The Future is Now - Robots in the Workplace!

Robots replacing humans in the workplace, sounds like something from the movies! However, that narrative is quickly becoming reality. The current workforce crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has many companies investing in automation to meet the problem head-on.

One of those companies is Case Farms. They are setting a higher bar on the use of automation in chicken processing applications.

According to the National Provisioner's interview with Case Farm's general manager and vice president, Sammy Caudle, “COVID was starting to percolate a little bit, and the chicken business already was having trouble finding qualified plant employees, so we knew that if we didn't automate as much as possible, we were going to have a significant challenge on our hands here,” Caudle says. “Then, we had to attract employees with a nice, steady flow and a good environment — so we wanted to make this as pleasurable of a chicken plant as it could be.”

Case Farms is improving and automating as much as possible on the technology and the product flow, “To have our products go from processed to frozen and into storage with minimal human hands touching the box is amazing.” said Charles Rigdon, senior vice president of Operations for Case Farms.

In addition, Case Farms was able to eliminate approximately 90 percent of the knives, scissors and other assorted cutting tools from the plant floor, explains Daniel Hatcher, Winesburg plant manager.

The expansion and renovation also focused on design that helped ensure food safety, says Rigdon, from overall plant layout to utility drops from the interstitial ceiling.

“The plant was laid out to handle the volumes so everything flows properly: straight to the freezer, out of the chiller, out of the chiller process to the freezer,” he explains. “That way, product temperatures are kept in check, because the product isn’t sitting on the side in uncontrolled conditions, waiting to re-enter the product flow.”

Case Farms also mandated equipment and structures use open-channel design, versus hollow tubing, etc., minimizing the risk of pathogen growth in potential harborage points and niches. Additionally, all water, power and other utility lines drop straight down from the ceiling to the equipment, without any horizontal runs where condensation, dust and other contaminants might collect without proper access or sanitation.

Moving forward, Case Farms will continue to look for ways to make the work of its employees easier and safer, watching for technology and automation that could help the company stay ahead of the trends. In the case of the Case Farms plant in Winesburg, Ohio. Specifically, Hatcher says it will be all about “maximizing our processing volume, filling up this plant.”

Anticipating the day that automation could solve the challenges of a workforce crisis while addressing consumer demand is no longer a thing of the future. That day has actually arrived.

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