On 25 October our hospitality, restaurant and catering world returned to normal in Singapore. The After a four-year wait FHA HoReCa exhibition from 25–28 October showcased the best in kitchen equipment, housekeeping and supplies from manufacturers and suppliers from around the world.
From the newest to the most familiar they were all there, something for everyone, with the service robot being the most obvious consequence of the Covid global lockdown. Not confined to one area of the exhibition, a ‘romp of robots’ meandered through the throngs of visitors. These service robots might just as easily be described en-mass as a ‘rabble’ or ‘regret of robots’, or as a ‘raft’, as in ‘a raft of penguins’ that they imitate, depending on your point of view. But they are here to stay in one form or another in our industry, so I invite contributions to a suitable formal collective noun to describe them.
Labor as a common theme
The general issue of automation of which robots of this types are part, was front and center in the panel sessions held in the Hospitality 4.0 on the first day, where the challenges presented by labor shortages was a common theme.
A keynote presentation by John Ha, founder of Bear Robotics, set the scene for the future of service robots which he described as being used to assist front of house restaurant staff rather than replace them; but did not address the issue of return on investment.
The two FCSI-sponsored panel sessions open to visitors at the exhibition were well attended. The first being a lively discussion on the Future of Foodservice and HoReCa hosted by Auburn William FCSI and Mario Sequeira FCSI and moderated by Michael Jones (main picture), which dug out some interesting insights into our future from a panel representing a range of hospitality industry sectors.
The other FCSI sponsored panel session hosted by William discussed the issue of sustainability in the industry with particular reference to the issue of managing waste and air quality by Meiko’s Dr Michael Meirer and Hannes Braun (pictured above) and Halton’s Gunalan Ganesan (pictured, right).
However, for me the most insightful were the presentations on industry data and analytics given by Tim Hill of GlobalData and Leonard Lam, MD of Welbilt Asia Pacific (pictured, below), who presented at the FCSI networking event at the end of day 2, an overview of the data that will inform future industry prospects.
Automating processes, and connectivity
Apart from robots, what did I see that was interesting? Well, my interest and primary reason for attending was automation. Many exhibitors from around the world are starting to address the automating of processes, but generally only from an IT perspective rather than automated process equipment; if you don’t include coffee making (but that’s for another time).
Connectivity was the automation buzzword, but inevitably by manufacturers only offering connections between their own equipment. For consultants, I fear that we are still a long way from enabling all the relevant equipment in the kitchen, regardless of source, being usefully interconnected to provide real operational benefits.
Whilst induction cooktops have become a regular addition to the lineup of most cooking equipment manufacturers lineup, given the inevitable demise of gas as a fuel to burn for cooking, I was surprised to see only one induction wok and that was by MKN with a 30kW unit, a great piece of equipment, but shown with a wok pan with a large handle?
As with other serious induction woks I have seen, the user experience in the design has still not been fully addressed: quickly controlling the energy input by a button placed on the lower front panel, when the bottom of the wok pan is about to be melted by 30kW, would not seem to be helpful. (Further discussion on the opportunities for induction is for another time).
The strangest piece of equipment that I saw was a small undercounter front loading/unloading “carrousel” dishwasher called MyMac from Malaysia, which uses high-temperature, high-pressure water nozzles to blast the wares in a continuous flow without the need for detergent. The demonstration was using clean plates, so no proof of system was possible: but an interesting idea.
Another well-established but little applied technology in the foodservice industry that was presented by both Hains and Sunkyung of South Korea, is the power of Ultraviolet sanitizing using UV-C frequency. The ability to store, dry (if necessary) and at the same time sanitize wares, cutting boards, knives and utensils after they have been washed and to know that they are fully sanitized before being used would seem to be an obvious benefit seldom applied in Western professional kitchens. The applications also displayed included cafeteria tray and cutlery automatic dispensers. The HACCP benefits are obvious.
Automation in HoReCa still has some way to go
Back to robots, not all were Service Robots designed to carry trays to and from the kitchen to the dining room or for the last mile food delivery in apartment blocks, there were others designed to pick up carts (laundry, meal etc) and still others with a platform that can be made to hold equipment or other items for robotic transfer as part of automating a process that replaces labor.
But the fully engineered purpose automation seen in Singapore was ‘Ella’ the Robotic Coffee Machine by Crown Coffee that uses a Cobot arm to move the cup between the automatic coffee machine and the point of service. The real benefit, espresso at $Sing4.00 rather than between $6.00 and $8.00 in the street. Again, surprisingly I didn’t see any other Cobot applications at the exhibition, so it seems automation in HoReCa still has a long way to go.
And on the subject of espresso and other coffee machines, it seemed every European and other manufacturer were presenting their equipment in a glittering gathering of booths, each with a unique feature to improve the process and offering tasting: however, surprisingly for an Asian exhibition, I only found two tea purveyors. But then again, there were so many booths and stands spread unevenly over the five exhibition halls that it was hard to figure if you’d covered everything.
In the same way that there was a plethora of coffee machines, likewise a serious gathering of ice cream, soft-serve and gelato machines on show. The most interesting I found being a self-contained twin tub programable unit for making, storing and serving Gelato and Sorbet called Synthesis by Carpigiani.
Overall, my impression is the exhibition was successful in delivering a showcase and networking possibilities after a four-year Covid hiatus that can only help reinvigorate the industry. If I see any downsides, it is that there was no longer the traditional full FHA exhibitors catalogue that has been such a useful ongoing reference to help following up on products and services. The separation of dates for the food & beverage exhibition and HoReCa, which given the combination of the two is what the industry is all about, seemed regrettable.
On the downside from a personal perspective, whilst the panel sessions were very effective in delivering snapshots, the loss of the long-form professional conference program is a failure to support the potential intellectual growth of the industry in Asia. Also for me, the replacement of name badges with QR codes meant that frequently I did not know who I was talking to, even though they seemed to remember me. The loss of the catalogue and name badges definitely reduced this user’s experience.
Overall FHA HoReCa was well worth attending and the next one on 22-25 October 2024 will be in my diary. It really is a unique event in being a global hospitality equipment showcase not only representing the best available from North America and Europe but also from the Middle East, the India Sub-Continent, SE Asia and the Asia Pacific, China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.
Tim Smallwood FFCSI