If you read the first part of this blog, we left off where the use of a tracking system should ideally start and discussed the different systems available to you. Now we’ll continue through the rest of the operation, so you can see which tracking methods might benefit you the best.
After the animal is knocked or stunned, it is possible to use our Trolley Vision® system with a beef shackle trolley to follow the whole carcass, but these plants often have a smaller number of heavy beef shackles that are constantly reused throughout a day. In effect, this ruins the point of having unique trolley IDs. At this point, distance-based encoding might suffice until the carcass is moved onto beef trolleys.
What this means is that Trolley Vision® is best started after the first and second leg stations. After the animal is bled and cleaned, the first leg station pulls back the hide on the unshackled leg and mounts it to the first beef trolley. The second leg removes the shackle and mounts the other leg the same way. With Trolley Vision®, these two beef trolleys can each have a unique ID, but these IDs can still be linked in the database to show that they are two sides of a whole beef. If something is wrong with one side of beef, you are then able to track down the other to examine it for issues.
Eventually, the rest of the hide is removed and the carcass is split and eviscerated. Now that this is all done, you should have your trolleys all ordered and ready for Trolley Vision®. The hot scale is the next important step in the process.
When these sides of beef reach the hot scale, they should have most of the necessary data linked to their trolleys. This includes things like: lot, origin, sex, grade, and possibly a “just dead” weight. By comparison, tags with this same information could have been accidentally removed from the carcass at some earlier point.
At the hot scale, the carcass is weighed and given a time stamp. This data is important as it helps the company with optimizing the cooling of the carcasses. They can calculate shrinkage to ensure that they are keeping the carcass in the cooler from dehydrating. Having all of this information in an automatically updated database makes it easier to organize carcasses for the cut floor based on certain characteristics.
After the cooler, the carcasses are weighed again for shrinkage numbers, and head onto the cut floor. By this point, Trolley Vision® has done its part and different means like time stamps and distance-based encoding are used to identify where each specific cut of meat came from.
While our Trolley Vision® system helps solidify your traceability, we know that some tracking systems might fit certain plants better than others based on their situation. Regardless of how you track, know that we understand the process and are confident that we could help you with making that system as reliable as possible.
Beef carcass tracking is no small feat to accomplish in a complex industrial environment. If data is lost at any step, or if a carcass is misplaced, the whole tracking process for that carcass can become irrelevant. To clarify the process and to compare different tracking methods, we’ll do a step-by-step through the operation.
With incoming livestock, there is usually a receiving station or some sort of holding area. With the holding area idea, cattle are penned up according to their origin information like lot numbers, whose they are, and where they came from. These facilities often use a paper clerking system to document this information which can create a lot of room for error. If the data on those papers is lost, there is no good way to get it back.
With a receiving station, you can set it up so that this data is entered into the plant’s database as livestock comes in, and some sort of ID can be tagged or fixed to that animal. This makes that information much more secure, and it makes employee errors far less likely.
With the information in the computer, it can then be forwarded to stun/knock or bleeding stations where tags can be scanned or ID numbers entered so that the data can be checked or added to. With a paper system, these stations might be the first time that the animal’s information is entered into the system giving ample time to lose it or mix it up somehow.
The ideal place to start using some sort of tracking system is shortly after or at that stun station. There are a number of methods to do this. A highly common one is the use of tags, but this is actually one of the most vulnerable and error-prone methods that there is. At this point in the process, the plant can be very harsh. The animal still needs to be cleaned, eviscerated, and stripped of its hide. From what we have seen, these tags can unfortunately fall off or become damaged during many of these steps.
Another option is distance-based encoding. The benefit is that it doesn’t deal with the damages that tags have to go through, but it isn’t perfect because it loses track if a carcass is moved on the overhead chain.
The best solution that we can offer is our Trolley Vision system because, unlike the other options, it is permanent and only requires that the carcass trolleys pass by a reader at each station where data needs to be taken or added.
To see how you might improve your tracking or how these different tracking methods compare even further, read the next part of this blog and browse through other tracking-related blogs and materials on our website.
Tracking an animal through a slaughter facility requires collecting information on the animal and the producer at the receiving area
, and recording the transfer of the animal from the producer to the plant and entering that information into the plant’s database.
The plant then needs to identify individual animals or the lot that the animals are in and mark them in some manner. If RFID ear tags are present, that information can be captured through a reading wand or by keyboard entry.
When the animal proceeds to the knock box it’s time to begin individual carcass tracking. This can be done by attaching the carcass to a trolley that has a unique number already assigned to it. It can also be done by creating a bar
As the animal passes each station through the plant, such as the hot scale, the grade station, the sales cooler, and the fabrication scale, etc., the new information from each station must be read and linked to all the previous information. This process will provide great tracking up to the fab floor.
In a small facility, it is possible to track the breaking and the cutting of the animal into primals and sub-primals and therefore into boxes and combos, as well, by tagging or labeling each step and collecting the information from each step and continuing to link the data to the information gathered earlier.
In very large facilities, absolute and positive tracking of individual carcasses through the fab floor is not as clear. However, it will be known which carcasses were brought to the fab floor at a particular time. So it will be reasonably certain which animals are contained in various serial numbered boxes and combos within a particular time frame. There will be what could be called a “window” or an “umbrella” of time that can be traced to various animals and lots in these large facilities. That way, if a recall were to be required, the plant would be able to “track” the product in question to a narrow “window” or “umbrella” and recall only that production.
Finally, the boxes and combos need to be scanned into inventory and tracked through shipping, which could include a trip into and out of a warehouse area.
We have the products and experience to customize the carcass tracking steps listed above to fit your operation.
The carcass tracking market promises many solutions, but not all of them work equally. In an attempt to move away from paper tags and manual recordkeeping, more and more plants have switched to some sort of radio frequency system to track each trolley on their monorail with a radio chip. It is a good concept, but doesn’t always work out in practice.
With radio tracking, components regularly break, and you are sometimes forced to make intrusive modifications to trolleys in order to keep the chips in place. All this aside, these systems are often misleading as well. Many RF tracking systems actually work very well upon initial installation. Sadly, read rates on chips regularly start to decline at a very brisk pace because the chips are beaten or simply because they do not age well.
We have two solutions for those who are tired of systems like this. For starters, we make our own version of an RF system which is actually non-intrusive and less prone to damages, but an even more permanent solution is our Trolley Vision® system which takes an entirely different approach to tracking.
Trolley Vision®, as its name suggests, uses vision to accomplish what most other systems cannot. Each trolley is drilled with a pattern of small holes which is translated by powerful software and a smart camera at each read station required. While trolleys do have to be slightly modified to fit this system, it is a fairly simple and non-destructive process. The holes are not in a common cross section and are small enough in size so that each trolley strap remains structurally sound.
Trolley Vision® solves the problem of damages that RF chips are so susceptible to. After all, a hole can’t fall off the trolley, so unless the trolley itself is broken, there aren’t as many things that can go wrong compared to RF tracking.
Trolley Vision® is a relatively new concept for many plants, so we have also worked with companies to provide them with the ability to train their employees to understand the new system. Training systems can be created which allow employees to get up close to the hardware and software without having to work it out during plant operations. The best part of these systems is that they use the exact components which you would find in the actual system, so they can also act as replacement parts if something goes down unexpectedly.
By upgrading to a
When it comes to carcass tracking, our Trolley Vision® is one of the most accomplished systems on the market. It is a permanent solution with exceedingly high read rates compared to current tracking operations which often use unreliable tagging methods.
With something new like Trolley Vision®, we can’t assume that the end users are always going to know how to use the system. For this reason, we have made Trolley Vision® training stations which can ease the learning curve.
The training station is essentially a scaled down separate Trolley Vision® system mounted on a single, portable cart. The stainless steel cart has a mounted reader camera, a backlight, a section of rail for trolleys to go across, and an industrial controller with keyboard and mouse.
To understand how the tracking works, employees can take a trolley that we have drilled to work with Trolley Vision® and run it past the reader and back light. The camera takes a picture which is displayed on the controller screen as the backlight shines on the other side to ensure that the picture has maximum contrast. This makes it easy for our software to interpret the patterned holes in the trolley as a unique numeric code.
The picture of the trolley is displayed along with the unique ID number derived from the pattern. By displaying guidelines for our software, service technicians for your plant can be trained on how to properly set up and calibrate the camera in order to get the highest possible read rates in the chance that the camera is somehow moved.
The beauty of a system like this is that it helps employees become accustomed to the workings of the Trolley Vision® system without causing any interruptions on the plant floor. You can’t afford the downtime of shutting down production just so new users can understand the system.
If you need any form of trolley tracking in your plant, Trolley Vision® is definitely your best option, and the training system is a very useful addition. Contact us if you are interested.