RoBUTCHER at Animalia

2. mars 2023

Animalia has contributed to the RoBUTCHER project in several ways, from writing the proposal, leading and participating in preceding projects Meat 2.0 and MeaTable, and being in charge of the communication and dissemination from the project, all because we want to explore automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to the benefits of the meat industry.

by Frøydis Bjerke, Helle Røer, Elise Nagel-Alne and Mathias Ytterdahl

Meat cutting and knowledge transfer

Animalia’s skilled butchers were essential to the RoBUTCHER project, Per Håkon Bjørnstad in particular. He advised and demonstrated how the carcass should be cut, and handled the rest of the carcass, after the testing of the (less skilful) robots with knives and grippers was finished. Also, several potential tools for the robots were assessed by the Animalia butchers and researchers’ team, to find the ones that best fit the purpose. Our colleagues at the pilot plant annotated a vast number of images, for the artificial intelligence (AI) system to learn how to dismember the carcass. This work was essential in transferring butchers’ expertise and craftsmanship to the AI system that has been developed in RoBUTCHER.

Per Håkon Bjørnstad (to the left), from Animalia, is giving a demonstration in cutting during a workshop at NMBU

Meat safety legislation and its opportunities and hurdles for innovative approaches

RoBUTCHER is an innovative approach that aims to replace the conventional line production in abattoirs with parallel production in autonomous « Meat Factory Cells». Innovation and development of new systems for dressing of an animals’ body into a carcass and other edible and inedible parts may sometimes conflict with current legislation. Therefore, objective criteria and control of functionality are needed.

Policymakers may consider that rules or legislation should be prescriptive, meaning that the rules clearly prescribe the expected outcome or desired direction of development. However, the objects may often comply with the rules, but still, the conditions or actions do not achieve what was expected. On the opposite, disruptive or innovative systems such as the Meat Factory Cell in RoBUTCHER, where slaughtering is performed in a “cell” instead of along a slaughtering line, may fulfil legislator’s intentions better than conventional solutions, but still not fully comply with the legislation.

This reflects the need for what we call “functional demands” with an objective and measurable description of what to achieve (aim) rather than how to achieve it (method) when developing legislative texts.

To address hurdles and opportunities in current meat safety legislation, a comprehensive review was done of relevant legislative text. Where we identified hurdles in the legislative text, we suggested new formulations that could increase the innovative capacity. The legislation texts from four jurisdictional perspectives were studied i) worldwide according to Codex Alimentarius and FAO, ii) EU legislation in Europe/ EEA, iii) legislation in New Zealand and iv) legislation in the USA.

The legislative texts reflect the predominant slaughtering techniques with a large focus on slaughter lines and hygiene related to this form of slaughtering and meat processing. The review suggests alternative text formulations, providing better opportunities for innovation, which could be considered for legislative text improvements, and are published in the paper “Meat safety legislation and its opportunities and hurdles for innovative approaches: a review”.

We believe the review is an important contribution to the process of implementing new technologies as the Meat Factory Cell in industry, as new technologies must be in compliance with up-to-date legislation.

Cutting tools

Animalia contributed extensive research into the design and modification of tools for application in the MFC and carried out cutting trials focused on the assessment and validation of different cutting tools operated by robots. Cutting tools are critical for the MFC, and the quality assessment of cuts and cutting surfaces was important for the outcome of the dismembering process. This work provided a foundation for the choice of suppliers, as well as the design and utilisation of the cutting tools. The assessments included obtaining information from foreign knife experts and practical testing at the pilot plant. This has provided the project with valuable insight. The work is described in a published paper and Deliverable 4.1.

Frøydis, Per Håkon and Mathias from Animalia participating in the practical knife testing at NMBU (Photo: Helle Røer)

Planning experiments and testing in a small-scale slaughterhouse

While the Meat Factory Cell was developed and assembled in the laboratory at NMBU, the need for more regular carcass supply and production in compliance with food safety legislation entailed a deployment of the MFC to the Max Rubner-Institute in Kulmbach, Germany, for an extensive trial period. Here, the MFC could be installed in a slaughterhouse, and the facilities had opportunities to process and prepare the meat further into food products. Also, the hot-deboned MFC meat could be compared to products from ordinary cold-deboned meat, and the hygienic/food safety aspects of the two ways of producing meat could be assessed. In the planning work, we had good use of the results obtained from preceding work in the Meat 2.0 project (ref.).

Communications and knowledge dissemination

Animalia holds the roles of Communications Officer and IPR Officer. An important task has been to keep the official RoBuTCHER website updated with news and other relevant information. As scientific publications and popular science articles are important deliverables from the project, Animalia has taken a role in coordinating and encouraging such papers from the project partners. Also, we have provided material for other mass media, to make RoBUTCHER known to a larger audience.