Most meat processing industries will gladly adapt products and processes to new requirements and volumes.

There is a strong tendency for complete shelves with a wide variety of meat products at fixed prices per tray. Consumers buy according to an available budget, rather than volume or weight.

Most meat processing industries are following this trend. Suppliers of meat products to large hotel chains are one example: Chefs grill meat products to predetermined temperatures and timing. This requires fixed weight products. Meat for ready meals, where microwave time is indicated, must be within small tolerances of weight variations. Another example is identical portions for airline catering. Large industrial kitchens also benefit from using fixed weight portions. It is up to meat suppliers to fulfil these demands. In a more mechanised environment, companies often struggle to find skilled people. There are machines available that can cut most meat products to fixed thickness, weight or a combination of both, such as the Portio portion cutter. Supplied through Marelec Food Technologies and distributed through DFS Process Solutions, it offers quick economic returns.This is due to high capacities, accuracy and a significant increase in yield. It is estimated that one portion cutter can replace up to six manual workers.

Portion cutter efficiency is based on scanning technology. Products are placed on the infeed belt and move through a laser line, following the product’s contour. A high-speed camera takes 150 images per second of the changing laser line. Utilising software, it transforms into a 3D object. In combination with weight and density, the machine knows exactly where to cut.

The shape of the product determines whether one or three cameras are used. A top mounted camera is sufficient for flat products. To have an accurate image on more rounded and irregular products, it is necessary to look from the sides. In this case, cameras are mounted on the left and right-hand sides.
For the machine to identify the density of products, it is enough that it scans and weighs three different pieces. The machine will calculate density and keep it in its memory bank. Every time this product needs to be portioned, the density will be taken from the memory programme and production can start. In case the density varies substantially between products, an infeed weighing unit can be connected. This is the case for smoked products such as bacon, where fat content differs between products. With this infeed weighing unit in line, the weight of individual pieces are taken. Density is automatically adjusted to obtain optimum accuracy.
Technology ensures very precise weight portions. Depending on the product, manufacturers can confirm precision of up to two grams (standard deviation) on weight portions below 150g.
Intelligent software helps to increase yields. Software allows conditional programmes to cut different portions infunction of the size and/or weight of the primary product.
Portio aims at minimising by-products. Allowing a certain margin on the target weight ensures that there is minimal waste. Field trials have proven yield increase from one up to 10 per cent. Ease of operation of the portion cutter is essential. This allows the operator to fine-tune programmes for optimum yield. Another advantage is that the machine can cut different sizes or weights out of
primary products. The machine will instantly calculate how to divide the product into multiples of the requested weights. Only sellable steaks are cut, with minimum trim or give away. To bring the steaks of equal weights back together, a grader in line with the portion cutter will group the portions into batches.

Technology allows the processing of very high volumes where the limiting factor becomes the off-loading of the portions rather than the speed needed to cut the products. With the knife rotating at speeds up to 17.5 cuts per second, capacities of 1 600kg/hour are reached. This can be doubled if a machine with a dual lane is used. In this case, two independent infeed belts, each with their own controller run in the same body. To portion different kinds of products, different knives are used. Softer meat types utilise thin knives of 1.5mm. Two-millimetre knives and heavy-duty knives are used for harder or thicker products. To maintain health and safety, CIP functionality can be switched on when changing between products. Knives rotate in a closed protected cabinet. This increases operator safety. Doors are equipped with safety switches that disconnect the main power from the knife until all doors are properly closed. For poultry processing, units can change the cutting angle over 30° or 45° from its vertical position. This results in a fixed weight portion, while keeping the natural shape of the product.

Editorial featured in SA Food Review April 2017 issue

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