THE BIG DEBATE: Service in the spotlight

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Prominent leaders in catering equipment servicing attracted a crowd for a debate during Commercial Kitchen 2019.

Several leading servicing experts assembled at this year’s Commercial Kitchen trade show on 4 June at the Birmingham NEC, as part of the Maintenance, Service & Repair 2019 debate, chaired by Catering Insight editor, Clare Nicholls.

Tackling thorny topics such as maintenance frequency, first time fix rates and spares stocking, we bring to you the highlights of an informative and engaging discussion.


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On the panel

Kirstin Hatherley, director, Hatherley Commercial Services
Derek Maher, MD, Crystaltech Services UK
Peter Baulch, service director, C&C Catering Engineers

Is the foodservice industry demanding enough maintenance and servicing visits?

HCS director Kirstin Hatherley advocated for local councils to police foodservice outlets’ annual equipment maintenance visits.

KH: No, I think that a lot of sites will try and get away without an annual maintenance service and will only go for the reactive maintenance, which in the long run is going to cost them a lot more money. It’s a lot more cost effective if we do the annual servicing and I think the biggest issue is that no-one’s policing it. Local councils ought to ask for certificates for gas safety and annual maintenance – that would certainly improve sites getting their servicing done.

DM: We are quite the opposite really, because all of our service work is reactive, and actually we work for a major supermarket chain where we took about £160,000-worth of calls off of the maintenance. We saw absolutely no increase in the number of reactive calls since. But with gas and refrigeration, there’s a compliance element which must be maintained, but for warewashing you actually don’t achieve anything from preventative maintenance. As long as the machine is kept clean and when you do attend, you do a semi-preventative maintenance call at that time. We found generally if we achieve that, then our larger customers have seen a reduction of about 23% in the number of reactive calls.

PB: There are a lot of companies not doing enough for service and maintenance and will rely too heavily on reactive visits, when they then demand the contractor attends in some ridiculous timeframe. The facilities management companies tend to put great stead in the service and maintenance, so they will have good regimes of practice. There is a requirement under the gas regulations to have some compliancy, but it’s not enforced. With refrigeration and the F-gas regulations, systems over a certain size have to be checked, either on an annual basis or twice yearly basis or more, depending on the amount of refrigerant in the systems. If systems are not serviced and maintained well, then they soon break down in hot conditions. But a lot more can be done, and the companies that want to engage with you, and make sure that they are delivering to their customers, are diligent.

What is your opinion of first time fix rates?

Crystaltech MD Derek Maher believes an appliance can sometimes only be brought back to full operational condition after a second repair visit.

DM: First time fix rates are a controversy because some companies will go out and just fix the fault and claim their first time fix rates are high, but the quality of the machine is actually depleting. If you do a first time repair, but then return to bring the machine up to a full operational condition then that’s what will extend the life, but then that may make your first time fix figures look bad. We are lucky, we only do glasswashers and dishwashers, so pretty much we can stock most of the kit on most of the brands. We would be hitting on some of the more common makes something like 93% first time fix, but that’s a complete repair, that’s not a return visit.

PB: When you are a house that looks after all equipment, it’s a bit more difficult. We focus on geographic areas and the clients there, ensuring the engineers are carrying stocks that are specific to that area – in some cases just the clients that you’re working for. Our bigger clients are moving towards the recognition of stockholding on site, so that you haven’t got to carry it around because they are prepared to keep it in their building for you to use. But a lot of things today are about engineers’ knowledge, experience and training. Lots of things can be repaired because it isn’t actually a component that’s failed, it’s the knowledge and understanding that it is something within the function of the actual appliance – it could be to do with software or programming and not be actual component failure. Great strides are being made in the manufacturing industry to self-test function. But getting your engineers trained by the manufacturers, that’s where your big wins are. Invest in that engineer training and you’re always going to be on the front foot.

KH: We try to carry as many generic spares as we can. It’s very difficult for us because we are dealing with hundreds of different types of manufacturers and machines, so we can’t possibly carry everything. We are lucky in the fact that our supply chains are good, we can get spares fairly quickly but as far as first time fixes go, when you are dealing with so many different types of equipment, it can be extremely difficult to get that done and right every time. But another really important thing is for your office staff to get the right information from the person who is calling it in. Because very often you get very vague details of what might be the issue, and if you do a bit more digging and delving there, you can then be a bit more prepared and get the right spare on the van to potentially solve the problem. Sometimes the person that’s ringing it in is the third or fourth person down the line. They haven’t actually experienced the issue with the equipment and that’s where the problem can also lie. So ring the kitchen itself, speak to the person that deals with the equipment and then therefore you can get a bit of a better vision on what might be the problem.

PB: Get your staff on the helpdesk, trained to triage calls. Ask those really basic questions about whether the utilities are on. If they say the detergent’s not going into the dishwasher, ask if it’s a box on the wall or an internal dosing system, because if it’s a box, nine times out of 10 you’re going to have to get a chemical provider to come round and fix it.

What is your spares stocking policy?

PB: It’s virtually impossible to carry every single part, so make sure you work with your supply chain to organise back of the van deliveries, overnight to site, and in a lot of cases you can get parts couriered to site – that’s certainly available around the London area. Spares are always a big bone of contention because they are dead in the back of your van. No company wants to spend tens of thousands of pounds putting lots of parts in the back of a van that you don’t have to install. So you work with your supply chain – your spares provider probably has a dedicated desk that works with you and knows what you want.

KH: We do again try and stock a lot of quick moving parts, but with a good supply chain, you can get most spares next day. It really isn’t viable to stock everything, you just would be spending too much money.

DM: We have been going 39 years and we take in excess of 4,000 service visits every month. So we have a good idea of what customers need, but you are also compliant to what the customer wants. The customer will put limits in that they’ll allow you to work to, so you can’t carry expensive pumps and the like, because even if they were on the van then you’re not allowed to fit them. So we would have area supervisors, area senior engineers who would hire levels of stocks over weekends. If the immediate local engineer isn’t able to carry that in the van, we may get that from an engineer adjacent. We’ve just completely stripped all of the vans out and re-stocked them. This stops that second visit, because most customers won’t pay for that.

How are you embracing technology to improve your offerings?

KH: We have recently invested in service software that works well for us. We can take a call and it can go out to the engineer on their tablet in seconds. Likewise once we have completed a job, the engineer’s report comes into the office on the service software and to the customer within seconds. In the office we can also organise and sort out any estimates that need to be done straightaway without having to wait for the engineer to bring the paperwork in like we used to do. And tracking, we can make sure the engineer is on his way.

DM: I think you sometimes feel sorry for the engineers, they have so many different systems that they have to logon to before they even start doing a job. So that onus on not only training the engineer on how to do the job but also to complete the paperwork. We use tablets and the engineers will have all of the information they could ever wish for on their tablets. We can take photographs of the components, especially where it’s a customer fault situation where they want proof of the charge. That rolls through to invoicing and makes their life so much easier.

C&C Catering Engineers’ service director Peter Baulch utilises camera technology that allows a technician to have a live feed back to the technical department.

PB: We use the cloud to store manufacturer’s drawings and manuals etc. Plus we utilise camera-based technology that allows the technician to have a live camera feed back to an office or a technical department. So if they are experiencing a problem, the technical desk can see exactly what they are seeing and point them in the right direction if they are getting lost. Manufacturers like Rational are doing such fantastic things with monitoring how their ovens are being used and lots of clients are taking that information and working with Rational, so you have to embrace all those technologies to keep on the front foot and make sure you are providing the best offering to your client.

How do you work with the rest of the catering equipment supply chain to ensure good customer service?

PB: With the wider C&C Group, we make sure we know what our sister companies are doing, working with the projects and schemes that they are putting in, and understanding the technologies that are going in. Because a lot of times when a site goes new, you’re getting calls within hours from the end user, because despite the handover process that they’ve had in being shown how to use the appliances, they don’t understand it. So we have to know from our companies what they are putting in and ensure that we are all working together to deliver that best possible service.

KH: Within HCS we are a fairly tight knit office anyway, we don’t really have a department for design and one for service. Myself and my brother work closely with each other to make sure that each department runs smoothly and that one is communicating with the other. Engineers are often involved with the installation anyway, so they know the site if there’s a call out. We have got a good supply chain for spares too. We use a variety of different suppliers and manufacturers which we’ve got good relationships with. If there are any technical issues or anything that the engineers don’t understand, then hopefully then the manufacturers will step in and give us advice or even go to the customer and give advice and training onsite.

DM: Although we are part of the Maidaid group, it’s important to note that we are actually the service company for a number of other manufacturers as well, and they trust us not to cross-reference those. Even though there may be customers that we are not working for directly, we give the best possible support to that equipment. But we have a network of suppliers all across the world where we can get those components from, even engineers in different countries where, if someone is not giving us the information, we can get the complete details and login codes of that equipment from somewhere. I don’t understand why some manufacturers have a barrier. We are trying to make their equipment look the best possible and do the best possible repair, so they should work with contractors on their equipment and not try and guard up against it.

All of the discussion participants work closely with their supply chains to effect repairs.

How do you view remote equipment monitoring technology?

DM: It won’t make us redundant because we could always learn how to repair these robots. Most equipment should be as basic and as sound as possible. We find that when the machines start becoming over-complicated, then it’s the sensors that start to fail, not the equipment. So by making them too sophisticated then you start having a detrimental effect. Also you have to bear in mind that if you have a disgruntled engineer that leaves, he can have a bit of a laugh on the kit in logging in – I know sites where they have had problems with alarm systems due to engineers who are logging in and having a bit of a game, so the systems need to be secure.

KH: Monitoring technology is up and coming. Some equipment will tell you what component has failed, so it’s going to cut down on diagnostic time for the engineer and save money for the customer in the long run. We’ll always need engineers to change parts, though of course when this software can change its own parts then I should think we’ll all be retired by then.

PB: Remote monitoring technologies are certainly becoming more of the norm in certain kitchens. Certainly there are a number of large pub organisations out there who have remote monitoring of their cooking equipment to know the yield of the cook etc and they are starting to give information of potential faults with the equipment coming up. However it all has a failing when the web goes down. If you haven’t got a good signal, if you are in a basement for instance, then you’re back to the good old ‘let’s make a diagnosis’. There is still going to be a need for the engineer in the next few decades. Technology is absolutely going to keep growing and we can’t ignore it.

Engineer apprenticeship programme

When the subject of engineer apprenticeship schemes was raised in the recent Commercial Kitchen show panel debate on maintenance, service and repair, Peter Baulch, service director at C&C Catering Engineers commented: “Our industry has to make sure that we invest in people, which is what CEDA is doing as an organisation. CEDA’s Peter Kay has done a lot for the industry in apprenticeships and the apprenticeship scheme that is coming up, but we’ve absolutely got to invest in staff to understand how technologies work.”

With the CEDA scheme in the final stages of official approval, chair of the apprentice initiative and director of Hatherley Commercial Services, Kirstin Hatherley, revealed: “We have had to make a few tweaks to the page that will be published and a bit of the end assessment process, so we should be very shortly getting final approval and publication of the apprenticeship itself. Then it’s a case of finding training providers and hopefully we can start getting the first engineers on the first ever apprenticeship in around potentially September.”

CEDA chair and Crystaltech Services UK MD Derek Maher underlined: “The apprenticeship is not aimed at a particular age group, it’s ageless. We are taking anyone at any age through that process. Certainly the webinars and other things that are being developed by CEDA are going to move that onto the next stage. It’s really embracing technology and it’s something an engineer can study from home, which is the important thing.”

In terms of Crystaltech’s own approach to recruitment, he added: “We tend to buck the trend and not employ from within the industry. Virtually all of our engineers come from outside of the industry. We tend to target white goods guys, they’ve got very good customer training. We then spend a long time training them before we let them out with supervisors. Then they will be returning to fit parts before we let them loose on the customer. That can take several months, so we probably bring more outsiders into the industry than any other company. We focus on whether they have got good electro mechanical skills and good personality and good liaison with the customer.”

Tags : C&C Catering EngineersCommercial Kitchen Showcrystaltechhatherley commercial servicesmaintenancerepairservicing
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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