The Van Trump Report

Tyson’s New Chicken Plant Provides a Preview of Food’s Automated Future

Tyson Foods in late November held the grand opening of one of its most automated poultry plants. The $300 million facility in Danville, Virginia, is expected to produce up to 4 million pounds of cooked products weekly. While the plant will employ around 400 people, it also features automated case packing lines, high-speed robotic case palletizing units, and a production inspection process that utilizes X-ray vision.

The plant is part of Tyson’s long-term strategy to improve supply chains and operations by replacing inefficient, outdated, or too-expensive-to-fix plants with more modern versions. According to Tyson Foods CEO Donnie King, the company plans to invest $1.3 billion in automation in order to reduce labor costs and increase production.

Tyson has a similar facility set to open in January in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which will produce Wright and Jimmy Dean brand products. It is also investing $180 million to upgrade a prepared foods facility in Caseyville, Illinois. At the same time, Tyson has also shuttered six plants so far this year and already announced the closure of two others in early 2024.

Two of the five lines at the 325,000-square-foot Danville plant – the size of two Walmart Supercenters –  have already begun production. King says the facility is expected to reach full capacity in early 2024. Notably, this is the first new plant Tyson has opened since 2021. It is also the first Tyson facility running a “suite” of automation at the final pack-out scale.

Automatic high-speed packers at the new plant will fill boxes with product and robotic arms will palletize boxes for shipping. Additionally, the inspection process will utilize metal detection, X-ray, and vision grading. The Danville facility is also the company’s first at-scale integration of wearable armband devices designed to “improve worker health, safety and productivity,” Tyson Foods noted.

Chicken for the new Virginia plant will be supplied by local farmers. In the initial agreement signed in 2021, Tyson committed to buying 60 million pounds of chicken raised by Virginia producers over the next three years. The company already employs some 2,000 people across the state where it has operated for more than 50 years. (Sources: FoodDive, Bloomberg, Tyson Foods)

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