Repair or replace? The big dilemma facing kitchen operators

Oven maintenance

It’s the age-old question asked by every commercial kitchen operator: when a piece of kit slows down or fails completely, should you repair it in an attempt to extend its working life or replace it altogether? FEJ went in search of the answer and discovered it’s all about considering the bigger picture.

Recessions impact markets in all sorts of different ways, but one thing they almost always do is affect the willingness or ability of companies to spend money. Take the foodservice equipment industry. It was hit hard during the aftermath of the financial crisis as a result of reduced consumer expenditure, prompting many operators to defer the replacement of equipment and instead focus on repairs to squeeze more life out of existing kit.

“When the national economy is in the doldrums, many end-users make the difficult decision to repair rather than replace capital equipment,” observes Julian Lambert, sales director at Maidaid-Halcyon.

“Their operating costs switch from capital spends to maintenance budgets. But with the slight upturn in the economy recently, we have seen a change with customers now replacing rather than repairing machines.”

Indeed, the situation is changing, and chefs and buyers have started to re-examine budgets and equipment requirements with growing confidence. It is not only anecdotal evidence that suggests this. A recent survey carried out by Electrolux Professional found that 67% of chefs have replaced a piece of equipment in the past 12 months.

Ironically, regular repair work is often cited as the main reason for switching kitchen appliances because significant equipment downtime typically has a detrimental effect on a chef’s ability to deliver for their customers.

“While replacing a bulb, fan or door seal is a fairly straightforward and cost-effective solution to prolong the life of a piece of kitchen equipment, each repair incurs an individual cost and it doesn’t take long before the financial argument for replacing soon begins to outweigh that of continual repairs,” says Darren Lockley, head of region for the UK and Ireland at Electrolux Professional.

Steve Elliott, managing director of maintenance specialist Serviceline, says that knowing when to replace equipment can be difficult if an operator has a wide variety of kit to manage. “The real issue is that there is usually a mixture of different manufacturers’ equipment in any one kitchen and a major challenge, especially for chain operators, is keeping track of maintenance records. Our online portal holds all the maintenance records and service manuals for the kitchen equipment across an estate.”

Items costing under £1,000 might be replaced after a major failure rather than be repaired, whereas items costing over £10,000 would be repaired and expected to last eight to 12 years or longer”

Some feel there are distinctly polar attitudes when it comes to catering equipment procurement these days. The first is to buy a cheap product and throw it away when it becomes beyond economical repair and the second is to pay more for a quality product that offers longevity.

“What the former fails to take into account is the money spent on repairs — the product is likely to suffer a number of ‘minor’ breakdowns before it finally packs up — and the potential loss of revenue this may cause,” says Dan Loria, business development manager at catering equipment supplier Grande Cuisine. “It is also likely that the quality unit, although more expensive to purchase, will be cheaper to run.”

So how should an operator judge or work out the lifecycle expectancy of a product? Is there a formula they can use to get an idea of how long their investment will last?

It is fair to say that there are a number of basic rules which, if adhered to, will ensure kitchen equipment is able to operate effectively for as long as possible. Warranties are an excellent indicator of a manufacturer’s faith in their equipment as well as a product’s expected lifespan, and should always be a factor in the purchasing decision.

Suppliers also urge buyers to visit the manufacturer before committing to a purchase and take part in a thorough product training programme in order to fully understand how to use any new equipment correctly. “As misuse or lack of care when operating kitchen equipment is one of the biggest reasons for failure, and by default one of the main reasons repair work has to be undertaken, eliminating bad practice from the outset should mean the replacement equipment will automatically experience an enhanced lifespan,” says Electrolux’s Lockley.

Serviceline’s Steve Elliott says it often comes down to a trade-off between the replacement costs of the equipment and the cost of repairs, taking into consideration the age or general condition of the equipment. “Items costing under £1,000 might be replaced after a major failure rather than be repaired, whereas items costing over £10,000 would be repaired and expected to last eight to 12 years or longer,” he comments.

“Some take a straight-line depreciation approach to the repair/replace question, but usually the repair can be significantly quicker than a replacement machine being installed. When making comparisons, the costs of removal, disposal and installation, which can sometimes be significant, must be added to the replacement price.”

Graham Kille, managing director at Frima, insists that with today’s technology, buyers should be able to get a clear understanding of how long their investment is going to last, although he suggests it always pays for them to do as much homework as possible. “All manufacturers know the life expectancy of their equipment and should be able to tell their customers. Energy efficiency certificates demonstrate the savings that can be expected and independent feedback is one of the best ways to assess life expectancy,” he says.

Serviceline (68) tatto removal

During leaner economic times, foodservice operators are more inclined to repair than replace.

Loria of Grande Cuisine, which provides high-end cooking suites and induction from brands such as Adventys, CAPIC and Athanor, is prepared to offer a more numerical guide to how long buyers can roughly expect their equipment to last before replacement is likely to be necessary. “For our products we say that light duty equals the ‘three to five’ rule, that is three to five hours of use per day, three to five days used per week, and three to five years of life expectancy. For medium duty it’s five to seven, for heavy duty it’s seven to 10, and with bespoke its 12 to 15 years. This is based on good maintenance as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.”

If you take a category such as warewashing, meanwhile, a full and complete evaluation of costs is required including energy, chemicals and water. However, it is also crucial to take into account the impact that a new warewashing system will have on staffing and building costs, suggests Bill Downie, managing director of Meiko UK.

He explains: “New premium dishwashers featuring integral heat recycling can eliminate the need for overhead ventilation canopies that cost thousands of pounds, for example. Automated cutlery or tray handling systems can cut the numbers of staff required. Integrated reverse osmosis cuts manual handling.

“Food waste handling systems process and remove all food waste from site for collection by tanker for conversion into biogas. This cuts large amounts of labour, as well as removing a hygiene risk and cutting collection costs.

“The key point is to obtain a full site survey detailing what the supplier thinks is required and then using this as a point of comparison with the others in the market. While kW per hour comparisons between dishwashers can be very revealing, the true cost implications of new equipment are far wider.”

Lambert at Maidaid agrees that working out the lifecycle expectancy of a product can be dependent upon several important key factors when it comes to warewashing equipment.

“This includes correct install, having the correct water treatment in place, correct daily maintenance, and correct usage of the equipment,” he says. “If all these factors are completed, the equipment should last for many years. This would be the best formula to ensure longevity of service for your machine.”

Some might argue that the biggest indicator of the durability of an item of catering equipment is the price. But is that a fair assumption? Kenny Smith, sales director at Middleby UK, think so. “The more robust a piece of equipment, the more expensive it normally is. Units can also be more expensive due to the more expensive parts used, which are normally more reliable. So we believe there is a correlation between cost of equipment and lifetime costs. Obviously if a piece of equipment is under-used then this is where less expensive equipment will give a good lifecycle cost.”

It is always hard to know when you have reached ‘crunch time’ with a piece of equipment. The best advice I can give is to listen to the advice of your service engineer”

It’s certainly important for each operator to strike the right balance between price point and quality. That’s because there are certain performance-enhancing features which do cost extra, however they can go a long way to improving the overall lifecycle cost of the equipment. Energy-saving features, for example, can often contribute to a reduction in running costs over the long term and offset any associated increase in initial purchase price.

Meiko’s Downie agrees that it is not just about the kit, but what comes with it. Lifecycle costs on dishwashers, for example, are determined by build quality and design, service and how the user treats the machine, particularly within a business with multiple outlets.

“Suppliers and manufacturers will argue about the qualities of their machines, but the factors that actually determine true lifecycle costs are twofold — the technical services support and the knowledge and training provided on the ground by the supplier’s sales force. The best suppliers win business not on price alone, but on providing the best combination of price, equipment design features and after-sales support, plus other criteria that form a ‘tick-box’ checklist, including drying efficiency, delivery dates and machine installation, which may need to be over a weekend.”

At the end of the day, says Grande Cuisine’s Dan Loria, you need to remember that the price of a piece of equipment is inextricably linked to the cost of manufacturing it.

“This makes it much harder for the end-user to establish what’s good value and what isn’t, so it is up to distributors and those that deal with end-users to provide knowledgeable, coherent advice that will enable the end-user to make an informed choice,” he says. There is one recurring message from suppliers, though: to really maximise equipment longevity, practicing proper maintenance procedures as outlined by the manufacturer is a must. Irrespective of the price tag, if equipment is not properly maintained, it inevitably won’t run to its full operational lifespan.

So, after all that, when should you repair an item of equipment and when should you replace?

“It is always hard to know when you have reached ‘crunch time’ with a piece of equipment and the best advice I can give is to listen to the advice of your service engineer,” says Grande Cuisine’s Dan Loria. “This is one of the reasons why it’s vital for the end-user to have equipment regularly maintained by the same company as it will enable the engineer to build up a ‘picture’ of the equipment’s service history and put them in the best position to advise on when the time might have come to replace the unit.”

For Electrolux’s Lockley, product performance is the key decision-making factor. “When the performance of existing equipment dips to a level where the overall productivity of a kitchen is put in jeopardy, that is the point at which operators should really consider replacing equipment.”

Top 5 lifecycle tips

We asked suppliers what operators can do to optimise the lifecycle of their equipment. Here are their top five pieces of advice.

•    Attend product training to not only understand how to use the equipment, but how to maintain it.
•    Seek out a planned-predictive maintenance plan to see equipment work for the duration of
its intended operational lifespan.
•    Always use qualified engineers who have training from the manufacturer.
•    Use manufacturers’ original parts rather than cheaper substitute components.
•    When replacing equipment always look at the most modern updated models. After all, you don’t replace your old TV, mobile phone or laptop with similar models, you go for the latest versions.

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