Labor shortages are affecting a lot of industries around the country. Outside processing plants, you can almost always see a permanent “We are hiring” sign on the front lawn. The meat processing industry is one of many industries looking to solve this labor problem.
Marble Technologies, located at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln, is looking to help create a more efficient and safe food supply. They are doing this by incorporating automation into meatpacking plants. The goal is to understand the problems that the industry is facing and find a solution.
Some problems that the meat processing industry is facing include labor shortages, high employee turnover and potential injuries because of the repetitive work the job requires.
Chafik Barbar, CEO of Marble Technologies, says, “We don’t start with the solution. Instead, we identify the problems that really need to be solved, and we build the technology that can solve them.”
The industry-focused company is looking to revolutionize meat processing.
How it started
Barbar first thought of this startup idea while pursuing his master’s degree at MIT. Before MIT, he had co-founded an ag tech company, GrainBridge, which was acquired by Cargill and ADM.
When COVID-19 hit, he and the initial Marble team looked at which parts of the ag industry were most affected by the pandemic. Looking at the labor issues the meat processing industry faced, he grouped together industry and engineering professionals to find solutions, with the goal to create a more resilient food supply chain.
The Marble team went straight to the potential customers and asked about the real problems they were facing. They looked where technology is today, and thought of how they can improve and build upon it.
Looking to assist, not replace
A recurring issue they found was the packaging area, which entails a lot of strenuous, repetitive motions, resulting in high turnover. “If a task is repetitive, difficult, dull or dangerous, it is a great candidate for automation,” Barbar says.
The goal is not to completely replace human workers, rather, to augment and make their work less strenuous and more fulfilling.
“We want to help workers by having machines do part of the task,” Barbar says. “If technology performs 75% to 80% of a task and an employee does the rest, we can help the industry with this problem.”
“When you solve meat processing issues, that will in turn help solve problems across the food supply chain,” Barbar adds.
Marble Technologies is building technology that will not only help the meat processing industry, but also affect other food industries.
Brianna Buseman, a meat processing specialist at Marble Technologies, says, “Technology will breed technology.” Marble plans to use its advancements to automate tasks in other areas of the food supply chain as well.
The company also has livestock producers in mind. With more automation, it will help keep the plants running at full capacity even through labor shortages. Many producers were faced with the difficulty of getting their livestock slaughtered during the pandemic because of labor issues in the packing plant. With more automation, meat processors will be more resilient to disruptions.
“This is not a COVID problem; this problem was just magnified when COVID hit the packing plants,” Barbar says.
Barbar is passionate about keeping the company in Nebraska because of the sheer amount of beef and pork that is processed in and around Nebraska. “A big reason why we chose Nebraska is to be close to our customers,” Barbar explains.
Within 18 months of this company starting up, there will be a showroom ready to display its technology to customers. This innovative advancement for the meat industry happened so quickly because Marble is solving a critical need in the industry. “The timing just feels right,” Barbar says. The industry is embracing this problem-solving company, demonstrated by early partnerships.
In the future, Marble Technologies is working to grow the Lincoln group and expand the company.
“It really is all about the people that make up your team, and we have a great team here at Marble,” Barbar says. Marble is always looking for more people to help them with their mission to add more automation to the meat processing industry.
To learn more about Marble Technologies, visit seemarble.com.
Hodges writes from Julian, Neb.