Will Robot Butchers Replace the Human Workforce? A Deeper Look Into Australia's Meat Industry

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By Elizabeth Consolante - January 22, 2019

No matter the industry, when the topic of tomorrow's workforce is approached, everybody's concern remains the same: will robots take over our jobs? A report by McKinsey Global Institute stipulated that by 2030, 800 million workers would lose their jobs to robots. We'll agree that some industries are more at risk of seeing certain positions being automated than others, such being the current predicament of the meat industry. Will we soon have to face the choice of making a conscious purchase of human-processed meat rather than robot-processed?

One of the main arguments ruling in favour of the automation is the fact that significantly reduces the amount of work-related incidents, with the meat industry counting amongst the ones with the highest injury rates. Also, robots allow for a more consistent performance, greater efficiency and don't require time off.  Although the aforementioned may indeed represent true benefits, the value brought by human employees cannot be undermined and undervalued.


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Looking at the concrete impacts of such a change on the land down under, the Australian government and Meat Livestock Australia are working with New Zealand company Scott Automation and Robotics on an R&D project regarding robot butchers. The idea is to demonstrate that how robots are better at grading meat, resulting in a better deal for farmers as well as how building better robot butchers leads in a better bottom line. These robots actually employ artificial intelligence: "Scott’s bots look at the shape of each individual carcase and make specific cuts accordingly. The technology’s algorithms also use deep learning, which means the bots can become smarter over time as they collect data about the carcases they encounter.”

Here's how these robots from Scott Automation and Robotics function (graphic warning):




The MLA also wishes for producers to begin using a technology named DEXA (Dual Energy Xray Absorptiometry) meant to measure and grade a carcase. It can inform a processor on the amount of meat, fat and bone on a carcase. Producers can then gather feedback on the performance of their animal in hopes of potentially being rewarded on it and allows them to group carcasses in more precise bone-out runs. MLA’s General Manager of Research, Development & Innovation, Sean Starling explained the following: "So if you’ve got a certain customer that wants a certain fat percentage on a T-bone steak, then using DEXA you can say of the 1000 carcasses I’ve got today, those 100 are best suited for that customer, rather than bring out the first 100 and hope that they hit market specs without excessive trimming." DEXA also collects some of the data from the robots required for the AI component.


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Want to read more on this technology and how Australia is addressing this societal challenge they're facing? Click here.



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