Warewash manufacturers take flight

Flight machines might not promise the sort of sales frequency associated with their undercounter equivalents, but the fact remains they are a staple part of the UK warewashing market.

Today, flight machines are primarily used in hospital catering, hotel banqueting, in-flight catering, event catering and central washing facilities. Commentators also note a rise in demand from large schools and colleges.

Where intensive warewashing requirements are the order of the day, a flight machine is usually called for. “With high volume warewashing requirements, a well designed flight system can easily deliver major cost savings through, for example, lower staffing and energy efficiency,” says Paul Crowley, marketing manager at Winterhalter.

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To illustrate this, he points to Winterhalter’s MTF5-6600LLLM model — the largest of its MTF range — which can process 6,600 plates per hour. “New machines offer features such as high temperature washing and adjustable speed, allowing the system to be tailored to suit operating requirements,” he adds.

With the route to market for flight type machines typically being through mass caterers and hotel banqueting, sales patterns are predominantly influenced by replacement cycles, suggests Bill Downie, managing director of Meiko’s UK operation.

He comments: “In the main, the market will remain replacement of existing machines that have reached their sell-by date, either due to lack of routine maintenance being undertaken by the customer, a desire by the customer to reduce running costs by investing in the latest low-running cost machines, or simply that the machines need replacing having been in operation 24/7 for, in some cases, up to 20 years.”

Often, new washing or energy-saving initiatives will be introduced with flight machines first and then the technology will cascade through to other sectors of the market, such as rack transport machines. Even so, though, most acknowledge that the flight category isn’t as dynamic as other parts of the market.

“Where market growth is concerned, we haven’t seen a spike per se, simply because there aren’t a huge number of people developing the types of business that require a flight type warewasher,” says Tim Bender UK sales director for warewashing at Hobart UK.

Bender says that, in terms of trends, it is a case of ‘less is more’. Hobart’s new FTPi machine, he says, makes the washing process quicker, more efficient and uses markedly less energy. “In the face of time constraints and rising utility bills, we know through listening to operators that this is what the market demands,” he says.

Julian Lambert, sales director at Maidaid, says flight machine enquires remain steady, but customers are becoming more knowledgable. “They are prepared to discuss specific solutions to handle their individual washing requirements,” he comments. “No two sites operate exactly the same, so you have to be prepared to offer bespoke solutions.”

Comenda describes the flight machine market as “buoyant”, suggesting clients understand the benefits of investing in the right warewashing systems rather than downsizing from flight machines to rack transport machines to suit budgets.

“Many logistical issues can be resolved by using flight systems, especially with semi automation of tray returns into the wash-up area using conveyor systems and incorporation of waste handling products,” says Nick Falco, Comenda’s brand director.

“Labour costs are a big consideration with larger warewashing appliances, with flight systems on many occasions being able to be more efficient in design than systems that require additional staff to double or even triple handle products manually,” he adds.

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So where is the flight type machine market heading in 2014? Are there any trends or developments that catering equipment distributors really need to keep abreast of above anything else?

“We feel dealers could be missing a trick, through habit, by specifying rack machines to sites when a flight-type system is both more efficient and requires less space,” suggests Bender at Hobart. He insists that is certainly true in the case of the FTPi, where the capacity is extremely high for a machine its length.

Meiko’s Bill Downie notes that traditionally flight type machines have not been considered as a product for the distributor-led market. From Meiko’s own point of view, when opportunities have arisen for a distributor to be involved in a project where there is a requirement for such machines, it has generally been asked to deal direct with the customer and build-in an introductory commission.

“The exception to this would be consultant-led design projects where a flight type machine has been specified and the resulting tender has been sent out to a number of kitchen fit-out contractors,” he says. “Under these circumstances, the successful fit-out contractor would be responsible for the purchase of the machine as part of the full kitchen equipment supply package.”

Generally speaking, flight machines of old were considered extremely energy- and water-hungry appliances. As Simon Frost, country manager at Wexidodisk UK notes, they used to consume hefty amounts of water, chemicals and electricity, making washing an expensive exercise.

But that has changed: “New technology and developments to equipment in recent years has evolved the warewashing process into one that is much more about water conservation, chemical conservation, energy efficiency and time saving, all while having a consistently high finish.”

Frost expects manufacturers of flight machines to hone their R&D to further improve efficiency and build quality over the remainder of 2014. “We have recently developed a flight machine belt that is able to last throughout the lifetime of the equipment, something that is almost unheard of in the flight machine industry,” he says.

Maidaid’s Lambert believes that the most significant development is an increased awareness of running costs and the measures to limit these costs wherever possible. “More advances are continually been added to the operational monitoring and effective control of the various machine functions, with solid and reliable information being made available to the end-user and service technicians,” he comments.

One final trend to end on is the growing significance of management data. Winterhalter’s Crowley says that with its new MTF series, data relevant to hygiene and operation can be accessed quickly via the touchscreen, enabling kitchen management to maintain an overview at all times.

“All machine information and errors are communicated via visual and audible signals for immediate detection, ensuring, for example, the refilling of empty detergent and rinse aid containers,” he comments. “Tank and boiler temperatures can be displayed too, at any time, for the monitoring of safe operation.”

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