Making Equipment Smarter, Not Tougher
For as long as most of us can remember, foodservice equipment has been designed and manufactured to be all but bullet-proof. Heavy-gauge steel, aeronautic-grade ceramics, tempered glass and unbreakable hinges have consistently been incorporated into equipment ranging from ovens and grills to refrigerators and blast-chillers. Durability and reliability have been the watchwords equipment manufacturers have lived by, and with good reason. Kitchen equipment takes a pounding day in and out in every sort of operation and the expectation of end-users has always been that their appliances’ toughness was the pay-off for hefty purchase prices. The question is, does it have to be this way?
Back when equipment manufacturing was young, building them rugged was the only alternative. There were few composite metals, metal-bending was done by crude machines and with hand-held tools, and controls had to bear the strain of manual applications. Now, however, with modern materials, computer-controlled fabrication machinery and touch screens, the manufacturing options for foodservice equipment makers are significantly wider. Yet, the old-school approach of “building them to last” is still the universal norm. We all respect craftsmanship, yes, kitchen staff continue to abuse equipment as a matter of course and no one wants be responsible for units that break down just when they are needed most. But, given the alternatives available today, is it still necessary to manufacture foodservice equipment to provide a use-life of a decade or more?
Car makers, for instance, have learned to make their products smaller, lighter and smarter than past generations’ models, as carbon fiber, aluminum and computer chips have replaced steel, gear-sets and I-beams. Given the accelerated pace of change in foodservice and restaurateuring, with operations re-inventing themselves and redeveloping menus nearly seasonally, shouldn’t the makers of kitchen appliances look to follow suit? What if operators could buy foodservice equipment that while guaranteed to perform only as long as the warranty would cost half or less than existing models? If equipment was cheaper to manufacture and less expensive to purchase, would suppliers’ margins and sales volumes be better or worse?
It may be heresy to suggest that factories start producing “throw away” ovens and the like. But with the technology in hand to manufacture smarter and build smarter products who’s to say that isn’t the next universal business model?