MELROSE, MINN. — Two employees of Hormel’s subsidiary, Jennie-O Turkey Store were recently awarded for their development of a new piece of poultry-processing equipment.

Jerry Schmiesing, a department supervisor, and Steve Ritter, a maintenance employee were recognized by the company for the invention of a poultry breast saw, which improved production efficiencies, employee safety and ergonomics. Each was presented with a patent plaque and received a company stock award.

In the late 1990s when Jennie-O Turkey store started selling split rotisserie breast, 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.

After sales of the product increased, Jennie-O Turkey Store employees realized they could not continue the manual process and keep up with demand so the search for a semi-automated or automated piece of equipment began. Although Jennie-O eventually located a splitter from an outside supplier, it could not continuously split the whole breast in half with the precision required.

As a result, Mr. Schmiesing and Mr. Ritter started assembling ideas to build a splitter in-house.

“Jerry and Steve approached me one day with their idea,” said Jerry Primus, plant manager, Jennie-O Turkey Store – Melrose. “They showed me a rough drawing of their solution, a list of parts presently on hand and parts that would need to be purchased to accomplish this challenge. I quickly supported their idea because of the business need, their determination and the level of detail that was shown in their plan.”

After several weekends, the poultry breast saw was built and ready for trial. Sample production runs were completed, and the men would note modifications that needed to be made; the improvements were then worked on the following weekend. During trial production runs, the men listened to concerns from other employees and made modifications to help improve the operational efficiency of the saw.

“Jerry and Steve ran samples on Saturday and Sunday mornings — running a product while making modifications to their newly built breast saw,” Mr. Primus said. “After six weeks, they had developed a breast splitting machine. Today, one employee can use the saw to precisely split 40 pieces per minute.”