THE BIG DEBATE: Smart kitchens under the microscope

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Catering Insight invited an expert panel to debate issues surrounding the smart kitchen.

Professional kitchen appliances are becoming ever more interconnected, with data now able to be accessed remotely. But what does this mean for catering equipment distributors and engineers when selling or servicing these products? Catering Insight brought together a cross-section of the industry during the UK’s biggest hospitality show, Hotelympia, to discuss the implications of these fast-moving technological developments.

On the panel

Keith Warren, director, CESA, and chair, European Federation Technical Committee
Jack Sharkey, MD, Vision Commercial Kitchens, and immediate past chair, CEDA
Cathy Wilcox, MD, WilcoxBurchmore, and southern chair, CEDA
Kenn Tagg, commercial director, Space Group, and procurement manager, Nisbets
Derek Maher, MD, Crystaltech, and CEDA board member
Kieran Lynch, MD, Winterhalter Service

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How aware are you of ‘smart’ technology within catering equipment and what kind of impact is it having?

KW: The context of where the Internet of Things, for us meaning the connected kitchen, comes from is quite interesting. By 2040 the population is going to increase by 2.5bn and electricity demand for buildings is going to increase by 80%, so efficiency has got to double. By 2020, there will be more connected items than people on the planet.

This is a tidal wave of change as dramatic as the first industrial revolution. The operational benefits for our industry will be energy and water efficiency, labour saving, and connecting point of sale systems to back of house. It’s tomorrow’s reality. Operators are facing increased labour and food costs – they need efficiency, and technology is a significant way of helping them to achieve that.

KL: The whole ethos behind it is 30 years old. Building management systems have been around for a long time and it’s effectively that technology taken to smaller, split units. So buildings have been controlling their air conditioning, ventilation and heating systems for 25 years through remote monitoring. Now has come the age of getting this into kitchens. Operators reducing manpower in a kitchen in every way possible will be the art of the future. That’s the reality coming our way.

KT: With my Space hat on, the challenges my PLC clients are dealing with are encapsulated in their project called ‘2020’. By 2020 they want to reduce their kitchens by 20% but increase the output by 20%. There is also an element of paranoia with some of these clients regarding equipment breaking down, as, if that happens, they are not able to deliver their service to their customers. If you walk into a coffee shop and you can’t get coffee, you walk out again and it’s bye bye sale. They cannot afford a bad experience. If the equipment can pre-empt the breakdown, it’s much more economically beneficial for operators.

Space Group’s Kenn Tagg believes if equipment can pre-empt breakdowns it’s economically beneficial for operators.

Unfortunately some manufacturers are going to have to do a lot of catching up to the likes of Winterhalter and Rational, and Valentine has launched its new fryer with connected technology. These brands have been working on this in their R&D teams for years.

JS: Over the last 5/6 years there has been a huge drive and development from manufacturers and operators. Efficiency of kitchens and operations is still on the agenda, but now information and the control of information is a big focus.

Lots of equipment has got the capability to communicate with individual parties. One of the things that the connected kitchen will start to unlock is having a software platform where all appliances communicate and operators can control all that. Once we get to having that central hub, manufacturers which aren’t on the cusp of developing the technology to communicate will start to understand it.

Picking back up on the energy efficiency side, one of the things the industry hasn’t really got its head around yet is connected load. There are still so many manufacturers that don’t have detailed electrical consumption information.

So you start designing the kitchen, before you know it you could be at a 300kW supply. And you go back to the M&E engineers and you’ve now got a problem, because they can’t give you that 300kW. We’re not managing the energy consumption within the commercial kitchen.

CW: We are very much looking for this common platform. At the moment great strides are being made by the companies who can afford it, and there still is the difficulty in even a newbuild in trying to put the technology within the structure of the building.

The situation reminds me of CaterQuotes when it first took off. There’s got to be a CaterQuotes equivalent of an IT platform and then people will know what they have to do to enable their equipment to join this universal platform so that it can all talk to each other.

Looking from our contract caterers market, what they are loving about the technology is, if for example, they have Rational ovens, they can send out all the details of a particular special of the day to all of their units at the push of a button.

KW: It’s the amount of data that’s around that’s going to be the problem. Every business, wherever they are in the supply chain, the same way they’ve got sales, marketing and accountancy departments, in the future they are going to have to have a data department to manage what’s going out, because it is only the exceptional information that anybody needs to know.

It’s also about how the data gets interpreted, because to the operator, temperature means probably HACCP or making sure the customer gets a hot plate of food. To the service company it might mean that it’s signalling a potential failure in the appliance, which is something different. For the manufacturer it’s probably demonstrating usage patterns. So this is all coming out of the same piece of core information.

DM: My engineers are now are relying on QR codes; they are having information downloaded to them. A lot of units now will be able to sense when a component will soon break down. They are telling operators to call the engineer out – or an engineer is being called out automatically without the customer even knowing his machine is going down. Operators will be able to monitor those costs live, so they will see any increase in power. They can then consider the cost of bringing an engineer out as against allowing the machine to fail. But the more sensors that are on a machine, there are more things to go wrong, unfortunately.

Will the lack of connectivity on some equipment mean that only certain appliances can be specified if a site wants a ‘smart’ kitchen?

JS: It’s down to the operator what they are using smart appliances for. It’s about understanding what it is they want to do and want to manage. If they’ve got a high risk environment they might want to monitor temperature, so that might drive appliance selections.

Vision Commercial Kitchens’ MD Jack Sharkey feels dealers have to understand what operators want to use smart appliances for.

Operators with higher kitchen skill levels are not that interested in the connected kitchen. But higher up the chain they might be more interested in how they are utilising the equipment from an energy perspective.

KT: Operator costs are only going one way for labour, energy, water and chemicals. Hence they want to shrink kitchens to try and make them more efficient. One of the companies I deal with has up to 73 different languages in their kitchens, so they tend to use imagery for combi oven menus, which are uploaded from head office. The manufacturers that don’t embrace this sooner rather than later will then fall off the tender spec list.

CW: The most important thing for contract caterers is getting equipment that is multifunctional and has the ability to cook produce the same every time. All of them are trying to reduce kitchen size, cut down the amount of staff but still give flexibility of menu choice.

KW: The issue where businesses will get left behind is the full automation of everything. If you walk into a coffee shop and they know you have a black Americano because your phone has connected with their systems and sent over that information, the drink could be automatically coming out of the coffee machine for you. That takes staff out of the equation, it increases the transaction value because you are getting served quicker, and they can upsell extra items to you.

I know there’s work going on in the USA at the moment in terms of robotic dishwashers to load plates. Everything is about increasing the customer benefit. Once operators really see the cost benefit of that, the operational efficiency, that’s where I think the real investment will go in.

DM: Then us engineers will have to learn how to repair robot dishwashers!

Would you advise manufacturers to get onboard with the connectivity initiative?

KW: It’s the future, and it’s going to come pretty quickly. So any business has got to be viewing the future as being different from today and a future that encompasses more digitisation and connectivity.

Keith Warren, CESA director, underlined that accessibility of the data will rely on a change in mindset.

So wherever you are in the supply chain you’ve got to take the view of ‘how does that affect my business and how can I help my business to match what that change might be?’ It’s a case of ignore that change at your peril, because it is inevitable.

DM: The infrastructure has still got to catch up, as unfortunately connectivity is still abysmal. We’ve had instances where we’ve gone out to repair a wi-fi dishwasher and we just can’t get it to connect.

KL: Robotics is coming next and it’s already in development. So taking labour out of everything we do is the name of the game, and operators would like to do away with the repair companies as well because they want machines to self-repair. If you can’t get your mind around what connectivity is going to mean in the short-, medium- and long-term then you haven’t got a business in 10 years’ time.

JS: It’s not just in the equipment side, it’s in the facilities management. That takes us back to the initial design and specification stage. Vision has adopted BIM into our business and now about 90% of our designs are done in BIM. Because in the next 5 years that drawing model will sit within the facilities management team. They will be able to click onto that with the right connectivity and understand the energy usage, the operation and when an engineer might have to be called out. If there’s a problem they can click on the model and look at the manual and the exploded parts diagram. All of that is data management and it could be potentially built in all the way back to the design stage and the equipment selection.

Will engineer call-outs will become a thing of the past if issues can be solved using remote monitoring?

DM: No I think engineers will be more parts changers, they’ll just be told what part to change. Monitoring will also tie into rinsing and chemical dosage for warewashers. If someone’s loading plates that are heavily soiled against those that are less soiled, the machine will be smart enough to recognise that it needs to overdose. Predictive maintenance will come into it, rather than planned maintenance.

KT: Some of the PLCs that I deal with are also now challenging that when engineers can go into a kitchen because of health and safety. Their health and safety is compromised by a third party being in the kitchen. They are now saying that between the hours of 7am and 11pm the engineer is not allowed in the kitchen, unless it is catastrophic failure and the site is shut.

So if the piece of equipment can pre-empt a breakdown then engineers can arrange a visit at a quieter time such as a Monday afternoon. The industry needs to be aware that this is coming and other operators will want to do the same.

KL: Operators want to take breakfast, lunch, evening and evening meal opportunities, so the windows for getting into work on some of these critical pieces of kit are now being forced to the extremes. It used to be you could go in on a Monday because it was a slow time for most people. But now they are doing things on a Monday that they won’t let us in on.

Connectivity is going to start to educate sites that a fault is already coming, and if they ignore the machine’s alerts they are going to have a service engineer there at the wrong time. If they do something about it in the early stages they can avoid the call in the first instance.

A lot of these component parts we’ll be able to give them and they’ll be able to fix it themselves. There’ll never be engineers where there don’t need to be. The new demands on the machine are, don’t manufacture this so that you have to send a technician.

KT: Issues can be solved with a phone call to the service desk now. If we can speed the process up, then we are giving the customer that high level of service.

Crystaltech MD Derek Maher commented that lower spec machines may last longer if they are monitored.

DM: Still, the life of these machines is getting shorter and shorter, they are not lasting as long. Certainly we see that more and more.

How will the catering equipment industry manage data from connected appliances?

KW: In North America there is a NAFEM protocol to try and define who gets what data and when. The accessibility of the data will rely on a change in mindset. As a society we have got to come to terms with how we interpret data and we will probably start trading that data. Because if I’m walking up to a coffee shop or my favourite restaurant and I want them to know what I’m likely to order or to get an offer from that site, then I’m trading my location data with that operator to get a benefit back. This is where we have to consider the data through whole our supply chain, between the consumer, the operator, and possibly a distributor who’s remotely managing a site.

There’s sensitivity giving the data out because it could be misused, so if you know the number of basket lifts on a chip fryer in a particular fast food restaurant, you could probably predict their gross profit from the whole site, because it’s the lowest common denominator. This is where I think the industry’s got to be comfortable with what data is being exchanged for what purpose.

DM: For instance, with equipment rental companies, they could programme a machine to shut down if an operator doesn’t pay.

KL: The debate at the moment is around who owns the data. But there’s only going to be one winner and that will be the client at the end of the day. If you don’t let the client have access to all that data, then you won’t be servicing them.

Can distributors use performance data from connected appliances to inform their future equipment specification decisions?

JS: It’s inevitable that the efficiencies of appliances will become knowledge for the operator and for the designer through monitoring. We will then start selecting the appliance based on what the client’s needs and requirements are. We will make those informed decisions and advise the clients accordingly.

CW: Manufacturers will have to use technology to give more hard and fast detail about their units. The most important thing about the equipment I put in is the reliability.

Cathy Wilcox, MD of WilcoxBurchmore thinks that manufacturers will have to use technology to give more consumption details about their units.

As soon as I have a phone call where something’s broken down, I feel I’ve let my client down. So my ambition is to put equipment in that will never cause a client trouble. I’m looking at connectivity in a way that will enable me to give better service to my clients.

KW: It will sort out the warranty issue. Manufacturers will know from the connected appliance whether it’s the failure of a part. If so, they’ll have a view whether it’s an installation issue or an operator misuse issue, or a straightforward fault of a manufacturing process, so it will clarify it.

CW: The more connectivity we can get, it will actually help the manufacturer to be better too.

DM: With higher spec machines you get consistency. But lower spec machines may actually last longer if they are monitored too.

KT: A colleague of mine who looks after contract caterers asked for my advice because one of his clients has challenged him. They wanted the 5 year cost of the kitchen we are designing for them. They are looking at capex but because the kitchen is in a newbuild, they have electric, gas and water meters – they are paying for the utilities now. My colleague asked me to recommend which combi oven to specify, based on utility costs. I had to dig down through a 252-page document for one brand to find out what the water consumption was on wash cycles, and it was frighteningly high. If all brands’ consumption data goes onto a platform, this will make it easy to access and it will start to drive equipment decisions.

Winterhalter’s service division MD Kieran Lynch explained the manufacturer will be able to reveal its warewasher consumption figures within 2 years.

KL: I can assure you in less than 2 years’ time the client will be able to tell us how much energy Winterhalter machines use. So when anyone buys Connected Wash in 18 months’ time, it will detail the lifecycle cost of that machine.



Data security concerns

The proliferation of data resulting from networked kitchen appliances is throwing up the question of IT security. WilcoxBurchmore MD, Cathy Wilcox, questioned: “How would a commercial kitchen site deal with hacking? If someone hacked into their connected ovens they could set all the units to burn.”

CESA chair Keith Warren commented: “How the data is being traded and for what benefit, that’s going to be the key. Cybersecurity is an element, but we are going to have to change our view of data.”

However, Vision Commercial Kitchens’ MD, Jack Sharkey, underlined: “Cybersecurity shouldn’t be underestimated, it can be so disruptive. If a chain operator gets a cyber-attacked it could take out their entire operation because of the connected kitchen.

“Vision got hacked about 6 months ago and it was very disruptive. Security has absolutely got to be thought about now, because not-so-pleasant people will start to leverage how they can extract and ransom people for it.”

Warren added: “Technologies are evolving and we have got to rely on developers being one step ahead of the game. Banks get robbed but it doesn’t mean we stopped building banks.”

While Winterhalter’s service division MD, Kieran Lynch, revealed: “We’ve just employed hackers to test our systems, because if they can get into ours, they can get into all of our clients’.

“Hackers will become the most expensive salaries we will be paying out in years to come. Everybody needs a hacker in their team.”

He warned: “I think data security is going to put a whole pause on the whole pace of smart kitchens until we crack it, but I don’t think anybody has quite got their minds around how we are going to do that.”

Common platform

On the subject of whether a universal software platform is available for all internet-enabled catering equipment to connect through to, Vision Commercial Kitchens MD Jack Sharkey said: “At the moment there are different software programs for different client operators.”

While CESA director Keith Warren added: “There are platforms that will provide connectivity to controllers and through wi-fi to other appliances in kitchens, but it’s too localised at present. There’s still not really a cloud-based platform with information going out through APIs (application programming interfaces) connecting to that data and downloading it.

“So service engineers just need to know that tomorrow they have got to go to a site by 10am. It’s all the information that’s required. They don’t need to have the data, they just need to know the action resulting from the data. The key is deciding who owns what data, what that entity can do with that data under what conditions and at what time. Otherwise there’ll be so much there that nobody will be able to do anything with it.”

Sharkey responded: “That will then come down to the individual piece of software, in terms of what is the information I want, and can I get it onto a dashboard where I can manage the data relevant to me.”

While Warren believes: “An artificial intelligence will ultimately interpret that data. It won’t rely on a human being looking at a screen.”

This prompted WilcoxBurchmore MD, Cathy Wilcox, to ask: “Will the speed at which technology is moving almost skip the idea of getting connectivity onto a common platform and go straight to AI?”

Sharkey concluded: “I think the two things will end up running side by side and will converge very quickly.”

Tags : CESAconnected kitchencrystaltechdebateroundtablesmart kitchensSpace Cateringvision commercial kitchenswilcoxburchmorewinterhalter
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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