Tyson Bets On Robots To Tackle Meat Industry’s Worker Shortage

Meat consumption needs to go way down but this could protect many workers – but will cut employment too. Eat more plants!

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At Tyson’s 26,000-square-foot, multi-million dollar Manufacturing Automation Center near its headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, the company will apply the latest advances in machine learning to meat manufacturing, with the goal of eventually eliminating jobs that can be physically demanding, highly repetitive and at times dangerous. Bloomberg reports: Advances in technology are making it possible to make strides in automation. For example, machine vision is now accurate and speedy enough to apply to meat production, which is highly labor intensive compared with other food manufacturing. Also, a lot of washing and sanitizing occurs in a meat-packing plant, which has traditionally been difficult on robots, but now the machines are built to withstand that. At Tyson’s new facility, a series of laboratories showcase different types of robots. Mechanical arms in glass cases use smart cameras to sort colorful objects or stack items. In another room, a larger machine called a palletizer performs stacking tasks. There’s also a training space.

Many of the types of robots that a meatpacking plant would need are not on the market currently, so the company needs to innovate and collaborate with partners to create them, said Doug Foreman, a director in engineering at Tyson. But the technology is ready. The processing capabilities of cameras are “so advanced even from a few years ago,” Foreman said. “Processing-speed-wise, it’s there now for us.”

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