26 July, 2021
Major upgrades completed at Oakey Beef
Oakey Beef Exports general manager Grant Coleman has reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment to the community as he showed Oakey Chamber of Commerce members and guests through the newly commissioned almost $40 million cold storage facility featuring innovative robotic pallet and conveyer belt systems.
Local business owners, community representatives, Toowoomba Region Councillors and Member for Condamine Pat Weir toured the facility last Thursday.
Mr Coleman said the new cold room facility extends the storage and processing capacity of the plant, increasing the capacity by about a third.
The new facility can accommodate both frozen and chilled products.
“Like a lot of the facilities, we didn’t have enough room for the chilled and frozen products. That was our biggest restraint,” Mr Coleman said.
He said one example of the increase in capacity since commissioning the new building is that the company is now storing 61,000 cartons of frozen goods up from 26,000 cartons with more room to increase this figure.
Mr Coleman said the technology is some of the best in Australia and provides opportunities for staff to upskill and move away from more manual labour tasks.
He said the new system sees cartons move through the boning room and offal rooms into storage via conveyor belt.
He said when a carton is needed, the system moves it to the robotic area which packs the cartons into pallets ready to be loaded.
“Before we were picking up the carton seven times, now the aim is to pick it up once or zero. So it is all robotic or conveyer,” he said.
“It’s pretty amazing what Justin [Caldwell] and the team has put together.
“It’s a huge difference. It’s a saving to the plant of about 40 units of labour. But I can guarantee that 40 units will be gobbled up somewhere else in the plant, so no one has lost their job here.
“We have three guys who have been trained up to run the robot system.
“There has been people here who have increased their wages from this system. Anyone who wants to step up can.”
Mr Coleman said while this system isn’t a first, the integration of both chilled and frozen in one facility is a big innovation.
“In Australia there is only two or three plants that have done this type of system,” he said.
“The frozen side is the normal part but what we have done here in Oakey is do a chilled side as well, which I don’t think anyone in Australia has done.”
Mr Coleman said this large scale project is not the end for Oakey Beef Exports.
He said owners, NH Foods are keen to use more technology throughout the plant.
“We are at the stage now we’re looking, we have two robots now and we are looking at where else we can get robots in the system like the kill floor and boning room to help us,” he said.
Mr Coleman said the increase in automation at the plant will not impact employment levels at the site.
He said if anything, the increase in rain and cattle numbers means there will be a need for more staff.
“The cattle herd is starting to rebuild,” he said.
“I think by the end of 2022 we should start seeing some really good numbers again and by 2023 we will be having that many cattle we won’t be able to process them.”
Oakey Beef currently has about 740 employees and this will push out to about 800 when cattle numbers improve.
“This will be better for the wider community and for the town,” Mr Coleman said.