band saw

Manual vs Automatic Band Saws: Which is Better?

Meat band saws are an integral part of any portioning operation.

The ability to work with cuts of meat that are not uniform and hard to automate is why band saws are so popular.

No extensive resetting of equipment. No switching out lines. No expensive photoeye and complex automated systems.

Simply adjust the cut manually and push it through the blade.

But as technology advances, so have the options for band saws — especially with automated band saws hitting the market.

So what type of band saw should you invest in?

We’ll explore that more in this article.

Manual or Automated

When it comes to meat band saws, there are two main options: manual or automatic.

Manual meat band saws have been around for decades and can be found in food processing plants big and small.

There haven’t been many changes to the technology in that time, minus some safety guards and upgrades that use safety gloves to kill power to the machine if the operator’s hands come to close.

Automatic band saws, however, have started becoming more popular due to their ability to portion more meat in less time without the risk of operator injury.

We compared both versions using 2 main criteria:

  • Operator safety
  • Cut Precision

See how each measured up.

Operator Safety

The biggest difference between manual and automatic band saws are related to operator safety.

Manual Band Saw Safety

When it comes to operator safety, manual band saws fall short.

From 2007-2017, there were 218 OSHA-reported amputations from manual meat band saws. However, this number is skewed– as many accidents on meat band saws are filed away as “Worker’s Comp” injuries when reported to OSHA.

Some of the most common causes of amputation related to meat band saws include:

  • The operator’s hand slipping off the meat and accidentally going through the blade
  • The operator attempting to remove meat from the band saw table while the blade is still in motion
  • The operator’s gloves, accessories, or clothing becoming entangled in the saw blade

The most severe complications of meat band saw injuries involve blood loss.

If a band saw blade cuts through the radial and ulnar arteries, found in the forearm, wrist, and hands, the high-pressure bleed can lead to significant blood loss in just a matter of seconds.
This can result in Hypovolemic shock, a condition that occurs when you lose more than one-fifth of your body’s blood, leading to organ failure.

Exsanguination, the most extreme form of hemorrhage, can also occur when you lose 40 percent or more of your body’s blood or fluid supply. This can be fatal if the bleeding isn’t stopped in time.
Some reports even suggest that death can occur within five minutes of injury if blood loss isn’t addressed.

Some manual band saw manufacturers have tried to curtail these safety risks. They have added a safety glove feature that kills power to the machine if operator’s hands get too close to the blade.

While this feature can help, it only works IF operators wear the gloves.

Automatic Band Saw Safety

Compared to a manual band saw, automatic band saws provide a drastically increased level of operator safety.

The main reason why: operators’ hands never get close to the moving blade.

Most automatic band saws include:

  • Safety cage around the machine, so operators can’t even get close to the blade
  • Light curtain around the loading area to kill power if an operator reaches in
  • Table that moves product into the spinning blade
  • Auto-kill if any gate is opened during operation

The risk of cuts and amputations are eliminated when the operator isn’t even in proximity to the moving blade.

Cut Precision

The next area to look at is with the precision of the cuts.

Manual band saws rely on the operator’s ability to make precise cuts every time — a statistical improbablity.

Even when guides are added to try and help improve precision, static guides don’t take into account the varying sizes and shapes of the meat being portioned.

Operators need to make that judgment, and rarely are they able to match precision over 8-10 hour shifts.

Automatic band saws, on the other hand, provide a staggering level of precision with cuts.

The software and design of the machine are able to account for variations in the sizes and shapes of the meat being portioned and adjust accordingly.

Cuts come out consistent across each piece every time.

A Clear Winner

When it comes to choosing between a manual or automatic meat band saw, the choice is clear:

An automatic meat band saw is better for safety, precision, and output — all which lead to lower operating and labor costs, better margins, and more profit.

If you’re in the market for a meat band saw, consider investing in an automatic band saw. The RB-1 Band Saw from Mainali is a great option that you can test before buying.