Panasonic UK first introduced the inverter to professional microwaves in 2018. Now 12 months on, Catering Insight caught up with sales and marketing manager, Iain Phillips, to see how the industry has benefitted from the consistent and efficient cooking this technology can bring:
What is inverter technology and what are the key benefits?
Conventional microwave ovens use transformers to increase line voltage to a level high enough to operate the magnetrons, which generate microwaves that cook the food. This technique has its drawbacks as transformers are relatively inefficient; power is lost (through heat dissipation) in converting the line voltage to the higher magnetron level and the transformer operates at a constant power that can only be changed by switching the power on or off repeatedly.
In inverter-equipped microwave ovens (until Panasonic launched its NE-1878 last year, all commercial ovens used transformer technology) the power transformer is replaced by a circuit board, which converts the incoming line frequency. A relatively small transformer is then required to increase the voltage to the level required by a magnetron. By varying the pulse width, the output power can be linearly controlled for more precise cooking and defrosting levels. The bulky power transformer is replaced by a small, lightweight circuit board and, because less heat is dissipated, power efficiency is increased. Conventional technology uses just a single power level, which is regulated by switching pulses. In contrast, inverter technology directly controls the power output. This constant soft penetration of microwave energy results in a more even temperature.
Put simply, traditional microwaves send out a single level of power in small bursts to cook food at different speeds. For example, when set at 60% power, the microwave energy would be on full power for 60% of the time, and idle 40% of the time, for the duration of the time selected. A microwave using inverter technology will deliver an accurate power level so when you ask for 60% power, the oven delivers 60% power for the entire duration of the cooking time chosen. This applies no matter what power level is selected, giving you gentler, more even cooking results. And like all Panasonic microwaves, the NE-1878 also features top and bottom magnetrons, with one inverter per magnetron, for completely even cooking.
How has the NE-1878 microwave been received?
There were many features of the NE-1878 that operators regarded highly when we spoke to them during the oven’s development stages. Of course, inverter technology was a key advantage, offering not only more even and much smoother cooking, but a huge reduction in weight – 12kg compared to the oven’s predecessor, which meant it was easier to manoeuvre for cleaning. But the full metal door gives a real USP that still no other oven offers. It can be sited front or back of house and has no seals, ridges or film to clean around. As such it has been listed with three of the top pub groups in the UK, as well as a popular high street café bar chain and most recently, with the Casual Dining Group for their Las Iguanas restaurants. Is it also used and recommended by Barry Callebaut as it is excellent for chocolate work.
How have you been spreading the message about inverter technology to the UK dealer network and beyond?
Our distributor network has been key in promoting the features and benefits of the NE-1878 to independent operators and we supported them last year with an advertising campaign surrounding the launch, which we are repeating this year for its first anniversary. It has been pushed out on social media and we will continue to provide the support of our development chef to anyone who would benefit from menu development and operational training in the use of the oven.
How is inverter technology shaping the market?
The introduction of inverter technology to commercial microwaves is the only innovation the category has seen in many years and it can only be an enhancement to the market. It’s been available in domestic ovens for a while now and we are intending to convert all our commercial microwaves to inverter in time.
How have other manufacturers responded to the launch of NE-1878?
We are quite flattered to note that another manufacturer has recognised the benefits of inverter technology and recently followed in our footsteps, launching their own version of the NE-1878, but without the metal door – that is still a world first. But we stand proud in the knowledge that inverter was invented by Panasonic 30 years ago. Our founder, Konosuke Matsushita, cited 10 lessons for ‘creating customer value’, one of which was, “The mission of the company is to enrich society”, and to this end, Panasonic has, through the years, shared technology with its competitors. One great example of this is VHS, developed by JVC, a Panasonic subsidiary, and widely hailed for its advanced technology. The success of VHS is attributed to the close collaboration by Panasonic with other video recorder manufacturers as consumer demand for recorders began to grow.
Can you hint at where you feel the technology is heading and how you will be developing it?
Obviously, we can’t share any details of what’s next for inverter but the next hot topic for us is I.O.T., or Internet of Things. This is all about connectivity and exchange of data and how we can develop ovens to become so smart, they will be able to call an engineer if they register a fault, before it becomes an issue. The first an end user might be aware is when the engineer arrives on their doorstep to fix their oven, imagine that!