Low GWP refrigeration, nanotechnology, Power over Ethernet, Radio Frequency Identification/Camera technology and robotics and robotic delivery

For part one of this story, please click here.

3. Low GWP refrigeration

At the start of this year, refrigeration equipment across foodservice moved to low global warming potential (GWP) models as part of a wider focus on energy efficiency. This shift from high GWP models to low GWP models is setting the tone for new developments in refrigeration.

GWP, the heat absorbed by any greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as a multiple of the heat that would be absorbed by the same mass of carbon dioxide (CO2), was the focus of legislation that came into force on 1 January 2020. The regulation, outlawing the usage of R404A, a highly damaging refrigerant gas, in new equipment.

Some of the more eye-catching energy-saving product innovation to hit the commercial kitchen equipment market in recent years include glass door refrigeration models, such as HoshizakiGram’s Eco Plus KG140 and Adande’s Aircell Grab and Go energy efficient refrigerator cabinet.

Consultant Serdar Sağlamtunç FCSI believes the technology is a potential game-changer. “The use of this process with renewable biomass is one of the few carbon abatement technologies that can be used in a ‘carbon-negative’ mode – actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is then transported by pipeline or by ship for safe storage,” he says.

“Carbon dioxide is commonly used as an industrial liquid refrigerant but could also be effective in heating and cooling buildings in urban areas. CO2 is known to be the primary greenhouse gas, but it could also help slow global warming. We may consider future refrigerators as open source and without compressors and evaporators, which signs huge savings.”

4. Nanotechnology

Covering diverse areas such as ingredients, packaging, supplements, storage, and food sensors, Nanotechnology can boast numerous benefits for foodservice. There have been four primary advances in this area: in agriculture (via the delivery of chemicals and pesticides and of growth hormones, nanochips for identity and tracking and nanosensors for plant or animal pathogen detection); food processing (flavor enhancers and nanoparticles to remove pathogens from food); food packaging (biodegradable nanosenors for food temperature and time monitoring; and supplements – creating nanosize powders to increase absorption of nutrients). Nanotechnology has also enabled lab-grown, synthetic meat (scientifically speaking, it’s not strictly nanotechnology, but the innovation does involve small structures) to be served by operators.

“Meat, without killing animals or the environment, should sound perfect,” says Sağlamtunç. “Meat grown in a laboratory from cultured cells is turning that vision into a reality. Several start-ups are developing lab-grown beef, pork, poultry and seafood.”

5. Power Over Ethernet (POE)

As a technology dating back to 1997 when it was invented by semiconductor company PowerDsine, Power over Ethernet (POE) simply describes a system that pass electric power along with data on Ethernet cables. This allows one cable to simultaneously provide a data connection and power – over time it has been used in solutions including security cameras and VoIP phones.

POE helps restaurants lower costs and protect the hardware while streamlining operations and – on top of these – the technology also comes with added energy efficiencies. One example of the technology is that developed by restaurant efficiency specialist Kitchen Armor.

Its All-in One Android touch screen employs POE, eliminating the need and expense of electrical outlets at each station, as well as power supplies and cable management requirements that typically accompany other kitchen display system hardware solutions. This in turn reduces risk of failure and makes it easy to trouble shoot. There’s another potential health and safety benefit with POE as the reduced need for wires helps to keep kitchens clutter-free, eliminating trip risks. POE is another technology where innovation is taking place continuously – among recent developments is a system with water resistant capabilities for use in restaurant kitchens.

6. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)/ Camera technology

Essentially the adoption of technology that uses radio waves to collect and transfer data, radio frequency identification (RFID) provides real-time traceability, communication and location data, which is valuable for the safe delivery of foodservices.

“RFID has been around supply chain for quite a while,” says consultant Jay Bandy. “Being able to build a track inventory that comes into restaurant and then goes out of the restaurant is exciting. RFID technology is now being integrated with POS systems. So, it loops everything together. Also, from a food safety perspective, there’s lots of impact that RFID will continue to have. It’s a good substitute for beacon technology, which is out there as well to help monitor temperature, but a less expensive way to do that technology.”

One of the big challenges with RFID, says consultant Joseph Schumaker is because it is a shortrange communication. “It was designed to be that way. So, high-power RFID is actually very expensive, and is cost prohibitive for foodservice at this moment to use. The contactless, POS RFID is actually quite effective in tracking what is in a unit. Byte Foods installed RFID tech into a refrigerator. It put a locking mechanism on the front door with a credit card reader, you swipe your card to open the door. And then as soon as you close the door, the machine takes an RFID inventory of everything inside of itself and then charges you for whatever you took. RFID is also used as a POS transaction point – because a lot of these systems actually tie off to either a credit card or a loaded value card – and also in people tracking and consumption, ” he says.

Further down the line though, Schumaker believes camera technology “is going to actually slay RFID and put it to bed completely in the next five to 10 years. RFID will die because the camera technology has gotten so good. The problem with camera technology is we start getting into privacy conversations – what does the system know about me? How much is it tracking – but the camera is capable of doing everything that’s happening in that Byte machine. It’s capable of everything that’s happening in that badge, door reader and it’s capable of 1,000 other things. As an industry, we are very behind in investing in camera technologies that would do lot of this work for us. It can identify food temps, warewashing issues, handwashing issues and employee interaction issues. Camera technology is the big untapped future – we’ve got to get into that now.”

7. Robotics and robotic delivery

Arguably one of the most talked about new technologies in foodservice in recent times, the introduction of robotics has genuine game-changing potential. Staffing challenges and narrow profit margins are among the incentives for operators to look to implementing robotics. Consultant Vinoo Mehera FCSI of Switzerland’s promaFox says it’s another area where he has noticed growth, but that remains a work in progress. “In the case of production kitchens we do see a lot of potential with such technologies and with the shortage and cost of qualified personnel, this is definitely an area that will develop rapidly,” he says, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic will only serve to further propel the implementation of robotics. “It helps to ensure higher levels of hygiene with less risk of human intervention and thereby risk to the customers,” he says.

The advantages robotics bring are many: it reduces labor expenditure and removes the risk for human error. It comes with added facilities to track preparation and delivery while providing a personalized service.

More recently we have seen robots replacing people in food preparation settings, doing everything from flipping burgers to pouring cups of coffee or scooping ice cream. An indication of the increased uptake might be found in Dexai Robotics’s oversubscribed $5.5m seed fund earlier this year. Dexia’s invention, Alfred, is touted as the only robotic chef to work in existing kitchens. “Alfred can be dropped into existing kitchens because its AI software recognizes its surroundings and adapts to the task at hand,” said David MS Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Dexia Robotics. “Because Alfred uses standard utensils, it can make ice cream sundaes for one customer, quinoa bowls for another, and poke for a third. We’re teaching robots how to ‘see’ and identify different objects and foodstuff, and prepare the delicious recipes that people already know and enjoy.”

Companies including Domino’s have given us a glimpse of what the future looks like – the pizza company announced the arrival of DOM, the autonomous delivery vehicle, a four-wheeled vehicle with compartments to keep food hot while driving on the sidewalk from the store to the customer’s door. While Domino’s doesn’t expect DOM to hit the road just yet, it gives us a clear indication of where we are heading.

As far as front of house goes, however, Mehera doubts it will make the same difference. “We believe that this is more emotional and should be managed by humans. Having said that we are sure that there will be foodservice outlets especially in the QSR space that will use robotics to serve customers.”

Michael Jones, Tina Nielsen, Conor Carleton


For part three of this story, please click here.

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