October 11, 2010 | last updated March 25, 2012 4:34 am

Cutting-Edge, With Precision

Photo/Edd Cote
Southbridge-based Hyde Tools turned a string of conversations at an industry conference into a new, innovative product. Pictured above, from left to right, are: Rick Cloutier, national sales manager; Leon Lavallee, director of technical services; Pat Spinelli, facilitator; and Armando Gonzalez, coordinator.

The best innovations come from simply listening to customers. And that's certainly the case for Hyde Tools of Southbridge, which is set to roll out a new blade for the poultry industry that promises a low amount waste and a high yield.

The blade, branded as the Meat Miser, has been under development over the last two years. But the idea first came in January 2008, when staff from the company's industrial blade division attended a poultry industry convention in Atlanta.

Customer Concerns

At the trade show, they noticed poultry processors talked a lot about yield.

Later, back in Southbridge, work began on a blade that could improve yield. "Let's come up with our own blade that beats the market," Leon Lavallee, director of manufacturing support, recalled saying. Engineering produced several iterations of the blade design, tested it, and then made adjustments. Hyde received a provisional patent on the new blade in January 2010.

Hyde Industrial Blade Solutions has produced blades for the chicken processing industry for about 50 years. Originally, processing machinery used plain circular blades sharpened with a uniform, beveled cutting edge. For many years, that's what was available and that's what the processors used, even though the blades tended to dull rapidly.

About 10 or 15 years ago, another company came out with a blade with a scalloped cutting edge. This stayed sharp, but it took such an aggressive cut that it produced a larger amount of waste — small particles and shreds of meat. Some waste meat may be salvaged and sold for use in chicken nuggets or similar products, said Rick Cloutier, national sales manager, but at a considerably lower price than pristine chicken parts.

In designing a new blade, Lavallee said, "I thought of a band saw design and applied it to a rotary blade." The result was a circular blade with a cutting edge that looks like multiple knife edges around the circumference.

The risks for the project were minimal. Product development is a part of the normal course of business. Hyde doesn't normally break out research and development expenses, Lavallee said. "We do a lot of custom work. The estimator probably quoted five new things today."

Testing, however, was another matter.

Testing blades for poultry processing can be problematic, according to Cloutier.

"They're processing 65 chickens per minute," said Cloutier. "This is not something we can set up and run here." So testing had to happen on working poultry processing lines. Tests of the first version of the blade were run at three plants. At two plants the users liked the blades, at a third plant they didn't, but there was no hard data to work from.

Finally, a poultry processing machine maker tested the second prototype Meat Miser blades against conventional blades, measuring the input and output of the line.

"There was a 1.1-percent improvement in yield," Cloutier said. "That doesn't seem like much, until you get an idea of the scale: 65 birds per minute, 3 pounds each, eight hours per day, five days a week." That means an increase of 257,400 pounds per year.

Once the initial Meat Miser design is finalized, the plan is to bring out a line of similar blades in different sizes for the poultry processing industry. A next step after that is to investigate similar industries that could use the same blade — fish processing, for example. Additional opportunities exist in Europe, Cloutier said, where the reduction of waste is perhaps more important than it is in the United States.

Beyond that, the company plans to continue exploring ways of improving cutting performance with engineered blades for other industries they serve. "Companies know their product. Poultry processors know chickens. Textile manufacturers know cloth," Lavallee said. "But they do not necessarily know cutting blades."

With the economic downturn in housing, Hyde management decided in 2008 to focus more on the industrial blade business, according to Eric Pfeiffer, Hyde's director of marketing for the industrial blade business.

The result? Revenue for the division has gone up 30 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Barbara Donohue is a freelance writer based in Acton.

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