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Automating the Commercial Kitchen: Making the Business Case for Long-Term Value

Paul_Hepperla Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Strategy – Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

In 2019, Emerson hosted an in-depth E360 panel discussion on automating the commercial kitchen. The panelists, a cross-section of industry experts, proposed valuable insights on the potential that automation and connectivity offer commercial restaurants. In the second article of this three-part series, I summarize their thoughts on building the business case for internet of things technologies and tackling common challenges. You can read the full article here.

Automating the Commercial Kitchen: Making the Business Case for Long-Term Value

Internet of things (IoT) technologies are steadily making inroads in the commercial kitchen landscape. And that’s posing a set of challenging questions for quick-service restaurants (QSR) eager to benefit from the cost savings and improved quality control that a connected kitchen can deliver.

For this reason alone, building a sound business case for IoT technologies is critical. The process is an excellent opportunity to tackle difficult questions at the front end to avoid costly pitfalls during — and after — implementation.

Ensuring data is actionable

As we discussed in our first article in this series, IoT technologies offer tremendous potential to reduce labor costs and improve food safety. But before QSRs invest in new technologies, they must first ask how serious their operators are about actually using data.

This is one of the most important questions to ask, because applicability must always be the defining feature of every IoT investment. As more equipment comes online and the number of data points expands, store managers will have access to a staggering amount of data that they don’t have the time or skillset to interpret. To be useful, the data must be paired with simple alerts or other actionable information that operators can quickly and easily act upon.

Determining data ownership

As they build their business cases, QSRs must also determine who will own the data. Most often, this will be the foodservice corporation, the franchisee or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Issues can arise when the owner of the data doesn’t see much advantage in sharing with others.

However, making the data accessible to all three parties may prove beneficial to each. Sharing information between the corporation and the franchisee could identify new avenues for cost savings. OEMs could use the information to make ongoing improvements to their equipment. And opening up access to source and derived data could lead to a reduction in service calls and lower service warranty costs.

Simplifying the user experience

The user interface is another consideration that QSRs need to factor in early on. Most QSRs source their equipment from multiple manufacturers, which makes uniformity a challenge. Any efficiencies captured through connected equipment could potentially be undone if operators are forced to log into and navigate multiple interfaces in order to access data.

Some QSRs, such as Wendy’s, are creating custom interfaces which share a common look and feel. This allows employees to share the same user experience, no matter which equipment interface they are accessing. Conversely, QSRs can opt to invest in a common interface that consolidates data for all equipment types and brands in one place, under one login.

Room for improvement

One area that still needs refinement is servicing. IoT technologies should be providing technicians with a trove of information. Yet whether it’s because the data is too siloed or because IoT is relatively underdeveloped in commercial kitchens, the benefits to servicing are falling short. Still, as the technology matures, productivity gains for servicing and maintenance will come to light as well.

Emerson’s product development expertise is moving the industry closer to a true plug-and-play approach by simplifying connectivity and developing application program interface (API) strategies. Our goal is to provide intuitive, streamlined access and information that operators can act upon so they can achieve their business objectives, protect their brands, and drive greater cost savings.

In the next and final article in this series, we’ll delve into the future of automation in the commercial kitchen and dig into the emerging challenges of data security and connectivity protocols.

Automating the Commercial Kitchen: Enhancing Productivity and Food Safety

Paul_Hepperla Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Strategy – Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

In 2019, Emerson hosted an in-depth E360 panel discussion on automating the commercial kitchen. The panelists, a cross-section of industry experts, proposed valuable insights on the potential that automation and connectivity offer commercial restaurants. In the first article of this three-part series, I summarize their thoughts on how automation is shaping labor efficiency and food safety. You can read the full article here. 

Automating the Commercial Kitchen: Enhancing Productivity and Food Safety

Automating the commercial kitchen is not a new concept. But as the adoption of internet of things (IoT) technologies accelerates, commercial restaurants are looking at a future where automation will more effectively deliver on their top priorities: reduced labor costs and improved food safety. The key for quick-service restaurants (QSR) will be investing in solutions that actually address what matters most to their operations.

 

Driving greater labor efficiencies

Thus far, the foodservice industry has had great success with using automation to enhance human labor. In the near future, the goal of automation will be to begin to replace human labor. Connected equipment and related technologies hold the potential to not just eliminate steps, but to automate manual processes. As a result, QSRs will be able to shift from saving minutes here and there to reducing their actual headcount.

That’s not to say that the entire labor force will be replaced by touch screens and robots anytime soon. Rather, automating repetitive processes and universally undesirable tasks will enable employees to focus on higher-value activities. Enterprising QSRs could even use automation to improve employee satisfaction and retention by integrating incentives into everyday tasks.

Improving food safety

Automation will increasingly play an omnipresent role in food safety. This is welcome news for QSRs complying with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). For example, by automating food temperature documentation, QSRs will have greater confidence that the work is done correctly and consistently.

To fully benefit from automation, QSRs will need to integrate both hot side and cold storage areas. Doing so will provide operators with a real-time, end-to-end view of food safety, from storage to preparation to delivery to customers. Over time, the aggregated data can be used to further improve efficiencies and identify energy management cost savings.

Staying focused on long-term value

As the evolution of the commercial kitchen comes into view, it’s easy to get swept up in the possibilities and promise of emerging IoT technologies. But QSR operators need to look beyond the novelty and focus on real-world applicability.

A new high-tech solution may promise to improve operations through automation. But will it promote or detract from the customer experience? Will it deliver long-term, sustainable labor savings or just reallocate existing staff to different assignments? Above all, will it actually mitigate the risk of fines, bad press and reputational harm resulting from a food safety issue?

Likewise, operators need to determine what they will do with this abundance of data. The information is useless if it’s not attached to an actionable plan. And that means humans cannot be completely removed from the equation — yet.

At Emerson, we’re asking these questions on the front end to derive valuable business outcomes from all automation and connectivity initiatives. Our goal is to help operators capture the real-time data they need to ensure that food is safely stored, prepared and cooked. Our Cooper-Atkins solutions support critical food safety initiatives by automating temperature monitoring throughout the cooking and preparation processes. And as more of these processes are automated, QSRs benefit from enhanced productivity on the human side.

In our next article, we’ll delve into the business case of IoT technologies and the challenges involved with data ownership, user interfaces and servicing.

Integrated R-290 Cases Expand Into U.S. Markets

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently asked to contribute to an Accelerate America article about the increasing use of R-290 in the U.S. commercial refrigeration market. The article featured a variety of perspectives from supermarket operators and equipment manufacturers. Read the full article (pg. 38) and more on Emerson’s perspective below.

Integrated R-290 Cases Expand Into U.S. Markets

A growing number of American retailers — including Target, ALDI US and Whole Foods Market — have been deploying self-contained, R-290 cases as spot merchandisers in hundreds of stores, many of which are mainly served by centralized rack systems. Some retailers regard these units as partial or even full-store alternatives to using a centralized rack-based system.

Obviously, this comes as no surprise to Emerson. Not only have we been partnering with R-290 equipment manufacturers for many years, we also support operators and commercial refrigeration designers alike in their efforts to utilize R-290 — and a variety of other lower-GWP and natural refrigerants — in their systems. As others have stated in the article, this trend reflects a shift in the research and development processes for some manufacturers, in that fewer emerging architectures are being designed to utilize hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases.

It’s further evidence that, regardless of the unpredictable state of environmental regulations, R-290 use in commercial refrigeration continues to gain traction. We at Emerson are seeing the use of integrated case architectures — where one or more R-290 compressors is/are housed within a refrigerated case — and the continued use of completely self-contained units as the most likely paths to wider adoption of integrated R-290 in 2019 and beyond.

While R-290 systems may have originally been born out of necessity to address environmental concerns, today they’re perceived in the market as much more than just eco-friendly alternatives. With the expansion of smaller-format stores and increasing retail urbanization, many times there simply isn’t enough space to accommodate a machine room for a traditional central system. In these scenarios, plug-and-play, low-charge, R-290 systems are an ideal fit.

The safe use of R-290, which is classified as an A3, highly flammable refrigerant, is governed globally by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and nationally by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Historically, these standards mandated that R-290 charge limits should be limited to a maximum of 150g. However, the IEC recently updated their standard (IEC 60335-2-89) to allow the use of up to 500g of A3s like R-290. This charge limit increase will enable more application flexibility for European food retailers.

It’s important to note that in the U.S., the UL standard still mandates a maximum of 150g charge limit for A3s. Even with the low charge limit of 150g, R-290 cases have proven viable options for many leading retailers in the U.S. market and abroad.

While the industry adapts to the charge limit increase, there are real-world installations that are also indicative of the safety and reliability of these self-contained, R-290 cases. Since 2013, an HEB grocery store in San Antonio has utilized the R-290 cases installed throughout the entire store as its primary refrigeration source. The designer of that architecture, who was also interviewed in the same article, stated that these cases have proved to be both safe and reliable — and have had no leaks since they’ve been installed.

Today we’re achieving more flexibility using R-290 systems with micro-distributed architectures utilizing integrated cases. They are designed to remove compressor exhaust heat via a shared glycol water loop that’s directed to the roof of the facility for heat removal. These systems typically stay within the 150g limit and enable a greater degree of scalability.

It will be interesting to see how the possibility of increasing the R-290 charge limit, as has been discussed and studied within the industry for years, might impact system design in the future. For now, R-290 seems to have a place — albeit a relatively niche one — in U.S. markets.

Advances Continue in Cold Chain Tracking Technologies

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery, “Advances in cold chain technology for snack and bakery warehousing and transport.” There have been significant technological advances in recent years to enable better temperature and condition monitoring, including key offerings from Emerson. Read the full article here.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pressed for increased monitoring and documentation of refrigerator and freezer temperatures at every point along the cold chain to detect when cold storage temperatures fall out of the transported food’s safe range. Heightened awareness of foodborne illness as a serious health problem has driven advanced monitoring systems that trigger alarms and notify personnel should temperature conditions deteriorate.

However, these advanced systems are largely the domain of processing plants, warehouses and supermarkets, fixed locations where continuous monitoring and wireless data collection and processing are incorporated into an IT infrastructure — but they’re quickly earning industry-wide adoption.

When a food shipment is transferred to a truck, train or ship, accessing and documenting its temperature data becomes problematic and limited. Historically, food transport has been the weakest link in cold chain tracking. That’s why it’s become increasingly important to track temperature data on frozen and refrigerated food in transit to ensure food security and provide operators with end-to-end documentation.

This is where the latest advances in cold chain technology come in: the development of monitoring systems that include data loggers, i.e., electronic devices that communicate with sensors to collect data over time. When fully automated, they can eliminate the errors of manual tracking and recording information during transit, transmitting and storing continuous temperature data in real time.

Emerson Cargo Solutions is one of several companies working to fill data gaps during transit, with a suite of cellular monitors and loggers — GO Real-Time Trackers — which track and log the status of perishable products shipped across the entire cold chain, all in real time. Using cellular technology and the processing capabilities of the IoT, GO Real-Time Trackers can continuously transmit and log temperature and location data and send alerts from the loading dock to the shelf.

GO Real-Time Trackers are affordable, easy to use, and small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, making them particularly functional for tracking and logging goods in transit. Yet they also provide global visibility to shipments while transmitting temperature data to end users’ systems via the cloud and the IoT.

To use a GO Real-Time Tracker, a worker simply pulls a tab to start the device, places it in a container or trailer, and inputs its serial number into Emerson’s Oversight Exchange Data Integration app. From there, end users have access to comprehensive and automated monitoring. Logging data is encrypted for security and transmitted cellularly to the cloud and IoT for real-time processing and analysis. With either a smartphone or tablet, a user can check shipment status and generate documentation on the go. And the real-time data and documentation that GO Real-Time Trackers are capable of collecting are extensive:

  • Maps, graphs and charts of shipments with location and temperature details
  • Shipment summary reports using GO Real-Time Tracker serial numbers
  • Current product temperatures, temperature ranges and mean kinetic temperatures
  • Trip name, current trip status, location and duration
  • Total time out of cell range, above range and below range
  • Temperature graphs
  • Alarm events

End-to-end, real-time cold chain temperature monitoring and logging with GO Real-Time Trackers provide a higher level of overall security. Users can identify and fix previously unknown problem points in the cold chain. IoT connectivity and cellular communication make it possible for apps to monitor temperatures at set parameters throughout transport. And GO Real-Time Tracker documentation provides transparency, generating comprehensive reporting to comply with regulatory agency requirements for food safety.

Tapping the Potential of IoT in the Food Cold Chain

John Rhodes_Blog John Rhodes |Group President, Cold Chain
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

In a recent Progressive Grocer article, I described how business leaders are leveraging the internet of things (IoT) and connected technologies to achieve much tighter integration along every step of food’s journey to consumers, addressing some of the most challenging problems currently plaguing the food cold chain: food safety and food waste.

Consider what’s involved in bringing food to our tables. The process typically starts at a farm; proceeds to a processing plant; enters the transportation and logistics stream; arrives at a storage or distribution facility; and is delivered to retailers. Think about the many opportunities for errors along these steps — such as time in transport, temperatures and humidity. It’s easy to see how quickly and easily food quality can be impacted. We’re often reminded that these problems can lead to food safety issues for consumers and businesses. But too often, the related problem of food waste is overlooked.

A fully IoT-connected and integrated cold chain has the potential to change that.

Mitigating the cost of food waste

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 1.6 billion tons of food — the equivalent of $1.2 trillion — are wasted each year, essentially reducing total global food production by one-third. It’s a staggering amount that if left unchecked, could reach costs of $1.5 trillion by 2030.1

The study looked at the potential for loss at every stage of the food supply chain. IoT can help combat the food waste crisis at every step.

In the article, I cited one area that’s particularly problematic: fresh produce, which represents 46 percent of the total output lost each year. To illustrate how IoT sensors provide real-time tracking, monitoring and analytics of food conditions, I tracked the journey of a single strawberry from the moment of its harvest to a retailer’s shelf, showing how producers can use IoT to greatly extend perishable shelf life and improve the quality of fresh produce.

IoT can connect historically disconnected supply chain providers to make a real difference in maintaining food quality and freshness and combat food waste. Per the BCG study, “An unbroken, temperature-controlled ‘cold chain’ can help to reduce spoilage significantly.”2 By boosting the food supply chain’s efficiencies and its underlying infrastructures, the potential exists for $270 billion in food preservation gains annually. Simply put, reducing food shrinkage translates into significant bottom line increases for producers and retailers alike.

Building a more sustainable cold chain

Emerson is actively collaborating with leading cold chain providers who are embracing IoT for its potential to match fresh food with growing consumer demand. Our connected solutions draw on decades of global experience in refrigeration, controls, communication, analytics and insights. We work to track, trace and monitor critical data points, making the connections needed to ensure the appropriate handling of perishable foods from farm to table, creating sustainable solutions that are good for businesses, consumers and the global food supply chain.

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References

  1. https://www.bcg.com/en-us/publications/2018/tackling-1.6-billion-ton-food-loss-and-waste-crisis.aspx
  2. Infographic from BCG report; available upon request

 

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