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Aug 6, 2014

Problems with Vision Systems and Grading Quality Beef

In the meat industry, new methods are being invented regularly to deal with the conflict between increasing production volume and quality control (QC). Vision systems in particular are on the cutting edge of quality control measures.

Vision System

Vision Tracking System with Camera and Light

A vision system can do any number of things, but generally, they use a camera to take images of a product and make a QC decision based on a physical trait. Because they are based entirely on images, they can run into problems with lighting and color.

carcass tracking

To demonstrate these problems, we could consider the example of grading a beef carcass based on the quality of the ribeye cut. The ribeye is used to grade the whole carcass by industry and USDA standards, so this is an important process.

There are a number of different properties to look for when grading the ribeye. Fat content/marbling is an important factor in choosing whether the meat can be considered prime, choice, or select. For certain cattle, like the renowned Kobe, this is especially important for getting top dollar.

Fat detection can be harder than one would think, as it takes precise lighting, camera angle, and camera quality. The system needs to be able to pick it up and try to match it with a database of accepted images to see which image most closely resembles it and what grade that image ultimately was assigned. This image computation happens very quickly and can be automatic.

carcass tracking

If the lighting in the area is dim or in a certain hue, the color contrast between meat and fat can be dulled, making it difficult for a system to pick up. To solve this, some places use ultra-violet (UV) light because it makes the color white pop out in great contrast. However, other colors may be harder to determine when UV is used. The right type of lighting depends largely on the tests needing to be made.

If a test for color is required, you must use some sort of light that is very color neutral and provides high contrast. With the ribeye, this can estimate the redness of the meat to assure that the carcass is healthy and fresh. The only trouble is that color can be deceiving in certain circumstances. If a beef carcass hasn’t been exposed to the air long enough after being opened up, its meat will have a much darker hue which could be misleading to the vision system if the carcasses passed through QC too early.

Installing a vision system takes very careful and precise planning, but when all of the bugs have been worked out, it can be an invaluable asset to any plant.

Trolley Vision RF System

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May 19, 2014

Problems with Vision Systems and Ham Inspection

Vision systems are helpful in the sense that they allow you to do visual checks automatically without employee inspection, but they can be difficult to set up ideally.

carcass tracking with Trolley Vision

Trolley Vision System with Camera and Light

As an example, we could see how a vision system might apply to selection of hams. When cutting the pig into its individual components, the ham is typically cut right above a joint where the aitchbone is located. The distance from the cut to the aitchbone relates directly to the diameter of the ham bone at the cut. This can be used to make a general comparison of ham sizes.


The five different muscle groups in a ham can be used for a variety of things. Certain sized hams get put into machines that cut them into spiral cut hams and some are sold as whole hams.

To categorize each ham for the proper use, weight and size are needed. This could be done with the combination of conveyor scale and vision system. While the ham crosses over the conveyor scale, a camera can look at the cross section to detect the size of the bone.

trolley vision

This is where the process can become difficult. Vision systems can run into problems with lighting and color that you might not encounter with human handling. For example, a dirty bulb which discolors the light could in turn discolor the meat for the camera. This makes it very tough for the camera to identify things correctly because vision systems compare the product to a number of acceptable images to justify what range the product falls into.

trolley vision

On the color side of things, the process can become difficult based on where the ham was cut. The vision system detects pixels that vary from the red hue of the meat in order to find the bone, but the color of the bone isn’t always pronounced. If the bone is cut in such a way that it is less visible, the vision system could miss the bone entirely as the marrow itself often contains colors similar to the ham.

While this operation has a lot of potential, it requires that the cutting of hams be precise for bone visibility and that lighting be optimized. On the other hand, a human could spot the bone fairly easily after a little examination. This shows that both human estimation and machine vision have a place. Vision systems have the power to greatly speed up certain processes, but the current technology for them does much better with well-defined trait differences. Feel free to ask questions about some of the processes that machine vision could be beneficial for.

Trolley Vision for Tracking Carcasses

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Jan 20, 2014

Machine Vision Inspection and Automated Weighing

In recent years, packaging equipment has been increasing in throughput to the point that it is not feasible to have someone manually inspect your products with satisfactory results.

carcass grading

Operator grading carcasses via a touchscreen

Line speeds have just become too fast. There fore  you are left with two choices. The first is to inspect a random sampling of your products and hope that it is representative of all the rest. The second choice is to inspect each and every single product that goes across the production line with the use of a machine vision inspection system that does not get fatigued or whose decisions won’t change based on the mood it is in. A machine vision inspection system will inspect every single product that goes across the production line based on the same criteria every time!

Machine vision technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, bringing the price down, while at the same time increasing its capabilities. We have been in the machine vision business for more than 20 years. That allows us to bring some options to the table that other suppliers cannot.

carcass grading

Carcass Grading Software Images

Paired with our expertise in the automated weighing field, we can combine aspects of automated weighing and machine vision to provide you with a checkweigher that can also do vision inspection. Let’s use a frozen pizza manufacturer for an example. Today, they are making sausage pizzas, and in order to be in tolerance, a sausage pizza is to weigh between 450 and 465 grams. Our checkweighers can easily determine if this pizza is in spec as far as weight, and so can many other manufacturers. But, how many of those other manufacturers can also assure you that the sausage pizza is in a sausage pizza box and not a pepperoni pizza box, and that the barcode on the box can be read by a scanner? We can also protect your brand by making sure that all the colors are absolutely correct and that images are not blurred.

Another good application where machine vision and scales work well together is in an environment where several different products are produced at the same time. This may require more than one checkweigher to run the different products or an operator to be stationed at the checkweigher to change the product number as the different products come to the scale. When coupled with a good machine vision system, the system could be trained to automatically change the parameters in the checkweigher.

By putting these two inspection systems together, you really get a complete inspection system that has many benefits. Because the two systems will share some common components like conveyors and controllers, you will wind up with a much smaller footprint saving some valuable floor space, and costs can be brought way down due to eliminating the redundancy in components.

Carcass Grading Brochure

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May 10, 2013

Grade Yield Program for Small Plants Without Software Programmers

The plant manager of a small-sized hog slaughter facility wanted to implement a Grade Yield Program.

Among his goals were to reward producers for animals that fit the ideal weight range, while avoiding the problem of trimming a bad shoulder or loin on an over-weight animal, only to have that animal wrongly qualify for a premium pay out.

But like so many operations today, this plant manager’s IT department consisted of someone who could keep the copy machines and personal computers running.

Pork Carcass Grading System on a Touchscreen HMI

Pork Carcass Grading System on a Touchscreen HMI

Software programmers are simply too expensive for most small to medium sized operations to keep on staff.

That’s where we came in.

Our Programming Services Department gave this plant the ability to document which part or parts of the animal were condemned and trimmed with a keyboard entry near and interfaced to the Hot Scale.

This program prevents undeserving animals from backing into the Premium Payment category.

Additionally, it gives the producers a clear explanation for the payment they received and does so on all of the different contracts that the plant has with its various producers.

The producers have told the plant manager how much they appreciate the clear reports.

carcass grading

Operator viewing Carcass Grading Software Screen

Now everybody knows and understands their payments and the plant is more efficient.

While we deal with all sizes and needs of plants, often our talents can be most utilized in some smaller plants.

The industry knowledge coupled with system manufacturing, and system adaptability allow us to customize the solution to each application.

Ask us how our staff of full time software programmers can help your plant run more efficiently!

Carcass Grading

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May 8, 2013

Monorail Carcass Grading / Monorail Human Machine Interface (HMI)

In today’s protein harvest facilities, efficiency is the key to profitability.

With most beef, pork and lamb companies any automation has the potential to be major improvement.

One such improvement is the monorail touch screen carcass grading Human Machine Interface or HMI. This is where worker visually inspects the carcass and inputs that information to the HMI. This process streamlines paperwork and has the ability to reduce labor.

Pork Carcass Grading System on a Touchscreen HMI

Pork Carcass Grading System on a Touchscreen HMI

Carcass grading is the process of assigning a quality grade and or yield to a carcass as it passes by a quality control inspector. The software involved in the HMI allows a quality control inspector to look at the carcass as it in front of them and translate what they see to the touchscreen where an electronic carcass is displayed showing colored and different shaped zones or areas of the carcass to grade.  Simplifying this process reduces human error and improves productivity.

carcass grading using a touchscreen HMI

Operator grading carcasses using a Touchscreen HMI

Information from the HMI touch screen for that particular carcass is then interfaced with other programs for data collection and report generation including information like loss data, weight, lot number and other valuable information including the grade and yield of the carcass.  The grading software can be programmed for standard applications or modified for custom grading needs.

The touch screen carcass grading software and HMI automation system is easy to use and allows quality control to have a tool in improving a company’s bottom line.

Pork Carcass Grading

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