Measuring carcase characteristics

Every carcase is different and the ability to measure key carcase characteristics provides the Australian red meat industry with an important opportunity to increase productivity.

Characteristics that can be measured are both skeletal measurements to guide manual or robotic cutting or the objective measurement of eating quality characteristics -  currently being estimated manually or unable to be measured in any way.

There are a number of benefits from the ability to measure different carcase traits including:

  • ability to better meet customer requirements
  • streamline processing and allow full automation of manual tasks
  • provide feedback to producers and ability to pay producers a premium for high quality animals
  • ensure maximum yield 

Currently, there is no single commercially available technology that has be proven to be able to measure all characteristics of a carcase.  However multiple technologies are being investigated for different measurement purposes. 

Objective carcase measurement

Objective carcase measurement refers to the processes and technologies that have the potential to be used to measure parameters to predict eating quality, diesease or contamination. 

Many of the technologies being investigated also have the current or potential ability to be used as visioning and sensing devices for automation.

Characteristics that could potentially be measured accurately include:

  • rib fat
  • ultimate pH
  • dentition
  • meat colour
  • ossification

A number of technologies have been investigated for their potential in measuring some or all of these traits objectively, with 3D x-ray, also referred to  as CT scanning, and Near infrared - NIR showing the most promise. These two technologies are the main focus of further research and development.

The following technologies were investigated but were found to be of limited use in the industry due to limitations in image quality or speeds;

  • nuclear magnetic resonance - found to be slow, expensive and have potential dangers to workers with pacemakers or prostheses
  • dual energy x-ray absorbtometry - shows potential, however currently prohibitively expensive
  • ultrasound - unable to be used after hide removal and area that can only measure small areas at a time

Vision and sensing

Vision and sensing refers to technologies that could be used to create an image of the carcase to guide the cutting into primals or sub-primals.

Unlike other industries, such as automotive, where all components are the same and a machine can be calibrated to perform the task in the same way each time, the Australian red meat industry works with product that is different in every case. For this reason, the ability for automated technologies to dynamically adjust cutting or processing lines according to the product is essential.

A number of vision and sensing technologies are in use or under investigation for their integration in the automation of red meat processing.  These include x-ray and different cameras that use visible or infra-red wavelengths. Resulting images can then be assessed by automated technology to determine the appropriate cutting line to maximise yield and meet customer specifications.

These technologies are commonly used in a number of industries including manufacturing, security and medicine with proven benefits. With further research and development it is hoped the Australian red meat industry will also be able to achieve similar benefits from the use of these technologies.