Corporate Involvement Helps
Drive Research and Development
From its inception,
the Agricultural Technology Research Program (ATRP) has relied on industrial collaboration
to help focus its research and development activities. The driving force behind this
alliance has been the Georgia Poultry Federation, which assisted in initiating the
program in 1973. The Federation recognized the expanding role technology was playing
in the industry and sought to develop a program focused on evaluating, developing,
and implementing technological innovations. The result was a unique partnership that
has continued for more than 25 years and which addresses “the industry’s practical
needs,” according to Abit Massey, executive director of the Georgia Poultry Federation.
are the backbone of this partnership. They provide the direction needed to tailor
research and development activities to specific industry challenges. They also participate
directly in research projects by providing technical expertise and assistance as
well as offering in-kind and cash contributions. Equally important is ATRP’s Industrial
Advisory Board. These poultry industry leaders give their time to help the program
identify research topics that best address industry needs. The Board meets at least
once a year to hear updates on program research efforts and to discuss challenges
and future direction with program personnel.
ATRP's prototype Intelligent
Integrated Belt Manipulator (IIBM) in early field trials.
“Technology is playing an expanding role in the success of the poultry industry,”
notes Allen C. Merritt, vice president for science and technology at Gold Kist Inc.
“Continued success in the areas of technology exploration and implementation is key
to the continued growth of our industry.”
“Creativity between academia and industry helps to make technology applicable,” adds
Randy Payne, process improvement manager at Tyson Foods, Inc. in Cumming, Ga.
ATRP research projects, on average, involve seven or eight industrial participants
each year. In some cases, more than one location of an individual company is involved
in the program’s research activities. Industrial collaborators have helped drive
efforts in automation, ergonomics, food safety, environmental, and information technology
by providing financial contributions, supplying products and equipment, offering
construction and installation assistance for in-plant field trials, and loaning employees
for participation in research projects.
A plant worker performs cutting
tasks while sensors from the EWAS system collect stressor data.
Gold Kist Inc. has been one of the program’s most active collaborators, especially
in the area of advanced robotics. The goal of the advanced robotics initiative is
to design and develop workable systems that can be used practically and affordably
in poultry processing operations. Gold Kist’s Live Oak, Fla., poultry plant recently
agreed to install Tech’s Intelligent Integrated Belt Manipulator (IIBM) on its weigh/price/label
line to evaluate the system’s performance as an automatic case packer.
“Our industry wants access to robots that meet our operational needs. We think Tech’s
system is a step in the right direction. By partnering with them in this field trial,
we hope to learn more of the IIBM’s capability with the ultimate goal of encouraging
manufacturing interest in its commercialization,” says Merritt.
ConAgra Poultry has also played a key role in the development of the IIBM; early
field tests were conducted at its Gainesville, Ga., plant. And according to Wayne
Painter, plant maintenance engineer, the IIBM shows a lot of potential.
Industrial support has also helped to drive the program’s efforts in ergonomics.
The Ergonomic Work Assessment System or EWAS project has established a strong partnership
with Gold Kist. The goal of the project is to find ways of reducing stressors that
can contribute to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) in poultry processing workers.
EWAS gathers force, exertion, and motion data from workers while they are making
cutting motions. Gold Kist has allowed workers at its Athens, Ga., processing plant
to participate in on-line testing of the system in conjunction with studies on work-height
“We were excited about the ‘discovery’ potential of this project, which supports
our corporate goal of protecting the safety of our employees,” says Mike Nations,
safety manager at Gold Kist’s Athens, Ga., plant.
Randy Payne of Tyson Foods
demonstrates proper deboning techniques using ATRP's instrumented knife.
Tyson Foods, Inc. has been instrumental in bringing work in the computer vision area
from the laboratory to the field. The goal of the computer vision project is to develop
and refine computer vision technologies for use in judging the quality of processed
poultry. Computer vision allows a computer to analyze video data (such as that from
a video camera) and make decisions about what it “sees.” Most recently, Tyson opened
its Cumming, Ga., operations to ATRP, providing assistance for installation of the
computer vision prototype system. Tyson provided all the manpower, materials, and
expertise needed to install the system. The system was installed after the chiller
to conduct post-chill grading. Using sophisticated computer algorithms, the system
accurately distinguished several of the more common defects on poultry carcasses,
such as bruises, gall, discolorations, and missing parts. The system is the first
poultry product quality monitoring system of its type installed and tested on-line
in a poultry processing plant in the United States.
“Tyson Foods’ primary goals are food safety and customer satisfaction,” stresses
Payne. “It is our hope that the new technology increases our ability to detect opportunities
in the process that would affect these goals.”
The research team is also initiating work with Gold Kist and Meyn Poultry Processing
to evaluate a computer vision prototype system for screening systemic defects on
the kill line. The team plans to adopt the techniques used in the Tyson field tests
for systemic defect detection. Meyn will develop a product kickoff device for the
system, while Gold Kist will provide a plant location for in-plant testing.
Tyson Foods has also provided support to the intelligent cutting project. The goal
of this project is to develop a flexible vision-guided system for deboning poultry.
Tyson has provided product for use in laboratory tests as well as the time of personnel
to assist researchers with learning the proper techniques for performing the deboning
cut. DAPEC Corporation is also a project collaborator.
Claxton Poultry and Cagle’s, Inc. have provided ongoing support to the wearable computer
initiative. The program’s mobile information system combines job performance support
software, wireless communication, and a wearable computer that operates hands-free,
allowing plant workers access to information from remote locations. The technology
was recently used in field studies related to a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Points) application at Claxton’s processing plant in Claxton, Ga. Claxton’s
quality assurance personnel used both handheld and wearable computer technologies
to sample and record product HACCP data.
Tech's wearable computer
system enables plant workers to collect and retrieve data while keeping their hands
free for other tasks.
“By partnering with Tech on this project, we have been able to plug into their considerable
information technology expertise, giving us a chance to explore the value of using
cutting edge tools, like the wearable computer, in our operation with an insider’s
understanding of the technology,” says Jerry Lane, president of Claxton Poultry.
In addition to supporting individual research projects, industrial collaborators
regularly contribute to capital fund-raising campaigns that support the various endeavors
of the research program. Both Gold Kist and Mar-Jac Poultry have contributed to the
Georgia Tech Foundation for the past several years, helping to support general research
This past year, nine poultry and allied companies donated generously to a special
fund-raising campaign to help construct a 45,000-sq. ft. Food Processing Technology
Research Building on the Georgia Tech campus. Gold Kist, Cagle’s, FMC, Claxton, Mar-Jac,
Seaboard Farms, The Conti Group, American Proteins, and Stork Gamco each gave donations
to what is expected to be a world-class research center for collaborative food processing
technology development, academic research, and public interaction. Additional industrial
donations are still being sought for this exciting new center.
“Gold Kist is committed to helping our industry develop new technologies for process
management, food safety, environmental control, and product quality,” says Merritt.
“The company’s support of this new facility reflects this commitment and our willingness
to partner with the state of Georgia and Georgia Tech in helping make it happen.”
J. Douglas Cagle, CEO of Cagle’s, Inc., also expresses his thoughts on the new facility.
“Cagle’s has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Georgia Tech and has witnessed
the organization’s growing commitment to the special needs of our dynamic industry.
Cagle’s is confident that the new Food Processing Technology Research Building will
provide the right environment to further this sort of research and development, helping
to deliver the tools the poultry industry needs as it moves into the 21st century.”
“As we move into the new millennium, we remain excited about the future of the poultry
industry and remain committed to developing the technological tools and resources
this industry needs now and into the future,” adds J. Craig Wyvill, ATRP director.
“Through mutual collaboration, we hope to strengthen the impact our programs have
both on producing commercial product and elevating the industry’s understanding of
how best to employ new and emerging technologies.”