How to improve the debone yield

Properly implemented measures can lead to debone lines becoming far more productive.

Deboners begin to expect to receive the scrape test results in a timely manner; they start asking, 'How am I doing?'
Deboners begin to expect to receive the scrape test results in a timely manner; they start asking, "How am I doing?"

Doing more with less is probably on many people's minds at the moment. Bad economic news has become a daily occurrence and for debone managers there is constant pressure to improve yields.

Any business is only as good as its people. Employees come to work each day wanting to do a good job, but many companies fail to provide their teams with the necessary feedback to let them know if their day has been a "good" one or a "bad" one. Focusing on the needs of those responsible for increasing debone yield and building a structured programme around them becomes even more important in today's economic climate.

Approaches to managing debone yield vary more than the size of birds to be deboned.

In some operations, a cursory review of debone yield at the end of the shift, day or week suffices as a "continuous improvement programme." Others attain a theoretical debone yield against which to measure themselves.

Another approach is to attain yield by weighing fronts (or birds in the case of whole bird deboning) coming to the lines, then use the weight of finished product out of the department to calculate a debone yield. The problem, however, is that data is received too late to implement changes that affect the outcome of a given shift, or the contribution of an individual on the line.

Quick feedback is essential

The best debone processes have a common thread running through them. They all provide feedback to the deboners on the line quickly enough to affect yield during the shift.

In the case of automatic deboners, it is equipment operators who need yield data. The accuracy and frequency of data, as well as the way in which it is presented, all influence how effectively it is able to improve processes.

To improve processes, how debone yield data is collected needs to be reviewed. If only cumulative department data, whether by shift or by day, is available, then a more detailed procedure should be implemented.

A frame scrape test procedure would be one way forward. Frame scrapes are an objective method of measuring where, and how much, meat is being left on the frame. Improving scrape test scores can drive debone yield.

Scrape test steps

The first step in the scrape test is the collection of six consecutive frames from a debone line, as consecutive frames supply an average of the wing scorers and cutters. Next, a beginning weight for the six frames needs to be recorded.

This is followed by scraping excess meat from each of the different areas of the frame and recording the individual weight for each of those areas. These areas are the pulley bone, the eye meat, the scapula, the rib and the keel.

An initial period of testing will be required to establish a baseline, and then a goal (usually slightly better than the current scrape test results) is set. This data can be used to track whether progress is made over a given period.

Speak to employees

Method and frequency of data provision to employees on the debone line needs to be established, and the best method may be to provide visual feedback as often as possible, but not less than three times a week.

Decisions also need to be taken on how data is displayed, for example, average grams, as a percentage of frame, etc, and every effort should be made to convey what the numbers should be. The same results can be achieved by colour coding posted numbers.

Employees should be trained to understand which results they are responsible for when working on a given line position and a number of benefits can be expected once the system has been implemented.

Deboners might start to ask "How am I doing?" and a healthy competitive spirit might start to emerge. Nobody wants to be the worker "in the red."

Peer pressure can be effective with more than simply workers on the debone line, competition between supervisors can also develop. In one facility where this visual control was implemented, the change was so fully embraced that the supervisor responsible for the debone line with the worst score was given the honour of wearing a dog bone necklace.

Implementing this methodology requires attention to detail and careful decision making. Who, for example, should be responsible for conducting the tests?

A full-time job

Testing often falls into the role of quality assurance and having the quality department as the conduit for information prevents the production department from influencing results. It also ensures that the scrape tester is not placed on the debone line when short-handed.

Facilities with four to six debone lines need to realise that conducting these scrape tests is a full-time job. They also need to be aware that since the data provided is only used by the production department to manage their debone lines, it can often be handled by the production department itself.

Decisions also need to be taken about how data should be recorded and stored. Larger companies often use specific SPC software and dedicated SPC stations to record results. This permits thorough data analysis from multiple locations when required. Irrespective of the size of operation, results should be posted in a timely manner, allowing supervisors to focus attention on training where required.

Once a comprehensive debone scrape test procedure has been implemented, opportunities for similar tests to improve the debone department's yield will become apparent. Randomly checking skin for excess meat, checking tender clippings to ensure not too much is being clipped and checking wings for excess breast meat can easily be added into the programme.

With any change, there is likely to be resistance and this can often take the form of resistance to having an extra person in the department every shift simply to conduct scrape tests. A simple calculation, however, can prove the value of introducing scrape tests.

Calculating value

One gram of breast meat left on every frame on a debone line running an average of 35 head per minute, two shifts per day, 260 shifts per year, results in 19,260 pounds per annum (per line) of breast meat not available for sale in highest price form. Even with current prices of breast meat hovering around US$1.30 per pound, the lost gram equals US$25,000 per debone line annually.

Effective monitoring combined with proper feedback procedures and training can easily pay for itself and, additionally, employees that feel good about what they are accomplishing produce more for the bottom line.

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