Technology to improve the operation and cut the costs of warewashers is coming thick and fast. And the future pace of change looks even more bright and sparkling, says Elise Blanco
Cost cutting, labour savings and energy conservation remain the panaceas for what ails all foodservice equipment segments, including warewashing. “All manufacturers are driving toward saving costs and energy,” says Mike Kell, vice president at SSA, a consultancy based in
Tampa Bay, Florida. “It’s a worldwide mandate.”
In recent years, addressing these issues in the dish room, which can be a money pit for most operators, has been the top priority for warewasher manufacturers.
Developments and innovations in the warewashing segment mean there are now more cost-effective and practical options available to consultants. “It’s all about running costs and the cost of ownership, so we do anything possible to cut water, energy and chemical usage,” says Tim Bender, sales director, warewashing at Hobart UK, whose parent company is based in Troy, Ohio. Today’s warewashers use technology such as heat recovery components and ventless technology to help save energy costs; waste handling options that can cut disposal costs and labour, and intelligent controls that self-adjust cleaning time, chemical use and water temperature to suit varying soil amounts and load volumes.
Ventless technology is an emerging trend over the past couple of years – because steam can be cut to minimal levels within these machines, additional expense for venting, exhaust fans and duct work is cut too. However, it’s important to note that in some places, including Northern California, US, dedicated hoods are required with warewashers, regardless of an operation using ventless technology.
“Unfortunately, saving money with a ventless dishwasher is not possible in some areas,” says Amin Delagah, project engineer at the San Ramon, California-based Food Service Technology Center (FSTC), a programme funded by California’s utility customers and administered by Pacific Gas & Electric Company. “The FSTC is working to change these requirements, but it will be
“The biggest move has been towards ventless, high-temperature, door-type warewashers that incorporate heat recovery,” continues Delagah. “Adding a heat pump would capture heat from the unit’s exhaust and transfer it into incoming cold water for additional preheating. This technology also dehumidifies the exiting exhaust air, which allows for larger machines to operate without dedicated ventilation. We’re not there yet, but this is a promising development.”
The FSTC is currently testing a heat-recovery, door-type warewasher which captures hot steam. Because the unit doesn’t require dedicated exhaust ventilation, the cost of running it is less than it would otherwise be. Warewashers that use cold water connections instead of hot are common in Europe and are now becoming available in the US. “The heat-recovery feature pays for itself right away, since the biggest hot water user, the dishwasher, is no longer on the line,” Delagah says. “With new facilities, if we optimise with new hot water systems, there are additional water heating savings not directly attributed to the dishwasher.”
Ventless door-type units with heat recovery can provide as much as 35% savings in energy use when factoring in an electrical booster heater. For an operation which washes 300 racks of ware per day, this is a saving of about $650 each year, compared with a unit based on the US Energy Star rating. Delagah predicts a move away from water recirculation systems, with warewashers becoming more of a stand-alone appliance. These machines also incorporate point-of-use electric heaters rather than centralised hot water systems. “Door-type dish systems with cold-water inlets are catalysts for these changes,” Delagah says. Another innovation, known as drain heat recovery, recycles energy and can provide savings of between four and five kilowatts of power per hour.
“The payback with this technology comes within a year,” says Tim Bender. With rack or flight machines using conveyors, it’s the exhaust that’s the major cost factor. As a result, exhaust heat recovery systems recycle up to 12kw per hour when preheating water. With the addition of heat pumps, rack machines are able to operate without an extraction system. “These systems are so efficient at capturing energy, nothing needs to be extracted,” Bender says. “In the past five years, this has become a big default feature for us.”
Winterhalter, based in Milton Keynes, in the UK, has created a heat-recovery system for undercounter front-load and glass-washing machines that uses the heat generated in the wash process to increase the temperature of the cold water supply. “The unit generates steam, and rather than opening the door to release it, the energy is recirculated to heat cold water by heat exchange,” says Andy Blake, the company’s commercial director.”
Warewasher manufacturer Meiko, based in Offenburg, Germany, has focused on minimising the use of water, energy, detergent and rinse aids. The company’s newest technology includes an integrated airflow system that redistributes heat, which minimises heating energy consumption and exhaust emissions. “Air-conditioned kitchens cost a lot of money – this technology reduces waste air,” says managing director Dr Stefan Scheringer.
Innovative waste handling
Edmeston Bernard FCSI, vice president of Cini-Little International, a foodservice consultancy based in Germantown, Maryland, US, recently visited Meiko’s headquarters in Germany with other foodservice consultants. He toured several large installations, including a fully automatic tray conveyor/warewashing/waste handling system in Karlsruhe and a semi-automatic system in Rust, as well as experiencing a training session covering conveying technology and warewashing design principles and theory.
“What I wanted to see was the connection between flight warewashers and waste management systems,” says Bernard. “I saw the interface between having the warewasher wash and sort, but then direct food waste through a remote system.” Introducing these units into US and Canadian facilities will, however, take time, as consultants and foodservice operators need to become more aware about the technology and its benefits. “At first, it will be a challenge for consultants, who have to see this technology in use to fully understand it,” Bernard says.
Although adding a waste handling system to a warewashing unit saves labour, the length of placement, cost and size need to be addressed. Consultants also have to decide which type of waste handling system is best for an operation, application and location. One type of system scrapes organic food waste into the machine, where it disintegrates into water within 24 hours and is eliminated down the drain.
With another, enzymes are used to accelerate the decomposition process. “With this type of system, food waste is ground up and put in a tank, and a catalyst is added to help dissolve the compost, which is then flushed away,” explains Scott Cherevaty, vice president of sales and marketing at Champion Industries, which has offices in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, US, and Ontario, Canada.
In the past couple of years, warewashing technology has embraced a soil removal feature where food waste is removed automatically at the loading end of the machine. “The system takes food soil and pumps it out into a basket located outside of the machine so the water isn’t contaminated,” Bender says.
Per Walter, manager of R&D technical support at Granuldisk, a company based in Malmö, Sweden, that specialises in granule washing technology, agrees that “the main focus in the industry seems to be geared to reducing water, energy and chemicals”. He explains what the firm’s Granule technology uses: “Granules (tiny, blue plastic pellets) and water to mechanically scrub pots and pans clean. The blasting power combined with high temperatures washes hygienically clean in a matter of minutes, using far less water, energy and chemicals than traditional pot washing methods.”
In the past three to four years, much of the focus of improvements in warewasher technology has been on creating more intelligent machines that can automatically react to volume and soil amounts.
“Today’s machines will automatically adjust parameters, including washing times and water amounts,” Bender says. “Larger machines use this technology to automatically turn on and off, and they can even switch off different sections or zones of the unit as needed.”
The speed of conveyors can be tied into the amount of water consumed to help cut energy usage and labour costs. And there are features that automatically control operating temperatures, wash pressure and chemical injection, in addition to the cycle time. “With these tools, we can adjust the washing power to clean properly the first time,” Blake says. “This innovation provides total control on pressure, time, chemicals and temperature.”
Some newer units even have automated sensors to calculate how dirty the wash water is. “If an operator isn’t pre-scraping properly, the machine will sense this and adjust automatically for a clean wash,” Blake says. “The necessary water will be drained and the wash tank refreshed, taking the onus away from the operator.”
Filtration systems for warewashers have been updated so water can be purified continually during the washing process. And these filtration systems are compact enough to fit inside smaller units, such as glass washers.
“The automation, as far as handling the ware and the effectiveness of the process goes, is impressive,” says Kell. “With intelligent warewashers, no matter how much soil was involved, the dishes come out clean. Time and labour is less, because flatware is sorted automatically.”
Walter agrees that the industry will see more intelligent machines that can automatically react to volume and soil amounts. “The vision should be to press a button and then it’s clean,” he says, “the technique is there today on the crockery side/undercounter machines. The future is to make technology accessible to even more customers and markets. The question is whether the customer is willing to pay for it.”