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Title:
APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR PROCESSING MEAT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2012/125048
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
This disclosure provides methods and apparatus for processing meat, particularly the deboning of both a loin portion and a rack portion of an animal carcase using the same apparatus. In particular, an apparatus for processing meat is provided including a guide defining a centreline, at least one dorsal assembly including a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline, at least one lateral assembly including a lateral blade and an actuator configured to transition the lateral assembly between a first position such that the lateral blade is adjacent the dorsal blade and extends laterally relative to the guide, and a second position away from the guide, and at least one chine assembly, including an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline and having a downwards facing cutting surface and a lower blade positioned below the upper blade.

Inventors:
ROBERTS COLIN ANDREW (NZ)
Application Number:
PCT/NZ2012/000039
Publication Date:
September 20, 2012
Filing Date:
March 15, 2012
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
ROBERTS COLIN ANDREW (NZ)
International Classes:
A22C17/12; A22B5/20; A23L13/00
Foreign References:
US6126535A2000-10-03
US20060052043A12006-03-09
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
TUCK, Jason et al. (Private Bag 3140, Hamilton 3240, NZ)
Download PDF:
Claims:
THE CLAIMS DEFINING THE INVENTION ARE:

1. An apparatus for processing meat, including: a guide defining a centreline; at least one dorsal assembly, including: a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline; at least one lateral assembly, including: a lateral blade; and an actuator configured to transition the lateral assembly between a first position such that the lateral blade is adjacent the dorsal blade and extends laterally relative to the guide, and a second position away from the guide; and at least one chine assembly, including: an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline, and having a downwards facing cutting surface; and a lower blade positioned below the upper blade.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 , including a pair of dorsal assemblies, lateral assemblies and chine assemblies, with one of each respective pair of assemblies orientated on either side of the centreline.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the pair of dorsal blades and upper blades are offset from the centreline such that a dorsal process of a carcase potion passes between and against the respective blades.

4. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein dorsal blade is biased towards the centreline, and the apparatus includes an actuator configured to be controlled to act against the bias to hold the dorsal blade away from the centreline until released.

5. The apparatus of claim 4, wherein the dorsal blade is biased both laterally and vertically towards the centreline.

6. The apparatus of either claim 4 or claim 5, wherein the dorsal blade is biased by the weight of the dorsal assembly.

7. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 6, wherein the apparatus includes at least one roller positioned in front of the dorsal blade and configured to act in a downwards direction against tissue of a carcase portion.

8. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 7, wherein the dorsal blade and the lateral blade are shaped to provide a substantially continuous cutting profile when the lateral blade is positioned adjacent to the dorsal blade.

9. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 8, wherein the lateral assembly includes at least one biasing member having a first end and a second end, wherein the first end of the biasing member is in a position below the lateral blade and the second end projects upwards, and wherein the second end of the biasing member is passively biased in an upwards direction such that a lateral process of a loin to be boned which comes in contact with the biasing member is forced against the blade.

10. The apparatus of any claim 9, wherein the biasing member includes a plurality of fingers.

11. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 10, wherein the lateral blade is angled downwards.

12. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 11 , wherein the edge of the lateral blade is angled backwards away from a leading edge closest to the centreline.

13. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 12, wherein at least a portion of the lateral blade is configured to be resiliently deformable.

14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the resiliently deformable portion of the lateral blade includes a plurality of recesses.

15. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 14, wherein the lateral blade includes a first blade portion and a second blade portion, wherein the first portion includes an edge in a substantially vertical plane configured to cut meat from sides of vertebrae of a carcase portion, and the second portion includes an edge in a substantially horizontal plane to remove meat from lateral processes of the carcase portion.

16. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 15, wherein the chine assembly includes an actuator configured to transition the blades between a position directly behind the dorsal blade, and a position away from the guide.

17. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 16, wherein the chine assembly includes at least one arm biased in an upwards direction to press an animal rack being processed by the apparatus against the upper blade.

18. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 17, wherein the lower blade is configured to have a limited travel along a defined path in order to act against an animal rack in conjunction with the upper blade to sever the rack.

19. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the lower blade includes: an arm having a first end and a second end; and an arcuate blade attached to the first end of the arm, wherein the lower blade is configured to rotate about the second end of the arm such that the arcuate blade acts against an animal rack in conjunction with the upper blade to sever the rack.

20. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 18, wherein the lower blade is a sharpened disc.

21. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 20, wherein the upper blade includes a lateral leading edge.

22. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 21 , wherein the upper blade includes an elongate recess configured to receive mamillary processes of an animal rack.

23. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 22, wherein the chine assembly includes a first arm and a second arm positioned sequentially along a side of the guide, wherein the second arm is configured to project higher than the first arm.

24. The apparatus of claim 23, wherein the chine assembly includes a third arm configured to act upwardly on a portion of an animal rack laterally disposed from the guide such that ribs of the animal rack are spread away from the centreline.

25. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 24, including a pusher substantially aligned with the guide and configured to push a portion of animal carcase positioned on the guide towards the dorsal blade.

26. The apparatus of claim 25, wherein the pusher includes: a primary pushing member configured to push against a bone of the animal carcase portion; and at least one secondary pushing member configured to push against meat of the animal carcase portion.

27. The apparatus of claim 26, wherein each secondary pushing member is configured such that an end of the secondary pushing member configured to push against the meat is configured to move upwardly.

28. The apparatus of any one of claims 1 to 27, wherein the apparatus includes a controller configured to control operations of the apparatus, the controller including a plurality of valves in a pneumatic network.

29. A method for processing a loin portion and a rack portion of an animal, including: positioning the loin portion on a guide defining a centreline; pushing the loin portion towards a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline such that the dorsal blade passes along a dorsal process of the loin portion; pushing the loin portion through a lateral assembly including a lateral blade positioned adjacent the dorsal blade and extending laterally relative to the guide, such that the lateral blade passes along lateral processes of the loin portion; activating an actuator to transition the lateral assembly to a position away from the guide; positioning the rack portion on the guide; pushing the rack portion towards the dorsal blade such that the dorsal blade passes along a dorsal process of the rack portion; and pushing the rack portion though a chine assembly including an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline and having a downwards facing cutting surface and a lower blade positioned below the upper blade such that ribs of the rack portion pass between the upper blade and lower blade and are severed therein.

Description:
APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR PROCESSING MEAT

STATEMENT OF CORRESPONDING APPLICATIONS

This application is based on the Provisional specification filed in relation to New Zealand Patent Application Number 591726, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to an apparatus and method for processing meat. More particularly, the present invention relates to the deboning of portions of an animal carcass.

BACKGROUND ART

In order to create saleable product, animal carcases are disassembled into portions according to the intended market. Traditionally, this disassembly is achieved by skilled labourers performing various processes with handheld blades to produce the desired cuts of meat.

Automation of these processes is generally desired for a variety of reasons, including increased productivity, decreased reliance on skilled labour, product consistency and appearance, improved occupational health and safety conditions, and reduction of product handling for hygiene purposes.

Numerous machines have been developed to automate various operations associated with the processing of animal carcases.

However, there remains room for improvement in this area - whether in terms of enabling increased productivity or product quality, improved safety factors, or greater robustness.

Also, most machines perform a single function, or require substantial reconfiguration in order to perform alternate functions. This can impact the ability meat processing operations to access automated technology where the purchase, housing, operation, or maintenance of multiple machines is cost prohibitive - particularly for smaller outfits.

It is an object of the present invention to address the foregoing problems or at least to provide the public with a useful choice. All references, including any patents or patent applications cited in this specification are hereby incorporated by reference. No admission is made that any reference constitutes prior art. The discussion of the references states what their authors assert, and the applicants reserve the right to challenge the accuracy and pertinency of the cited documents. It will be clearly understood that, although a number of prior art publications are referred to herein, this reference does not constitute an admission that any of these documents form part of the common general knowledge in the art, in New Zealand or in any other country.

Throughout this specification, the word "comprise", or variations thereof such as "comprises" or "comprising", will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated element, integer or step, or group of elements integers or steps, but not the exclusion of any other element, integer or step, or group of elements, integers or steps.

Further aspects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the ensuing description which is given by way of example only.

DISCLOSURE OF THE INVENTION

Definitions

Reference will be made throughout the specification to the slaughtered animal being a lamb, or sheep. However, this should not be considered limiting as the present invention may be applied to the processing of meat from essentially any vertebrate animal.

Generally, reference to a loin portion should be understood as being a section of the spine including the lumbar vertebrae - which include dorsal processes, mamillary processes, transverse processes and the meat thereon. The loin may also include one or more thoracic vertebrae and associated ribs.

A rib portion or rack should be understood to mean a section of the spine including thoracic vertebrae, and thus ribs and the meat thereon.

Generally, reference to a centreline throughout the specification should be understood to mean an axis along which a portion of the carcase aligns such that the portion is divided into two substantially equal halves falling on either side of the centreline. For example, an ovine loin saddle may be positioned such that the dorsal processes of the vertebrae align with the centreline.

However, throughout the specification reference will be made to various elements of the present invention being biased or orientated relative to a centreline. It should be appreciated that this is not intended to be limited to a precise delimitation of a line between two points. Rather, reference to a centreline may be understood to encompass a plane intersecting the axis referred to above, where the various elements are orientated relative to the plane.

For example, an element described as extending laterally from to the centreline may extend outwardly relative to a vertical plane intersecting the centreline, and may not be aligned with the axis in terms of height.

Similarly, deviation from a vertical or horizontal orientation may be permitted - both in terms of alignment or shape of an element. Reference to such should be understood as providing context to the description of the invention, rather than necessitating a strict adherence unless expressly stated.

Reference to passive bias should be understood to mean the urging of an object in a particular direction due to an inherent structural or material characteristic, such as performed by a spring. In contrast, an active bias is one in which a mechanism is activated in order to urge an object in a particular direction, such as an air ram.

Resilient deformation should be understood to mean a property of an object wherein the object fairly well assumes its shape within a short time following deformation.

Combined Functionality

According to one aspect of the present invention there is provided an apparatus for processing meat, including: a guide defining a centreline; at least one dorsal assembly, including: a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline; at least one lateral assembly, including: a lateral blade; and an actuator configured to transition the lateral assembly between a first position such that the lateral blade is adjacent the dorsal blade and extends laterally relative to the guide, and a second position away from the guide; and at least one chine assembly, including: an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline, and having a downwards facing cutting surface; and a lower blade positioned below the upper blade.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a method for processing a loin portion and a rack portion of an animal, including: positioning the loin portion on a guide defining a centreline; pushing the loin portion towards a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline such that the dorsal blade passes along a dorsal process of the loin portion; pushing the loin portion through a lateral assembly including a lateral blade positioned adjacent the dorsal blade and extending laterally relative to the guide, such that the lateral blade passes along lateral processes of the loin portion; activating an actuator to transition the lateral assembly to a position away from the guide; positioning the rack portion on the guide; pushing the rack portion towards the dorsal blade such that the dorsal blade passes along a dorsal process of the rack portion; and pushing the rack portion though a chine assembly including an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline and having a downwards facing cutting surface and a lower blade positioned below the upper blade such that ribs of the rack portion pass between the upper blade and lower blade and are severed therein.

By providing an apparatus where the lateral assembly necessary for performing loin deboning operation is capable of being actuated away from the area in which carcase portions are processed, other operations - particularly rack spine removal - may be performed by the same machine while minimising the footprint of the apparatus. Without this creation of space, the lateral assembly could obstruct passage of the rack and prevent correct processing.

Further, the same dorsal assembly may be used in both operations - reducing the number of parts which would be required if the two operations were to be performed in separate machines. In a preferred embodiment, the apparatus includes a pair of dorsal assemblies, lateral assemblies and chine assemblies, with one of each respective pair of assemblies orientated on either side of the centreline. In doing so, both sides of a carcase portion such as a loin or rack may be processed simultaneously.

Preferably the pair of dorsal blades and upper blades may be offset from the centreline such that the dorsal process of a carcase potion passes between and against the respective blades.

In a preferred embodiment the chine assembly may include a second actuator configured to transition the blades between a position directly behind the dorsal blade, and a position away from the guide.

It is envisaged that moving the blades of the chine assembly away from the guide may assist in processing of a loin portion by providing a clear path of access from positions which the chine assembly may otherwise occupy, and avoid potential for damage to the product.

The guide may include rails configured to support lateral processes of the carcase portions.

Preferably the apparatus includes a pusher substantially aligned with the guide and configured to push a portion of animal carcase positioned on the guide towards the dorsal blade. It is envisaged that the pusher is driven by a pneumatic ram, but it should be appreciated that the drive means for the pusher may be any suitable means known to one skilled in the art.

According to one aspect of the present invention there is provided an apparatus for processing meat, including: a guide; and a pusher configured to push against a portion of animal carcase positioned on the guide, wherein the pusher includes: a primary pushing member configured to push against a bone of the animal carcase portion; and at least one secondary pushing member configured to push against meat of the animal carcase portion.

It is envisaged that by pushing against the meat of the carcase portion as well as the bone, the quality of cuts performed by the various blades may be improved, and product flow improved by ensuring that meat as well as the bones pass beyond the blades in each cycle. In a preferred embodiment the pusher includes two secondary pushing members, one on either side of the guide.

Preferably, each secondary pushing member is configured such that an end of the secondary pushing member configured to push against the meat is configured to move upwardly.

In operation, the end of the secondary pushing member may be positioned against the meat immediately above the lateral processes. As the carcase portion is pushed onto and through the lateral blade, the secondary pushing members may be permitted to ride over the lateral blade. In doing so, yield may be improved by limiting the amount of meat which may be drawn beneath the lateral blade due to the pressure of the secondary pushing member keeping the meat in place.

In one embodiment this may be achieved by attaching the secondary pushing member to the pusher using a hinge. It is also envisaged that the range of movement may be limited in order to restrict the potential of the pusher jamming against other components of the apparatus.

It is envisaged that the position of the pusher on the guide may be manually controlled by an operator during loading of a carcase portion. It is envisaged that a safety barrier may be linked, directly or indirectly, to the pusher such that movement of the barrier towards a closed position causes the pusher to move towards the dorsal blade.

Performance of the various operations of the apparatus is preferably controlled by a controller.

In a preferred embodiment the controller includes a plurality of valves in a pneumatic network. The controller may thus utilise pneumatic logic to perform the various operations of the present invention, where pneumatic signals transmitted by pneumatic switches are received by pilot activated valves to in turn control the actuators.

In doing so, it is envisaged that the number of sensors required for operation of the invention may be minimised, although sensing means may be use to determine end of stroke, or specific points on a stroke, for the actuators.

The meat processing environment can be particularly harsh on electrical systems due to the high levels of liquid present - whether from the carcasses, a washdown operation, or condensation formed by the cooling required. In providing a means for control which

eliminates, or at least minimises, the need for electrical components, it is envisaged that the potential for failure of the controller may be reduced. This may have advantages beyond the direct costs in labour and parts used repairing such failures, such as reduced downtime of the machine and therefore greater productivity. However this should not be considered as limiting, as the controller may be any suitable device known to a person skilled in the art. For example, the controller may be an electronic device such as a processor configured to activate particular components in a desired sequence according to programming.

The processor may include one or more application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), digital signal processors (DSPs), digital signal processing devices (DSPDs), programmable logic devices or controllers (PLDs, PLCs), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), computers, lap tops, controllers, micro-controllers, microprocessors, electronic devices, other electronic units (whether analogue of digital) designed to perform the functions described herein, or a combination thereof.

For a firmware and/or software (also known as a computer program) implementation, the techniques of the present invention may be implemented as instructions (for example, procedures, functions, and so on) that perform the functions described. It should be appreciated that the present invention is not described with reference to any particular programming languages, and that a variety of programming languages could be used to implement the present invention. The firmware and/or software codes may be stored in a memory, or embodied in any other processor readable medium, and executed by a processor or processors. The memory may be integrated within the processor or external to the processor.

The steps of a method, process, or algorithm described in connection with the present invention may be embodied directly in hardware, in a software module executed by a processor, or in a combination of the two. The various steps or acts in a method or process may be performed in the order shown, or may be performed in another order. Additionally, one or more process or method steps may be omitted or one or more process or method steps may be added to the methods and processes. An additional step, block, or action may be added in the beginning, end, or intervening existing elements of the methods and processes.

Discussion with regard to the preferred embodiments of individual components of the apparatus is outlined below. It should be appreciated that a number of aspects of these components are not limited to use with the apparatus as substantially described above, although they may be utilised in conjunction with one another.

Dorsal Assembly

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided an apparatus for processing meat, including: a guide defining a centreline; at least one dorsal assembly, including: a substantially vertical dorsal blade biased towards the centreline; and an actuator configured to be controlled to act against the bias to hold the dorsal blade away from the centreline until released.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a method for processing a portion of an animal carcase using a substantially vertical dorsal blade biased towards a centreline, including: positioning the portion on a guide defining the centreline; acting against the bias using an actuator to hold the dorsal blade away from the centreline; pushing the portion towards the dorsal blade such that the dorsal blade passes along a dorsal process of the portion; and releasing the dorsal blade using the actuator such that the dorsal blade acts against the dorsal process.

It is envisaged that the dorsal blade may be shaped such that the lower end of the blade projects in front of the upper end. Preferably the lower end has a rounded tip, and may sweep laterally to match the shape of the vertebrae and maximise the quantity of meat separated from the bone.

In a preferred embodiment, the dorsal blade is biased both laterally and vertically towards the centreline.

Preferably the dorsal blade is biased by the weight of the dorsal assembly. The actuator may push paired dorsal assemblies upwards and outwards in order that the lead dorsal process of a carcase portion may be positioned between mirrored dorsal blades on either side of the centreline. On activation of the process, the actuator releases to allow the weight of the assemblies to force the blades against the bone.

As the carcase portion is pushed through, the blades may float to the extent that they follow deviations in the shape of the bone but still provide pressure to keep the carcase portion correctly positioned. Although the actuator may also be configured to actively bias the blades towards the centreline, it is envisaged that the passive bias provided by weight may be sufficient to maintain the position of the dorsal blade.

The dorsal assembly may also include a dorsal lateral actuator configured to laterally bias the dorsal blade towards the centreline. The dorsal lateral actuator may also be controlled to draw the dorsal blade away from the centreline to assist in locating the carcase portion relative to the dorsal blade before processing.

In a preferred embodiment the apparatus includes at least one roller positioned in front of the dorsal blade and configured to act in a downwards direction against tissue of the carcase portion, ideally providing a reaction on the tissue to assist in achieving a clean cut by the dorsal blade.

Lateral assembly

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a loin boning device, including: a lateral blade, and at least one biasing member having a first end and a second end, wherein the first end of the biasing member is in a position below the blade and the second end projects upwards, characterised in that the second end of the biasing member is passively biased in an upwards direction such that a lateral process of a loin to be boned which comes in contact with the biasing member is forced against the blade.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a method for processing a loin portion of an animal carcase using a loin boning device, the device including a lateral blade and at least one biasing member having a first end and a second end, wherein the first end of the biasing member is in a position below the blade and the second end projects upwards, and wherein the second end of the biasing member is passively biased in an upwards direction, the method including: pushing the portion towards the lateral blade; engaging a lateral process of the loin portion with the biasing member such that the lateral process passes below the lateral blade; and forcing the lateral process against the blade using the biasing member.

Preferably the lateral blade is angled downwards to assist effecting a clean separation of meat.

The biasing member may assist in removing as much meat as possible, both by forcing the bones against the blade and also forcing intercostal meat upwards between the bones.

Preferably the passive bias is achieved by way of resilience of the material from which the biasing member is manufactured. However, this is not intended to be limiting, and the passive bias may be achieved by way of other mechanisms such as a spring, or resilient material connecting the biasing member to the device.

It is envisaged that the biasing member may have sufficient flex, or travel, such that the second end projects above the edge of the blade in a fully biased state, but may be forced below the edge of the blade to provide a gap for the bones to pass between.

By passively biasing the biasing member upwards, as opposed to active biasing, it is anticipated that the complexity of the assembly may be reduced - eliminating the need for lines to the assembly from a power source, along with the mechanical drivers themselves and associated control systems. This may have follow on advantages in terms of reduced manufacturing and maintenance costs, and increased robustness.

In one embodiment, the biasing member includes a plurality of fingers.

Reference to a finger should be understood to mean an elongate projection. The finger may be curved or bent upwards to assist in leading the lateral processes of the loin to the lateral blade.

The plurality of fingers may ensure that as much meat as possible is removed from the bones by accounting for irregularities in the shape of the bone. The independent bias of each finger may enable the biasing member to more readily follow the contours of the bone - particularly as it extends laterally away from the centreline.

In a preferred embodiment the loin boning device is implemented in an apparatus which includes a guide defining a centreline, where the lateral blade extends substantially laterally relative to the centreline.

Preferably the edge of the lateral blade is angled backwards away from a leading edge closest to the centreline.

The device may include an upwardly biased arm at the end of the lateral blade away from the centreline, which may force meat up in order to effect clean separation of bones from the meat. In a preferred embodiment, the loin boning device includes a main support to which the lateral blade and biasing member are connected.

It is envisaged that the main support may have a first and second support surfaces in a spaced and opposing relationship. Preferably the main support is substantially "C" shaped, although this is not intended to be limiting.

The lateral blade may be connected to the first support surface, above the biasing member (and the upwardly biased arm, if used) connected to the second support surface. It should be understood that this is not intended to be limiting, and that it is envisaged that all components of the loin boning device may be connected to a single support surface in an integrated assembly.

The main support may include a pivot about which the support may rotate. It is envisaged that the pivot may be positioned such that the weight of the support about the pivot biases the lateral blade towards the centreline. It should be appreciated that additional biasing

mechanisms or actuators may be utilised in achieving this bias.

Preferably the main support is attached by the pivot to a bracket configured to be driven by an actuator configured to transition the main support between a first position such that the lateral blade is next to the guide, and a second position away from the guide.

It is envisaged that a secondary bracket may be connected to the support and configured to limit movement of the support about the pivot, particularly when the support is in the first position.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a lateral blade for use in a loin boning device, wherein at least a portion of the blade is configured to be resiliency deformable.

In a preferred embodiment the lateral blade includes a first blade portion and a second blade portion, wherein the first portion includes an edge in a substantially vertical plane configured to cut meat from sides of vertebrae, and the second portion includes an edge in a substantially horizontal plane to remove meat from lateral processes. Preferably the second portion of the blade is configured as discussed above, being angled backwards and downwards, and having the biasing member positioned beneath it.

Ideally the transition between the first and second portions is smooth, and shaped to

approximate the profile of the targeted section of a typical animal vertebra. Preferably the second portion of the lateral blade is resiliently deformable. It is envisaged that the edge of the flexible portion of the blade may deflect from its resting position by up to approximately 5 millimetres, although this is not intended to be limiting.

The first portion of the blade may be made of a hard, tough material such as knife steel which retains a cutting edge. It is envisaged that the second portion may be configured to be inserted into, and secured by the first portion. The second portion of the blade may be made of rubber, polyurethane, polyetheretherketone (PEEK), polyethylene, or another tough polymer. It should be appreciated that this is not intended to be limiting, and the blade according to this aspect of the present invention may be made of any suitable material known to a person skilled in the art as having properties enabling a cutting or scraping edge to be produced while being resiliently deformable.

Preferably the flexible portion of the blade includes a plurality of recesses. It is envisaged that the recesses may be elongate, and positioned in a generally perpendicular orientation relative to the edge of the blade. The recesses may provide points at which the body of the blade may compress or expand as needed to assist in deformation of the edge of the blade to follow the shape of the bone pressing against it.

It should be understood that the flexibility of the blade may be achieved by a number of means, and that the embodiments outlined above are by way of example and not intended to be limiting. The blade may be made of composite materials, or in a number of parts configured to be fitted together. In use, the blade's cutting edge is deflected upward at the point of contact with a bone. As the bone passes, the blade is able to flex in order to protrude below the level of the top of the bones - thereby removing more meat than may be possible with stiff blades. This effect is enhanced by the biasing member pressing the intercostal meat up between the bones towards the blade.

The flexibility may also reduce the likelihood of pieces of bone being cut off by the blade, as it may follow the bone surface rather than being forced rigidly into it.

It is also envisaged that in a preferred embodiment of the present invention the dorsal blade of the dorsal assembly and the lateral blade are shaped to provide a substantially continuous cutting profile when the lateral blade is positioned adjacent to the dorsal blade.

It should be appreciated that the edges of the respective blades may not be immediately adjacent to each other, but that a continuous cutting profile may be achieved. For example, the vertical dorsal blade edge may lead to one side of the blade, with the lateral blade positioned further back along the dorsal blade body, but with its edge substantially aligned with the end of the dorsal blade edge to provide a continuous profile when viewed along the centreline.

According to one aspect of the present invention there is provided an apparatus for processing meat, including: a guide defining a centreline; at least one dorsal assembly, including: a substantially vertical dorsal blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline; at least one lateral assembly, including: a lateral blade; and an actuator configured to position the lateral assembly such that the lateral blade is adjacent the dorsal blade and extends laterally relative to the guide, wherein the dorsal blade assembly and lateral blade assembly include at least one recess and at least one projection configured to interact to allow movement of the assemblies relative to each other.

While it is desirable for there to be some play in the assemblies to enable the blades to follow the contours of the bones in the carcase portion, it may be necessary to limit this in order to ensure the carcase portion is accurately guided through the apparatus, and prevent incorrect cuts being made in the case of abnormal divergence.

Preferably the recess is positioned on the dorsal assembly, with the projection on the lateral assembly, although this is not intended to be limiting. It should be appreciated that the projection and recess may be formed by the respective blades of the assemblies to assist in providing a continuous cutting profile.

It is envisaged that the interconnection between the two assembles enables the downwards bias of the dorsal assembly to also bias the lateral assembly. However, in a preferred embodiment each assembly is individually biased.

Chine Assembly

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a chine removal apparatus, including: a guide defining a centreline; an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline, and having a downwards facing cutting surface; at least one arm biased in an upwards direction to press an animal rack being processed by the apparatus against the upper blade; and a lower blade having an upwards facing edge and configured to act against the rack in conjunction with the upper blade to sever the rack.

According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a method for processing a rack portion of an animal carcase including: positioning the rack portion on a guide defining a centreline; pushing the rack portion towards an upper blade positioned substantially in line with the centreline, and having a downwards facing cutting surface; pressing the rack portion against the upper blade using at least one arm biased in an upwards direction; and severing the rack using a lower blade having an upwards facing edge acting in conjunction with the upper blade.

The lower blade may be a saw, sharpened discs, or effectively any other suitable cutting means known to a person skilled in the art. It is envisaged that where a circular saw or sharpened disc is implemented with the present invention, the axis of rotation of such cutting elements may be fixed relative to the upper blade.

Preferably the arm is configured to rotate upwards.

The apparatus may include a first arm and a second arm positioned sequentially along a side of the guide, wherein the second arm is configured to project higher than the first arm.

The arms ensure that the rack is pressed up against the cutting surface to affect a clean cut.

It is envisaged that the apparatus may include a third arm, positioned either on the guide or on an assembly to which one of the blades is mounted. This third arm may be configured to act upwardly on a portion of the rack laterally disposed from the guide such that the ribs are spread away from the centreline. The extent to which pressure is applied by the third arm may be controlled in order to achieve a particular product specification.

Firstly, the third arm may be configured to apply sufficient pressure such that the ribs are lifted, while keeping the articulating joint between the rib and vertebrae essentially intact. It is envisaged that this may result in a higher yield of saleable product on severing of the ribs, by maximising the amount of rib bone which remains with the product rather than which is cut off and remains with the vertebrae.

Secondly, further pressure is applied to dislocate, or nearly dislocate, the main articulation joint of the rib. As a result, when the lower blade engages the rack the tendon attachments around the articulation are severed first, allowing the joint to dislocate completely. The rib bone remains uncut.

In a preferred embodiment the upper blade includes a lateral leading edge. This leading edge is intended to cut laterally from the medial line of a vertebra to the region of the tip of the mamillary process. As with the dorsal blades, the upper blade is preferably biased towards the centreline.

Preferably the upper blade includes an elongate recess configured to receive mamillary processes of the rack. The recess is located on the side of the upper blade next to the centreline, and shaped to approximate the profile of the mamillary process of a typical animal vertebra. This is intended to prevent the maxillary processes from being severed by the lower blade and included in the meat.

The cutting surface should be understood to be any means against which the lower blade may act to sever the rack. The cutting surface may be formed by a knife or blade edge, but this is not intended to be limiting.

The chine removal apparatus may function in conjunction with a dorsal blade or dorsal blade assembly as substantially described previously. In operation the rack is loaded onto the guide with a set of ribs on either side and pushed forward to engage dorsal blades on either side of the lead dorsal process of the rack.

The lateral leading edge of the upper blade directs the blade to the side of the dorsal process, with the first arm pressing the rack upwards in order to hold the articular processes against the blade. As the rack is pushed along the guide, the second arm may ensure that the mamillary processes are within the recess and above the cutting surface, as the lower blade severs the rack. According to another aspect of the present invention there is provided a chine removal apparatus, including: a guide defining a centreline and configured to support an animal rack; an upper blade biased towards the centreline, and having a downwards facing edge; and a movable lower blade configured to have a limited travel along a defined path in order to act against the rack in conjunction with the upper blade to sever the rack.

Preferably the defined path is such that the blade does not pass through space on either side of the guide which would be occupied by the ribs of a rack, other than in a region approximate the connection of the ribs to the vertebrae.

In restricting the travel of the blade, racks including the first -4-6 ribs (commonly known as shoulder racks) may be processed by the present invention as well as standard racks without significant reconfiguration. The space between opposite ribs in the shoulder rack is generally narrower than a standard rack. Typically, the first ribs are approximately 60 millimetres apart at their widest point. The brisket ends of the first ribs, with the sternum attached, more or less rest against the guide defining the centreline, approximately 70 millimetres below the vertebrae. If the brisket has been removed, the gap at the ends of the ribs may be approximately 20 millimetres. As a result, the circular saws or bandsaws typically used in processing racks could cut the lower portion of the rib as well as at the point of connection to the vertebrae - damaging the product.

Further, the residue produced by such saws can cause product discolouration in chilled storage, which is generally not desirable. However, it should be appreciated that the movable lower blade may include a saw blade.

In a preferred embodiment, the movable lower blade includes: an arm having a first end and a second end; and an arcuate blade attached to the first end of the arm, wherein the movable lower blade is configured to rotate about the second end of the arm such that the arcuate blade acts against an animal rack in conjunction with the upper blade to sever the rack. Reference to an arcuate blade should be understood to mean a blade having a curved edge. In a preferred embodiment, the arcuate blade edge is formed of a sector of a complete circle. It should be appreciated that this is not intended to be limiting, and that the arcuate blade may be a circular blade.

In operation, the lower blade arm is angled towards the guide such that the leading edge of the arcuate blade protrudes within the rib cavity of a rack positioned on the guide. As the rack is pushed through, the blade rotates on the arm with the rack, acting against the cutting surface of the upper blade to sever the rack.

Preferably the movable lower blade is not driven during the operating cycle, other than by the friction of the rack being driven past the blade. Once the rack has been processed, the arm may be configured to rotate back towards the guide in preparation for the next cycle.

However, it is envisaged that alternate configurations may be used in accordance with this aspect of the present invention. For example, the blade may be connected to a carriage mounted on a linear track projecting from the guide along the centreline.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

Further aspects of the present invention will become apparent from the following description which is given by way of example only and with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

FIGs 1a, 1b provide perspective views of a dorsal blade assembly according to one aspect of the present invention;

FIG 2 provides a perspective view of a lateral blade assembly according to another aspect of the present invention;

FIGs 3a, 3b provide perspective views of a lateral blade according to an aspect of the present invention;

FIG 3c provides a front view of a lateral blade and dorsal blade according to another aspect of the present invention;

FIG 3d provides a front view of a lateral blade and dorsal blade according to another aspect of the present invention;

FIGs 4a, 4b provide a perspective view of a lateral blade assembly including a biasing member according to an aspect of the present invention;

FIG 4c provides a perspective view of a lateral blade assembly including a pusher according to an aspect of the present invention;

FIG 5 provides a perspective view of a lateral blade insert according to one aspect of the present invention, and

FIGs 6a, 6b, 6c provide perspective views of a chine removal apparatus according to another aspect of the present invention.

BEST MODES FOR CARRYING OUT THE INVENTION

FIGs 1a and 1 b illustrate a dorsal blade assembly (generally indicated by arrow 1 ) for use in apparatus for processing meat (not shown in its entirety) in accordance with one aspect of the present invention.

The apparatus includes a guide defining a centreline, shown in this figure by a product support means (2) supporting the lateral processes of an animal carcase portion - for example a loin portion (3a) or a rack portion (3b). A pusher (4) is configured to be driven along the guide to engage and push the portion (3a, 3b).

The dorsal assembly includes a substantially vertical dorsal blade (5), with a leading edge (6) facing the pusher (4). The dorsal blade (5) is shaped such that the lower end of the blade projects in front of the upper end, and has a rounded tip which sweeps laterally to match the shape of the vertebrae.

The dorsal blade (5) is connected to a dorsal frame (7). The dorsal frame (7) is pivotally mounted to a pivot point (8) fixed to the apparatus. The weight of the frame (7) biases the dorsal blade (5) in a downwards direction. A dorsal vertical movement cylinder (9) is mounted to the apparatus, and is configured to drive the frame (7) about the pivot point (8) via a vertical pressure link (10).

The dorsal blade (5) is pivotally connected to the frame (7) by pivot (11 ). A lateral movement arm (12) is fixed to the dorsal blade (5), and driven by a lateral movement cylinder (13) via a link (14). The lateral movement cylinder (13) is mounted to a lateral movement stop cylinder (15) having a small stroke in comparison with the lateral movement cylinder (13).

A roller (16) is positioned above and in front of the dorsal blade (5), and configured to rotate downwards to act against tissue of the carcase portion (3a, 3b).

Preferably the assembly (1 ) includes a pair of dorsal blades (5) and associated lateral movement mechanisms substantially in parallel on either side of the guide. It should be appreciated that these are not illustrated by the figures for the purpose of clarity, and is not intended to be limiting.

In operation, the dorsal blade (5) is drawn laterally away from the centreline by the lateral movement stop cylinder (15). The frame (7) is driven upwardly by the vertical movement cylinder (9). The carcase portion (3a, 3b) is loaded onto the product support (2) such that the dorsal process of the portion (3a, 3b) is against the dorsal blade (5). The lateral movement stop cylinder (15) and vertical movement cylinder (9) are then de-pressurised, causing the dorsal blade (5) to be forced inwards onto the dorsal process by the lateral movement cylinder ( 3), and downwards due to the weight of the frame (7).

As the carcase portion (3a, 3b) is pushed through by the pusher (4), the dorsal blade (5) floats to the extent that it follows deviations in the shape of the bone but still provide pressure to keep the carcase portion (3a, 3b) correctly positioned.

The various drive cylinders are controlled by a controller (not shown).

FIG 2 illustrates a lateral blade assembly (generally indicated by arrow 200) for use in apparatus for processing meat (not shown in its entirety) in accordance with an aspect of the present invention.

The apparatus includes a guide defining a centreline, shown in this figure by a product support means (2) supporting the lateral processes of an animal carcase portion - for example a loin portion (3a).

A pusher (4) is configured to be driven along the guide to engage and push the loin (3a).

The lateral blade assembly includes a substantially "C" shaped main support (201 ). The main support (201) includes a pivot (202) about which the support may rotate.

The main support (201) is attached by the pivot (202) to a bracket (203), which is in turn pivotally connected to pivot point (204) fixed to the apparatus.

A lateral movement link (205) is pivotally connected to the bracket (203), and driven by a lateral movement cylinder (206). The lateral movement cylinder (206) is mounted to a lateral movement stop cylinder (207) having a small stroke in comparison with the lateral movement cylinder (206). A lateral blade body (208) is mounted to a first end of the main support (201 ) by way of a lateral blade mount (209), while a biasing body (210) is mounted to the second end of the main support (201 ). Further detail with regard to these elements will be provided below.

A guide block (211 ) is mounted to the apparatus, and provides a path for the main support (201 ) as it transitions between positions next to, and away from, the centreline.

FIG 3a illustrates an embodiment where a lateral blade (generally indicated by arrow 300) is formed of a lateral blade body (208) having a leading vertical edge (301 ), and configured to receive a lateral blade insert (302). The lateral blade body (208) also includes a lateral projection (303), and is connected to the main support (201 ) by way of a lateral blade mount (209).

The edge of the lateral blade insert (302) is angled backwards away from the leading vertical edge (301 ).

FIG 3b illustrates an embodiment where the lateral blade body (208) is positioned next to a substantially vertical dorsal blade (5) having a leading dorsal edge (6) and a rounded tip (304) which sweeps laterally to match the shape of the vertebrae.

The lateral projection (303), shown in FIG 3a, fits beneath the dorsal blade (5). Further, the dorsal blade (5) includes a recess (305) into which a projection of the lateral blade mount (209) may be received.

FIG 3c illustrates a cutting edge profile presented to a loin (3a) by the dorsal blade (5) and lateral blade (300).

The leading dorsal edge (6) is configured to cut meat from sides of dorsal processes of the vertebrae, while the lateral blade insert (302) removes meat from lateral processes. The transition between these edges, formed by the rounded tip (304) and leading vertical edge (301 ), is shaped to approximate the profile of the cross-section of the vertebra.

FIG 3d illustrates an alternative support structure for a lateral blade assembly (generally indicated be arrow 350).

Rather than the "C" shaped main support (201 ) of FIGs 2, 3a, and 3b, the lateral blade assembly (350) includes a support block (351 ) to which the lateral blade insert (302) is attached. The support block (351 ) also includes a mounting post (352) which is used to attach a biasing member to the support block (351 ) below the lateral blade insert (302). The support block (351 ) is pivotally connected to a primary pivot arm (353) at a primary pivot point (354). The primary pivot arm (353) is driven by an air cylinder (not illustrated) at point (355) to transition the lateral blade assembly (350) between positions next to, and away from, the dorsal blade (5).

The support block (351 ) also interacts with a secondary pivot arm (356). The secondary pivot arm includes a slot (357). A bolt (358) projects from the support block (351 ) through the slot (357). This restricts rotation of the support block (351 ) about the primary pivot point (354) while still allowing the block (351 ), and hence the lateral blade insert (302), to float as it comes in contact with an animal carcase portion (not illustrated). This allows the blades to more readily follow the contours of the bones, and account for some variation in the size and positioning of the portions.

FIG 4a illustrates a lateral blade assembly (200), providing further detail regarding the biasing body (210).

The biasing body (210) includes a biasing member in the form of a plurality of fingers (401 ). Each finger (401 ) is passively biased upwards to project above the edge of the lateral blade insert (302).

In operation, the lateral movement stop cylinder (207) draws the lateral blade assembly (200) away from the centreline, so that as the leading edge of the loin (3a) passes the leading edge of the lateral blade (300), the lateral blade (300) is disposed outwardly in the lateral direction to prevent bones striking the edge of the blade (300). Once the leading edge of the loin (3a) has passed, the lateral movement stop cylinder (207) is released, and the lateral movement cylinder (206) presses the lateral blade (300) towards the centreline.

As the pusher (4) drives the loin (3a) towards the blades, the lateral processes of the loin (3a) are guided under the lateral blade (300) by the leading vertical edge (301 ). The lateral processes drive the fingers (401 ) down, but the bias of the fingers (401 ) maintains the process against the edge of the lateral blade insert (302).

The lateral blade insert (302) is angled downwards to assist in effecting a clean separation of meat.

The plurality of fingers (401 ) ensure that as much meat as possible is removed from the bones, both by forcing the bones against the blade (302) and also forcing intercostal meat upwards between the bones. A sprung arm (402) on the outside of the biasing body (210) biased above the level of the lateral blade insert (302) forces meat up in order to effect clean separation of bones from the meat.

The lateral blade insert (302) is made of a tough polymer such as polyurethane and is resiliently deformable such that the edge of the blade (302) flexes around bone which it is forced against, enabling a greater amount of intercoastal meat to be removed.

FIG 4b illustrates the lateral blade assembly (200) with an alternative embodiment of the biasing body (210), in which the fingers (401 ) of FIG 4a are replaced with a single biasing member (403).

FIG 4c illustrates the use of a pusher (generally indicated by arrow 404) including secondary pushing members (405a and 405b) with the lateral blade assembly (200) illustrated by FIG 4b.

Each secondary pushing member (405a and 405b) is mounted to a hinge (406a and 406b) to enable rotation of the secondary pushing member (405a and 405b) through a limited range of movement upwardly and downwardly.

The secondary pushing members (405a and 405b) push on meat (not illustrated) just above the lateral processes (407a and 407b) of the loin (3a). For the sake of clarity, only one lateral blade assembly (200) has been illustrated.

Once the lateral processes (407a and 407b) have been pushed through the lateral blade insert (302) and biasing member (403), the secondary pushing members (405a and 405b) continue to push the meat past the lateral blade assembly (200). The secondary pushing members (405a and 405b) rotate about the hinges (406a and 406b) to ride up over the lateral blade insert (302).

FIG 5 illustrates a lateral blade insert (302) including a plurality of elongate recesses (500) positioned in a generally perpendicular orientation relative to the edge (501) of the blade (302). The recesses (500) provide points at which the body of the blade (302) may compress or expand as needed to assist in deformation of the edge (501 ) of the blade (302) to follow the shape of the bone pressing against it.

The various drive cylinders are controlled by a controller (not shown).

FIG 6a illustrates a chine removal apparatus (generally indicated by arrow 600). The apparatus includes a guide defining a centreline shown in this figure by a product support means (2), and a pusher (4) configured to be driven along the guide to engage and push a rack portion (3b). An upper blade (601 ) is connected to a main chine support (602) via an upper blade mount (603). The upper blade (601) includes a downwards facing cutting surface (604) along the edge of an elongate mamillary recess (605). The upper blade (601 ) also includes a chine lateral leading edge (not clearly shown), which is intended to cut laterally from the medial line of a vertebra to the region of the tip of the mamillary process.

A lower blade (606) formed as a sector of a complete circle is mounted to a lower blade arm (607). The lower blade arm (607) is connected to the main chine support (602) by way of a lower blade arm pivot (608).

The main chine support (602) is connected to a main chine support pivot (609), about which the support (602) may pivot. The main chine support (602) is driven about the pivot (609) by a chine lateral movement cylinder (610). The chine lateral movement cylinder (610) is mounted to a chassis of the apparatus (not shown) at a first end (611 ), and pivotally connected to the main chine support (602). Extension of the chine lateral movement cylinder (610) causes the upper blade (601 ) and lower blade (606) to be moved away from the centreline.

The lower blade arm (607) is driven by a lower blade movement cylinder (612) via a lower blade control link (613) and lower blade return control link (614).

A primary pressure shoe (615) is positioned alongside the centreline, with a secondary pressure shoe (616) positioned directly behind. The primary (615) and secondary (616) pressure shoes are driven by a pressure shoe actuator (617) via a first pressure shoe actuator link (618) and second pressure shoe actuator link (619).

FIG 6b illustrates the chine removal apparatus (600) including a pressure arm (620) positioned next to the centreline. The pressure arm (620) is configured to act upwardly on a portion of the rack (3b) laterally disposed from the centreline such that the ribs are spread away from the centreline.

The chine removal apparatus (600) may function in conjunction with a dorsal blade (5) or dorsal blade assembly (1 ) as substantially described previously. In operation the rack (3b) is loaded onto the guide with a set of ribs on either side and pushed forward to engage dorsal blades (5) on either side of the lead dorsal process of the rack (3b).

The lateral leading edge of the upper blade (601 ) directs the blade (601 ) to the side of the dorsal process, with the primary pressure shoe (615) pressing the rack (3b) upwards in order to hold the articular processes against the blade (601 ). As the rack (3b) is pushed along the guide, the secondary pressure shoe (616) ensures that the mamillary processes are within the mamillary recess (605) and above the cutting surface (604), as the lower blade (606) severs the rack (3b).

The extent to which pressure is applied by the pressure arm (620) may be controlled in order to achieve a particular product specification.

Firstly, the pressure arm (620) may be configured to apply sufficient pressure such that the ribs are lifted, while keeping the articulating joint between the rib and vertebrae essentially intact.

Secondly, further pressure is applied to dislocate, or nearly dislocate, the main articulation joint of the rib. As a result, when the lower blade (606) engages the rack (3b) the tendon

attachments around the articulation are severed first, allowing the joint to dislocate completely. The rib bone remains uncut.

The lower blade arm (607) is driven to position the lower blade (606) towards the leading edge of the upper blade (601 ) such that the lower blade (606) projects into the cavity between the ribs of the rack (3b) and the centreline.

As the rack (3b) is pushed through, the lower blade arm (607) freely rotates on the lower arm pivot (608) with the rack (3b), the lower blade (606) acting against the cutting surface (604) of the upper blade (601 ) to sever the rack (3b).

Once the rack (3b) has been processed, the lower blade arm (607) is rotated back towards the initial position in preparation for the next cycle.

The various drive cylinders are controlled by a controller (not shown).

FIG 6c illustrates the chine removal apparatus (600) in which the lower blade is provided by a circular blade (621 ).

The individual dorsal blade assembly (1 ), lateral blade assembly (200), and chine removal apparatus (500) as described above are suited to integration into a single meat processing apparatus having a shared guide defining a centreline using the product support means (2), and the pusher (4) configured to be driven along the guide.

Operation of the individual aspects remains as described above. The dorsal blade assembly (1 ) is used in both the processing of loin portions (3a) and rack portions (3b).

Prior to loin deboning, the chine lateral movement cylinder (510) draws the main chine support (602) away from the centreline. This provides a clear path of access for the lateral movement cylinder (206) to position the lateral blade assembly (200) such that the lateral blade body (208) is adjacent the dorsal blade assembly (1 ) as depicted in FIG 3b.

Aspects of the present invention have been described by way of example only and it should be appreciated that modifications and additions may be made thereto without departing from the scope thereof as defined in the appended claims.