Tyson Foods’ smart chicken plant in Danville, Va., is up and running with 13 high-speed automated case packing lines and five high-speed robotic case palletizing units, according to the company.
The $300 million, 325,000-square-foot fully-cooked poultry facility will employ about 400 workers when it ramps up to full capacity by early 2024, the Springdale-based meat giant said Tuesday (Nov. 28).
“This plant is also a significant step toward our ongoing goal of operational excellence by investing in innovative technology and automation,” said Tyson Foods CEO Donnie King. “This facility delivers on our commitment to ensuring best-in-class service for our customers and accelerating our long-term growth.”
Tyson said the facility has a capacity for four million pounds a week of fully-cooked chicken products sold in retail stores and food service. The plant will service customers in the eastern part of the U.S.
The smart plant is part of Tyson Foods’ $1.3 billion investment in automation. Tyson said the new plant automates some of the more demanding jobs on the plant floor, providing workers the opportunity to fill more highly-skilled roles. The Danville plant picked up production from Van Buren, Little Rock and in southwest Missouri before those facilities were closed earlier this year.
The Danville plant is Tyson’s first smart facility, marking the deployment of multiple innovation pilots and prototypes at scale, including a wearable sensor device for certain employees that relays environmental data to safety managers to improve worker health, safety, and productivity.
Tyson said this is the first time it has used the high-speed automated case packing lines and high-speed robotic case palletizing units and wearing devices at scale. The technology also includes a product inspection process that incorporates metal detection, X-ray and vision grading.
The company also partnered with Danville Community College to create a maintenance technology training program to support the growing field of industrial maintenance with competitive pay and many opportunities throughout the company.
The plant opening comes on the heels of Tyson’s disappointing fiscal year-end results. Executives outlined company plans to use automation to minimize labor inconsistencies, increase employee safety, and enable real-time visibility into production.