Smart appliances have become a major part of the move to minimise energy usage in commercial kitchens. A fully connected kitchen can tell users where they could be saving more money and cutting down on environmental impact through both energy consumption and use of resources like water and detergent.
Some manufacturers go even further in describing the benefits of such technology, saying that energy management across the whole building can be brought under one umbrella. “The reality is that this issue goes much further than connected kitchen appliances,” agrees Steve Hobbs, Grande Cuisine director.
Grande Cuisine supplies Mareno products in the UK, including the brand’s iChef ‘kitchen of the future’ technology. Hobbs continues: “Operators need to think about all aspects of their energy consumption, both front and back of house.
“These systems not only manage and monitor energy consumption in the kitchen they also control other aspects of the building such as heating, lighting and air conditioning, and are pre-programmed to turn them on and off at designated times, dependent on the site and the operator. So this is as much about energy management as it is about energy saving.”
Manufacturers warn, however, that without proper attention from an employee these softwares can only go so far. Electrolux training and demonstration manager Stuart Flint said: “It is important to note that connectivity doesn’t reduce running costs on its own. It serves as a tool for analysis and the data that is collected still requires a human to interpret it and take action accordingly.”
Somewhat resolving this issue, the success of Winterhalter’s Connected Wash technology has seen the company recruit a permanent staff member to observe, manage and analyse the data produced by its Connected Wash systems.
“They will be on hand to help customers manage their sites,” said marketing development manager Paul Crowley. “For example, notifying them about issues such as when they run out of salt or detergent, through to making sure they clean their machine down properly at the end of the day.”
Unox is a pioneer of data driven cooking and UK managing director, Gary Nunn, says it is all about helping kitchen staff to get the most from their kit.
“The possibilities with this level of analytics are endless but even in its most basic guise, busy chefs can enhance safety and transparency, optimise water and energy efficiency, and even eliminate waste to maximise profits. All of which points to a more cost-effective, time-efficient kitchen with complete peace of mind over food safety and compliance auditing.”
Meanwhile, the big question asked by end users is: “Why do I need a screen to tell me I’m wasting energy?”
Tim Bender, sales director for Hobart’s UK equipment division, said: “Every manufacturer has made the big move to try and reduce water consumption in dishwashers, to make fridges better insulated and more efficient.
“But it’s being able to see data that allows operational savings to be made that is becoming as important as having efficient equipment. For instance, when a machine is switched on at 7.00am but still sitting in standby mode at 10.00am, then you can start to make tweaks and adjustments within your operation. That’s when you start to see the energy saving benefits of connectivity.”
Bender does, however, raise the one problem manufacturers see with the systems so far: universality, or a lack thereof.
“Although manufacturers are working on platforms to connect their own suites of machines, there isn’t currently a platform to link different machines from different manufacturers. That day is coming, but it needs global, not just UK-wide unification.”
Falcon marketing manager Barry Hill concurred: “Caterers know that connectivity is the future and can see the benefits. The onus must be on manufacturers to come up with solutions that meet the needs of customers rather than just the individual manufacturer.”
Aside from the technological innovation, one of the precursors to a universal system is demand. Interest in a universal system may be difficult to gauge, but manufacturers say their brand-specific systems are selling well.
Krupps export managing director Ricardo Scuotto said: “Since we announced iKloud – the first wi-fi connection for professional warewashers – in 2015, people reacted very well. They were curious about its application and cannot wait to test it.
“From that date demand has increased day by day and the reason is that our system gives benefits both to service and end users.”
Daniele Righi, export manager of cooking equipment and energy management system manufacturer DeManincor, cites two main reasons for a huge increase in demand. The first is the many benefits of remote monitoring and control.
“By utilising the remote system to monitor all the appliances, it allows faults to be diagnosed before they develop,” explained Righi. “This in turn means that if site attendance is required to repair an appliance, we know exactly what is required regarding parts and labour time. This is a lot less intrusive to the kitchen and means that multiple visits, one for diagnostics, one for repair, are eliminated, further reducing costs.
“In many cases, faults can be rectified remotely without the operator knowing it has occurred, requiring no site visit at all.”
The second reason for an increase in interest is the issue of labour shortage and rising food costs.
Righi said: “Operators are seeking further ways to reduce costs within the kitchen. Energy efficiency and maintenance can help considerably with this, all made possible with a connected kitchen that is able to optimise power consumption.”
Rational believes demand for connected equipment is primarily being driven by larger operators and their desire for visibility and accurate data collection.
“Facilities managers and catering operations teams need data in order to analyse the performance and efficiency of equipment,” said Rational technical director Graham Kille. “Younger chefs come to expect technology and connectivity as part of their operational equipment. As people who’ve grown up with modern technology, they instinctively know that this connectivity can deliver better benefits to their job.”
So why should end users consider using this technology and what would manufacturers like dealers to know about the many connectivity or smart kitchen products available? Williams sales and marketing director Malcom Harling has admitted that the technology is still young, and not all manufacturers have adopted it.
However, he broke down the potential savings, saying: “Temperature control is key for energy efficiency so it’s important to keep a close eye on the temperature of your unit. Every 1°C saved in your operating temperature could reduce your energy consumption by 2%.”
Meanwhile, Powerhouse Dynamics may have created a universally connectable platform. President Martin Flusberg broke down the reasons to use a connected kitchen into three points.
“Connectivity is still viewed as ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must-have’. It’s not just about energy savings. There are maintenance reductions and cost savings too, along with food quality and safety and other operational implications.
“Next, many dealers also maintain the equipment they supply. For these organisations, connectivity is dramatically important as they can diagnose problem and head off failure or mitigate a repair.”
Flusberg continued: “Finally, connecting more equipment also generates opportunities to benefit from interconnectivity. For example, there is value in having ovens from one brand communicate with exhaust hoods from another so the fans can turn on when the oven does. Proper connectivity can prevent the need to wire the units together. This offers multiple potential benefits, including energy savings from ensuring the hood exhausts operate only when necessary.”
The benefits go even further than energy savings, however. According to Welbilt UK and Ireland sales director Steve Hemsil: “Operators can access key equipment by the touch of a screen, thus making it possible to easily manage recipes and menu offerings, as well as address equipment firmware updates and service diagnostics at multiple locations by the click of an icon. These updates and diagnostics work together to ensure optimal equipment operation and longevity whilst also reducing engineer call outs and improving first-time fix results.”
He continued: “Connected appliances can cleverly analyse key equipment usage levels, thus allowing operators to adjust and improve their catering regime according to flagged usage analytics. For example, with our KitchenConnect, operators can track the number of cleaning cycles and consumption levels in addition to tracking the number of individual drinks/food items produced.”
So the technology has come a long way, especially in terms of sales in the last year or two. But where does it go from here?
The universal systems, allowing cross-brand technologies, mentioned by some manufacturers may currently seem far-fetched to some, but they could be on the horizon. Unox’s Gary Nunn said: “Collaboration is key within any industry and I know from experience that it does occur between kitchen equipment manufacturers. We are in contact with other leading manufacturers to explore the possibilities, including through the Energy Star labelling scheme.”
Coping with peak demand
As the foodservice industry moves increasingly to electric-powered kitchens, one issue is the load and the ability of the energy supply to cope with peak demand.
FEA chair John Whitehouse explained: “Connected appliances allow centralised energy modulation, whereby a computer controls all the appliances to ensure they don’t overload the supply.
“The system decides which appliances need the power at any given time. If a fridge wants to turn on its compressor the energy modulating system may delay it briefly, until surplus power is available.
“By enabling kitchens to operate at a lower load, energy modulation systems reduce the kitchen’s energy consumption. The future is likely to include decentralisation of power supply, local power generation and increasing reliance on batteries, all of which may further limit the power supply, so energy modulation, via the connected kitchen, will be an increasingly important factor.”
He believes: “Connected appliances also save energy by monitoring how equipment is used, highlighting practices and misuse that lead to unnecessary energy consumption. These could range from opening a warewasher door before the cleaning cycle is finished to turning on an appliance too early.
“Connectivity also allows managers to calculate the cost of running a kitchen. In groups, where multiple sites can be compared, it shows if one site is using more or less power than another, so that managers can investigate the reasons and minimise energy consumption.
“Because connectivity will highlight service issues, such as a failing component, it will allow service providers to fix issues early, before the appliance breaks down. Keeping equipment working at optimum efficiency will also save energy.”