Tyson enlists predictive software to keep meat plants open amid coronavirus

The nation’s top meat processor has turned to machine learning to model the potential spread of coronavirus in its plants and has deployed computer vision to monitor worker health.

Tyson enlists predictive software to keep meat plants open amid coronavirus
Tyson Foods

Many companies are exploring machine learning (ML) models to gain a competitive advantage. But some businesses are tapping this emerging technology to remain operational.

Tyson Foods is using ML to predict the potential of the coronavirus to impact its meat processing plants, as well as computer vision software to detect whether a worker may have a fever when they arrive for their shift, says CTO Scott Spradley.

The efforts are critical at a time when the nation’s top processor of beef, pork and chicken has closed several of its largest plants due to the pandemic, as workers fall ill or stay home out of fear of contracting COVID-19. On April 28, President Trump ordered meat processors to stay open, designating them as critical infrastructure under the Defense Production Act.

Predicting the curve

Tyson’s IT department is doing its part to help. The company’s insights-as-a-service unit is cross-referencing COVID-19 testing data from counties in states where its plants are located with data about regions plant employees live in and running it through ML algorithms to forecast absenteeism, Spradley says. The team, led by Tyson emerging technologies and analytics head Lee Slezak, is using the Richards curve, a generalized logistic function employed by the CDC, to model the potential spread of the virus among its 110,00 plant workers.

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