Restaurant kitchen

Electronically Commuted Motors Drive Restaurant Equipment Efficiency

Oct. 6, 2021
Compact, connected and versatile motors are vital to optimizing efficiency.

At a Glance:

  • The key to equipment operating efficiently and effectively and having a positive effect on the bottom line is a connected, compact and versatile electronically commuted motor.
  • ECMs are controlled electronically by a microprocessor and electronic controls and offer higher electrical efficiency compared to induction motors, while providing the ability to program precise speed of the motor.
  • When it comes to running restaurant equipment such as walk-in coolers, ovens, fryers and mixers, ECMs will operate more efficiently than traditional induction motors. 

Long before the pandemic, restaurant owners faced operations challenges such as high energy costs and consumption, kitchen space and equipment downtime. Commercial kitchen equipment plays a critical role in restaurant productivity and addresses each of these challenges. While typically not considered, at the heart of each piece of kitchen equipment is a motor, dramatically impacting these challenges with how the equipment runs.  

Since the average restaurant profit margin usually falls between three to five percent, finding ways owners can reduce their costs and increase productivity is imperative. Understanding the connection between their equipment and motors can ease these challenges, providing a smoother-running operation and thereby lessening costs.

Reducing Costs

Energy costs are always a major concern in the restaurant industry. The ongoing, robust use of energy-intensive, commercial kitchen equipment is hard on the electric bill. In fact, restaurants consume three times more energy per square foot than other commercial enterprises, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Specialized equipment with high power demand and extensive hours of operation consume huge amounts of energy.

Restaurants in the United States typically spend three to five percent of their total operating costs on energy. This includes a general annual average of $2.90 per square foot on electricity and $0.85 per square foot on natural gas.  With high expenses and tight margins, savvy owners and operators need to look for ways to address these issues.

One of the easiest and underutilized ways to improve the bottom line is to purchase high efficiency, Energy Star-rated restaurant equipment. But it shouldn’t stop there because running all of this equipment is a motor. Restaurant owners and operators can take a proactive approach in selecting equipment and inquiring if the equipment includes an electronically commutated motor (ECM). If it doesn’t, there just may be a more favorable option for equipment with an ECM, which may also be retrofit into existing equipment.

An ECM will operate more efficiently than traditional induction motors to run restaurant equipment such as walk-in coolers, ovens, fryers and mixers.  In fact, depending on use cycles, equipment with ECM technology have been proven to save more than 30% in annual energy costs, bringing valuable bottom-line savings for a restaurants’ profitability.

ECM Benefits

ECMs are controlled electronically by a microprocessor and electronic controls and offer higher electrical efficiency compared to induction motors, while providing the ability to program precise speed of the motor. ECMs can maintain efficiency across a wide range of operating speeds.

ECMs also offer higher efficiency, precise and unlimited airflow selection (variable speed) in fans, and properly maintained airflow during changes in system static pressure (constant airflow)—important benefits for restaurants’ walk-in coolers and hood exhausts, for example. The more efficient ECMs add less heat to the refrigerated space resulting in reduced equipment runtime.

Reduced Kitchen Space

To meet expenses, building owners are increasing rent. This means that many restaurants are reducing their kitchen square footage and need to install smaller, more compact equipment to optimize the kitchen space. Additionally, because of this reduced space, the equipment needs to be versatile and perform multiple functions.

The provision of both outdoor dining and takeout are key challenges that have also impacted kitchen operations over the past year. Add to this the space issues within kitchens, or the complications that arise from setting up an outdoor area, and it is clear that operators need cooking equipment that is compact and can multitask.

While designing a restaurant kitchen can be challenging under any circumstances, these challenges are multiplied for restaurants with small kitchens. Fortunately, restaurant equipment manufacturers have recognized this challenge and are engineering equipment to fit these tight spaces to help improve operational efficiencies.

With re-engineering and new designs, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are scrutinizing every component, including the motors, to deliver smaller, more versatile equipment solutions. Forward-thinking motor manufacturers are designing and engineering compact motors specifically for the newly designed, more versatile and smaller equipment. In fact, ECMs for restaurant equipment are gaining wide recognition and appreciation because of their power density. Considering weight and size, for any given horsepower rating, ECMs produce the same output as a traditional induction motor but with a much smaller footprint and much less weight.

Importance of Connectivity

A few years ago, research firm Gartner Inc. predicted that by 2020 smart equipment would save food and beverage companies 15% annually, noticeably affecting the industry’s tight profit margins. Connecting the various aspects of a commercial kitchen and myriad equipment on a single, cloud-based platform increases safety and efficiency and reduces expenses.

Capturing and reviewing data on how foodservice equipment is operating allows operators and owners to monitor and modify usage on specific pieces of equipment based on times of the day and volume, monitor food safety metrics and reduce costs by optimizing equipment performance and facility operations, and thereby ultimately lowering operating costs. However, the key to this equipment operating efficiently and effectively and having a positive effect on the bottom line is a connected, compact and versatile EC motor.

Reducing Equipment Downtime

In a busy restaurant, nonfunctioning equipment means lost revenue, angry customers and quite possibly unfavorable reviews. Every minute that the business is open and operating—or open and not operating—is critical to the bottom line. For example, an inoperable oven requiring repair is very impactful as a staple to the restaurant’s operational productivity. Five hours lost waiting for a service technician and a completed repair can easily translate into a 40% loss in business revenues for that time period.

Additionally, with $100-an-hour labor charges and replacement parts charges, the overall effect can be a staggering loss of thousands of dollars. Clearly, unplanned kitchen downtime and repairs are a recipe for disaster. However, if the equipment is powered with dependable ECMs this unplanned downtime may be greatly reduced.  

Some of the newest ECMs feature custom motor control programmability to enable not only custom run cycles but also monitoring for expected operating conditions. As such, these smart ECMs blend well with current restaurant industry trends to leverage IoT-allied products and intelligent algorithms to continually optimize operations.

IoT devices and components within the equipment such as connected, long-lasting EC motors, may be programmed to issue alerts and provide invaluable forewarning of a potential issue, not only for the motor itself, but also the equipment it is running. This predictive approach to anticipate issues and schedule maintenance, when required, positively aids in reducing any downtime and improve operational efficiency, thereby helping ensure any restaurants’ primary purpose of quality in food and service.  

Given that an ECM is inherently more efficient than an induction motor, adding variable speed further increases the motors’ efficiency. Variable speed can more closely match the motor to the load; meaning that equipment fans or compressors aren’t running full speed when they don’t need to.

So many factors that can’t be controlled impact the success or failure of a restaurant: the economy, a pandemic and the labor market, for example. However, ensuring the vast array of equipment is operating as efficiently as possible is within the influence of the owner and operator. Being mindful of the motor that is running the equipment can further reduce downtime and expenses while increasing efficiency and profitability.

Andrew Lamer is a product manager with an emphasis in electronically commutated motors (ECMs) for the Commercial Motors business segment of Regal Rexnord, one of the world’s largest producers of electric motors. To learn more about Regal Rexnord’s portfolio of small motors, contact him at [email protected].

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