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Transform Commercial Kitchens with Automation

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Commercial kitchens can maximize efficiency, increase food safety, and reduce labor costs by implementing internet of things (IoT) technologies into restaurant operations. So, why has the foodservice sector been relatively slow to adopt advanced, connected automation?

Transform Commercial Kitchens with Automation

That’s among the many questions discussed by a recent E360 panel of key industry stakeholders, including:

  • Chuck Guerin, vice president for controls of the Middleby Corporation, a leading manufacturer of commercial cooking equipment
  • Jim Kleva, director of equipment engineering of Wendy’s, a global quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain
  • Matt Toone, vice president, sales and solutions, cold chain, Emerson

They acknowledged that restaurants lag behind the digital transformation achieved in other industries, largely due to concerns about data security. Nevertheless, kitchen operators are in “an experimentation phase” with an eye toward how automation can enable them to optimize commercial operations.

New on the menu: Predicting what customers will order

Among the potential improvements resulting from IoT technologies are faster ordering, cooking and drive-through procedures for quick-service restaurants.

Kleva said the technologies at Wendy’s can potentially predict what customers will purchase before they order, making it possible to speed up cooking and service. In this scenario, smart devices, cameras and sensors would connect to identify individuals, access their purchase history, and provide real-time analysis of conditions at nearby stores, traffic patterns, weather and school events — all while determining the number of patrons in the store, cars in the drive-through area and consumers entering the restaurant.

How much of this is a good idea remains to be seen. Many consumers may welcome the option to speed up service by allowing businesses to identify them by reading their vehicle license plates or through the use of facial recognition technology. Other consumers will likely object, viewing application of these advanced technologies as intrusive.

“Currently, our customers don’t want us to go there,” Kleva said.

Consumers might be more comfortable with restaurants implementing technology based on the last time they ordered. In addition, this recognition technology could be used for much less-specific identification purposes, to determine whether incoming customers are children, adults or other demographic details which could help QSRs accelerate service levels.

“Even a five- to 10-second heads-up could make a huge difference in our drive-through operation,” Kleva said.

The amount of data — along with the hardware and software — to make this smart restaurant vision a reality requires investments in connected equipment. Middleby’s cooking equipment already offers data processing for menu pushes and service-related alerts.

“The next generation of technologies will assist restaurant managers not by just predicting what food is needed but also by automatically starting the cooking process,” Guerin said.

Top concerns: Data security and communications

Potential barriers to wider adoption of IoT in commercial kitchens arise due to concerns from business owners and consumers about the security of data collected, stored and shared by restaurant equipment.

Among the challenges: how to pull all of the data safely and securely into meaningful, useable information. QSRs must manage equipment from multiple providers, each often designed with communication protocols and connectivity standards that are proprietary.

“There’s not safety or a compelling critical infrastructure issue forcing the industry to adopt a standard system,” Guerin said. “As OEMs, we’re all competing and we’re all trying to figure out an approach that meets our customers’ needs.”

Standardizing commercial kitchen technology would enable the devices to communicate more easily while enhancing data security. One solution is the growing use of application programming interfaces (APIs), software that make it possible for one system to share information in precisely controlled ways with another system. It’s the path Emerson has chosen.

“Establishing a common architecture, or at least flexible APIs, will become more important as the foodservice industry becomes more connected,” Toone said.

Emerson can help automate your restaurant

Emerson is helping QSRs leverage IoT in commercial kitchens to exercise control over equipment and systems and automatically perform routine tasks. Our smart facility management and supervisory controls, food temperature probes and IoT technologies are helping QSRs monitor and control food storage and cooking temperatures to comply with food safety regulations and maximize food quality and consistency. Implementing the systems can either free up workers for other tasks or enable kitchen managers to reduce labor costs.

These efforts can provide commercial kitchen equipment that is financially viable and easily connectible across legacy systems and modern, IoT-enabled devices. Learn more by reading the final article of this series about IoT-driven kitchen automation. We welcome you to read article 1 and article 2 if you’d like to review the full series.

Connected Kitchens Require Clear Project Scoping and Definition

Paul_Hepperla Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Integration – Foodservice

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I recently presented an E360 Webinar that discussed “The Risks and Rewards of Connecting Commercial Kitchens;” this blog is a commentary on aspects of that discussion. Click here to view this session.

According to the Gartner Hype Cycle, the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is one that’s full of promise and currently resides in their “peak of inflated expectations” stage. By their estimations, there will be 20 billion connected devices by 2020, and IoT will achieve mainstream adoption nationwide within 5–10 years. Today, however, only 26 percent of U.S. companies are successful with their IoT initiatives; 60 percent believe that while IoT looks good on paper, implementing it is more complex than expected.

In a recent E360 Webinar titled, The Risks and Rewards of Connecting Commercial Kitchens, I explored the current state of IoT in the foodservice sector from both equipment manufacturer and end user perspectives. While many companies are participating in field trials to test the potential business applications of IoT, the majority of these efforts are taking place without a defined strategy or comprehensive understanding of how IoT may fundamentally change their respective business.

From my experience, I’ve found that this lack of direction is the culprit behind most unsuccessful IoT initiatives. Remedying this problem is often as easy as answering a simple question: “What problem are we trying to solve?” Selecting a relevant problem that’s negatively impacting the business or its key stakeholders is a logical start.

But seeking data without regard to what value it can bring is a problem shared by many early IoT efforts. While it’s tempting to let the availability of the technology completely dictate the solution, the result is what I refer to as “the internet of broken things.” So how do we avoid these pitfalls?

In the webinar, I discussed what constitutes a successful IoT strategy and introduced an approach that Emerson refers to as “smart systems.” Smart systems consider the interdependence and relationships between all aspects of a connected offering that includes technology while also factoring in user experiences, business models and the specific markets we’re serving. For example, in foodservice, we often reference the concept of a connected kitchen. Taking a smart system approach to a connected kitchen means understanding various factors:

  • How end users and operators interact and interface with the connected equipment
  • The decentralization of brand control with respect to how operators may interact with equipment, which can complicate data collection
  • The relationship between manufacturer and end user, including the potential for commercializing a service model
  • Manufacturer visibility into equipment performance to allow for continuous design improvements

You can see that even before entering into a discussion of specific technologies, IoT represents a significant transformation in the way foodservice operators conduct business. For manufacturers, it’s an opportunity to gain tremendous insights into their products. But until IoT addresses the most critical problems in the foodservice sector, the opportunities for widespread adoption will be limited. Emerson not only has the technologies to implement connected kitchen solutions, we have a deep understanding of what manufacturers and end users need to create successful IoT programs.

Connected Kitchens are What’s Next for Convenience Stores

In a recent article for Convenience Store News, I discussed the connected equipment and technologies convenience stores must adopt to succeed with foodservice. Below are some of the highlights.

Today’s consumer is increasingly food conscious and more discriminating about their dining choices. To remain competitive and gain market share, convenience stores are creating or expanding their foodservice kitchens and offering a new menu of fresher, healthier foods.

The addition of new kitchen equipment is one more system for operators to manage in their stores. Expanding into foodservice can increase revenue, but it also creates a more complex store environment to navigate. Equipment management for kitchens becomes even more important as productivity and food quality can directly affect the customer experience, and ultimately the bottom line.

Connected Kitchen

Early adopters of the connected kitchen system are seeing additional strategic advantages to menu broadcast. As they are facing competition from other convenience store brands, and from quick-serve restaurants and supermarkets offering foodservice, efficient menu adaptability is increasingly valuable.

Read the full article online here.

To learn about connected kitchens for Quick Serve Restaurants, check out this blog post.

Jeff Zazzara
Director of Foodservice, Enterprise Product Management
Emerson Climate Technologies Retail Solutions

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