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Published May 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Jennie-O employees receive saw patent

MELROSE — Two Jennie-O Turkey Store employees recently received a patent for their poultry breast saw invention.

MELROSE — Two Jennie-O Turkey Store employees recently received a patent for their poultry breast saw invention.

The invention of Jerry Schmiesing, a department supervisor, and Steve Ritter, a maintenance employee, helped the company improve production efficiencies, employee safety and ergonomics, according to a news release from Hormel Foods Corp., the parent company of Jennie-O.

The employees were each presented with a patent plaque and received a company stock award during a recognition celebration.

When Jennie-O started selling split rotisserie breast in the late 1990s, the whole breast was manually cut in half with precision using a single-bladed saw. The process required four employees to rotate because of cold and sore hands.

When sales increased, employees realized they could not continue the manual process and keep up with demand. They started looking for a better way to do the cutting.

The company eventually located a splitter from an outside supplier. However, it could not continuously split the whole breast in half with the precision that was needed.

That’s when Schmiesing and Ritter started working to build a splitter in-house.

“Jerry and Steve approached me one day with their idea,” said Jerry Primus, plant manager of Jennie-O in Melrose. The employees showed him a drawing of their idea, along with a list of parts.

“I quickly supported their idea because of the business need, their determination and the level of detail that was shown in their plan,” Primus said.

The men built their saw over several weekends and refined it by using it in sample production runs at the Melrose plant. The makers listened to their co-workers and made modifications to improve efficiency and ergonomics.

It took about six weeks to develop the machine. Today, one employee can use the saw to split 40 pieces per minute.

At the patent plaque presentation, Schmiesing and Ritter said they were glad the saw made the process easier and improved employee safety.

The Jennie-O plant at Melrose is the only plant presently using the machine. The poultry breast splitter has been in use since 2006 and is used on a daily basis. The patent was issued in February.