To address safety and efficiency issues, the largest meat processing companies in the world may begin phasing butchering robots into the industry in the very near future. Meat processing is considered the most dangerous job in the United States, with more than three-fourths of industry workers leaving or quitting every year.
High daily quotas and continual danger
Human butchers and meat processors are expected to maintain high productivity levels, dispatching and processing hundreds of animals every hour. To optimize profitability, most modern slaughterhouses must process up to 400 animals per line every hour. This includes humanely dispatching, butchering and packaging meat. Humans must work with robot-like precision while performing repetitive cutting motions daily using extremely sharp tools.
Butchers and meat processors are injured, severely maimed and even lose limbs in slaughterhouse related accidents. Dispatching animals causes suffering on the part of the animal and can inflict mental trauma on butchers who are constantly exposed to animal slaughter.
More efficient work
In the coming decades, animal slaughtering robots may entirely take over the meat processing industry. Robots do not get injured, suffer mental trauma or require breaks. Also, robots can perform difficult and efficient butchering cuts on millions of animals with fewer costly mistakes than humans. This means less wasted meat and more profits.
Automated butchering robots can de-bone and butcher a chicken, which are mostly uniform in size and dimension, in mere seconds. In that respect, an automated butcher can work ten times faster than human counterparts.
Improving automated butchering technologies
Brazil-based company JBS, the largest meat processing corporation in the world, and New Zealand-based Scott's Technology want to create the first reliably efficient and industry reliable automated butchering robots. The companies are currently testing a fully automated meat processing factory line; it requires only a single human manager. This fully-automated factory line will comprise about a dozen robots that are each designed to perform a specific function in the butchering process. Such fully automated meat processing factories can process over 600 animals per hour.
Their models of automated butchers are designed to be over 90 percent accurate and always efficient. Robot butchers can diagnostically photograph and x-ray animal carcasses to calculate the most efficient cutting points.
Human versus machine
Even though they have their benefits, the day of the fully automated butcher may not arrive all too soon. Presently, automated butchers can only butcher uniformly shaped animal species, like chickens, much more efficiently than humans. Cows and pigs are larger and less uniform in size, so each animal requires custom butchering specifications. Such skill-related judgment requires human thought, attention and skill.
Automated butchers also cannot humanely herd or pen-up panicky slaughterhouse cattle who can sense their impending demise. Butchering machines are not designed to handle improperly stunned, wildly kicking or escaping cattle.
The operational maintenance required for automated butchers is very expensive and time-consuming. The budget needed for the maintenance of automated butchers can easily exceed the cost of employing an entire human workforce.
Not yet, but soon
The day of the automated butcher may soon be upon us, but the technology is still being perfected. Robots are still being programmed and tested to butcher cattle and pigs more efficiently. The prospect of fully automated butchers and meat processors is still a concept. Currently, it is still far more economical – and practical – to employ human butchers.