Meat processing plants have become hot points in the spread of the coronavirus at home and abroad. This is partly due to the fact that it is a labor-intensive process and in most plants workers are stationed close together, often in refrigerated spaces. In fact, worker density in meat processing plants is 3 times higher than the US manufacturing average and, unlike most manufacturing operations, worker density has increased over the past five years.
Many meat processors have had to periodically close plants for cleaning and to allow workers time to quarantine and recover following a local outbreak. This is costly and damaging to the company’s reputation, not to mention the challenge it puts to the food supply chain.
As a result, meat processing plants have implemented more frequent COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Some have workers in “bubbles” so that positive cases no longer endanger workers in a whole plant, but rather a segment of a shift. Others have developed plastic shields in between worker stations to limit contact between workers on the same production line.
More advanced measures include increased automation. For instance, Tyson has invested about $500 million over the past three years in automation efforts and the company’s CEO noted that these efforts will likely increase. Tyson’s Manufacturing Automation Center opened in August 2019 and has been working on developing the equipment and technology needed to accelerate the transition from human workers to robots that can do butchering tasks. Although technology has not yet caught up to the speed and efficiency of a human worker, the push to automate goes beyond the coronavirus pandemic. The industry is a dangerous one for workers and it is increasingly hard to find workers to do these jobs.
Expect this transition to automation to speed up in this and other industries. The implementation of 5G technology will contribute to these developments.
For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, including Global Food Processing Machinery and its related COVID-19 Economic Impact Report: Global Food Processing Machinery. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.