May 01, 2014
Publisher Robin Ashton and I presented “How Big U.S. Chains and Institutions Purchase Equipment and Select Suppliers” for the educational Forum at Hotelex Shanghai/Expo Finefood, March 31-April 3. Richard Young, director of education and lead engineer for Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center (Fisher-Nickel Inc.), joined us in our adventure and shared a plan for equipping the energy-efficient kitchen of the future with our audience of about 200 Forum attendees.
I can’t describe how fun it was to walk through a foodservice show on the other side of the world. We ran into manufacturing friends—from Manitowoc, Alto-Shaam, Edlund, Prince Castle, Hatco, Legacy Cos., Scotsman, T&S Brass, Star, Pentair, MEIKO, Hoshizaki, Vollrath and more—in every aisle. For every familiar name, we saw 10 that were Asia-based. Electric equipment seems to be more common in Asia than gas; we saw lots of wok ranges, induction suites and noodle cookers. The Cooking Robot from Pansum was a show-stopper: It’s a vending machine that stir-fries meals in a glassed-in chamber, then serves them to the customer.
We were fortunate to be invited to tour several factories in and around Shanghai. T&S Brass’ factory was impressive, but we learned that the company is moving into an even larger facility over the next three to six months that will allow it to expand its quality and testing department, provide a training facility for customers in Asia and have room for future expansion.
We also toured Prince Castle’s Shanghai factory, an ISO 9000-certified facility, and Manitowoc’s facility in Hangzhou. Prince Castle’s factory floor is the picture of logical flow; G.M. Daniel Du allows select suppliers to warehouse some stock on premises so his workers always have a steady supply of parts. At Manitowoc, we saw VisualFactory, software that runs on screens at each workstation to walk employees through every step of product assembly. The right-first-time rate has hit new highs as the program will not allow workers to proceed until each step is completed properly.
We came away from these tours with a deep understanding of how much major chains rely on these manufacturers to support their global growth. And the tours absolutely confirmed the results of our survey on how U.S. chains select suppliers—chains do the deep-dive into factory conditions and manufacturing processes their suppliers very carefully—everywhere in the world.