The digital transformation of Tyson Foods took another public step forward Thursday (Aug. 8) as the meat giant unveiled its new manufacturing automation technology center just off Emma Avenue in downtown Springdale.
The Springdale-based company has invested more than $215 million in automation and robotics in the past five years and the new center is ground zero for where the company creates and tests new technology and conducts workforce training.
Tyson Foods repurposed an old building — the company’s former truck service center — into the innovation center that also provides opportunities for learning. The Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center (TMAC) employs about 15 engineers and other technologists with plans to ramp up to around 30 as the number of projects being tested grows.
During the opening ceremony, Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson said the company’s locations downtown represent the past and the future of the 85-year old company that still calls Springdale home. He said innovation, particularly in robotics and internet of things (IoT) vision will help the business. Tyson Foods President and CEO Noel White said the center is part of the company’s history.
“Innovation has been a fundamental part of our success for almost 85 years,” White said. “This facility represents our commitment to creating the next generation of manufacturing solutions through advanced automation, robotics and machine learning.”
He said the new facility will be key to the development of new technology and processes that will help improve efficiency and workplace safety.
The two-story, 26,000 square-foot facility has four areas which include a machine vision technology lab, and a lab that simulates a food production environment for testing before the machine goes to a plant. There are also classrooms for training equipped with teleconferencing equipment and additional space for employees to get hands-on training in automation and robotics technology.
COLLABORATION OF TALENT
Doug Foreman, director of engineering at Tyson Foods. oversees the operations at TMAC. He and Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse referenced the location of the new facility, saying they remember the building as kids playing baseball at the park next door. Sprouse joked when at-bat, he always tried to hit the building that stood just past center field. Foreman said he too played baseball on the adjacent field, but today he’s more excited about it being along the Razorback Regional Greenway, as he routinely rides his bike to work from the north side of town.
“The key to TMAC’s success will be the collaboration of world-class talent bringing expertise from all aspects of processing,” Foreman said. “Their skills and the resources within this facility will allow us to create solutions that will make a difference in the lives of our team members and create value for our business.”
Marty Linn assists Foreman as director of technology at TMAC. Linn recently moved to the region from Michigan where he spent 34 years at General Motors, with 18 of those being the principal engineer of robotics and the manager of advanced automation. Linn conducted the media tour of the facility and said TMAC will be a collaboration center where Tyson Foods can develop solutions with technology vendors from companies like FANUC Robotics and Boston-based Cognex, who delivers machine vision, deep learning analytics for the company. By using cameras and sensors that monitor the robots in action, Cognex can capture trends and store that data in the cloud. This type of data could be beneficial in helping Tyson Foods to know when to replace or service a robot or system based on the performance record captured by Cognex.
The company also demonstrated a new robotic palletizing unit that can replace the job of building pallets with boxes. Tyson Foods said that is a monotonous and physical job that can be easily replicated by robots. Linn said that allows the worker to move up and get training on how to run the robotics to maintain a steady production line. TMAC also used 3-D printing of component parts used in the robotics and conveyor testing.
Linn said TMAC will hopefully stay busy as more of Tyson Foods’ processing plants present challenges or problems they seek to solve with technology applications. He said TMAC is not just innovating for the sake of innovation, but is working to solve real problems and increase productivity among Tyson Foods manufacturing facilities that should have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.
“The creation of the Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center is a key enabler for the company to collaborate and bridge the suppliers in the automation industry with their production facilities,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation. “Tyson Foods’ drive to implement robotic and machine vision automation technologies will help them be more competitive on a global scale, provide a safer environment for their team members, and more efficiently provide safe, quality food to people around the world.”
Sprouse said it’s one thing for a corporate giant like Tyson Foods to innovate for its own use, but it’s more special when a company reaches out to help collaborate with local school students. Tyson Foods announced TMAC will also host robotics competitions for schools in the area and will help drive awareness around science, technology, engineering and math. The Don Tyson School of Innovation robotics team was honored at the ceremony. Tyson Foods gave the robotics team a check for $15,000 to ensure all of its members could make the trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in late October as the U.S. winner of the FIRST Global Challenge for robotics.
“We are so proud of these Springdale kids who are representing the entire U.S. in this global competition,” Sprouse said.
Tyson said TMAC marks the company’s third major development project completed in downtown Springdale in the past four years.
In July 2016, the company opened a 28,000-square-foot building at 516 E. Emma Ave., named the Tyson Foods JTL Building. The facility houses the Tyson Company Store and approximately 75 employees. In November 2017, the company opened a 56,000-square-foot building at 319 E. Emma Ave., named Tyson Emma, which houses approximately 300 information technology employees.
In 2015, the company presented a $1 million check to the Downtown Springdale Alliance to support the organization’s efforts to develop infrastructure and greenspace in the area. Sprouse said Tyson has been a huge part of the improvements in downtown Springdale and TMAC is another example of the company’s willingness to invest for the future.
Watch a video of the technology inside this new facility below.