw material supply up to the dispatch of the finished products. Only in the next steps, can you and your managers benefit from meaningful figures. This transparency gain will help you to get more out of your processes and products. The underlying assumption is that even marginal gains, i.e. minimal profits in single areas, in aggregate can have maximal effects, as the following simple graphic shows.

A concrete practical example: By merely integrating the scales in its ERP system, American meat company Square-H Brands was able to establish more accurate reporting, make smarter decisions and - according to CEO Noah Haskell - save plenty of money: “Thousands of dollars every month, because we found our give-away weight was much more substantial then what we were estimating. This enabled us to act on it.”


Marginal Gains

Software first: prioritize the information technology

As shown in the two previous points, collaboration with the right IT partner is of strategic importance if you want to realize your planned profit increase with your new meat processing facility. In the digital age, building a new plant is also always an IT project. If you make the wrong choice now, you will find it hard to rectify it later on. Replacing a machine may be comparatively easy. But it would be more complex with an ERP system, which deeply affects the processes and the core of meat processing facilities. Apropos ERP selection: In our blog, we have published two articles on how to choose the right ERP software and which requirements it needs to fulfill.

8 key criteria for choosing an ERP-System for the food industry

ERP software in food companies: Tips for the selection  

Integrate automation and robot technologies

Today, modern automation solutions are the cornerstones of the smart meat factory. I, therefore, follow up closely on the trends especially in intralogistics. Many meat and logistics companies have set groundbreaking standards, in particular for automated production and packing lines, semi-automated picking systems, automatic depalletizers, sorters as well as high-bay storage facilities for pallets or single crates. ­­

Look at the numerous meat factories supplying trade, like the EDEKA plant in Rheinstetten. When it opened in 2012, even industry experts were surprised by its high degree of automation and its high performance. Today, eight years later, the bare figures are still quite impressive:

  • Supply to about 1,100 EDEKA markets every day
  • Production and picking volume of 650 tons per day
  • 100,000 picks per hour
  • 800 employees
  • 2,500 sales items

Set the course for future technologies like AI

Another important aspect relates to future technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Or brain interfaces where users control the machines with their mind. Especially in the field of AI, a lot has been going on lately. Some manufacturers have started testing the technology. I think that sooner or later, this will become the norm. Take, for example, today's image processing systems: they are based on projects from over 20 years ago.

Therefore, it is very important that you create the general conditions for the future at your new plant. If you design your facility in such a way that it can be adapted to new solutions, it will be faster and easier to introduce future technologies.

Digitization of meat processing facilities is necessary

Digitizing your meat plant is not only possible and sensible, it is absolutely necessary for the economic viability. Building a new plant or modernizing an existing one - there are some key factors you should consider. Take a pragmatic and visionary approach to your project, because digitization and automation will:

  • reduce the production costs due to higher efficiency and more directly available data,
  • increase the productivity with unchanged resource use,
  • improve the quality by eliminating errors.

Feel free to download the related white paper to find out more about the key success factor.