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April 1999 Issue (Updated March 2000 Issue)
By Beth Lorenzini
Bubble, Bubble—No Toil, No Trouble
Hand scrubbing pots and pans is inefficient, costly, and right at the top of everyone’s list of worst jobs. That’s why these high-powered potwash sinks are worth a look.

If I tried to take this machine out, my crew would hang me,” one operator put it.

Few pieces of equipment elicit such emotional responses as power-assisted potwash sinks. Predictably so, actually. Kitchen staffers love them for obvious reasons. These whitewater wonders free them from what’s no doubt the grungiest, worst part of their jobs, the misery of scrubbing off all that baked on, caked on, greasy food soil. That’s an emotional issue, and for management it bears on retention.

But even beyond the humanitarian angle, and probably more to the point, power potwashes have built a solid case for more tangible advantages, too: They substantially reduce labor, water and detergent costs. Depending on menu and volume, estimates of savings from 75% on labor to 50% on water and detergent are tossed about freely by operators and called conservative.

While there’ve been predecessors, the power-assisted potwash sink category as it stands today is relatively new. Power Soak from Metcraft was first on the scene in 1987; Hobart came on board with TurboWash, and Insinger anted up with its Aqua-Scrubber, during ’96 and ’97. Each offers complete sink packages, not pump units that attach to existing 3-compartment sinks. All use high-powered, recirculating water to clean pots, pans and blunt utensils.

Initially, the conventional wisdom said power sinks had the biggest application in large, institutional venues where the labor required to keep up with volume potwashing made a really strong argument for automation.

The Way It Is
Today, however, at least four of the top 10 fast-food chains spec power sinks as standard over traditional sinks, and the manufacturers have found that just about every kind of foodservice site imaginable, from a small deli to huge hospital, is benefiting from them. How so?

For starters, every foodservice establishment is required to have a sink dedicated to warewashing anyway—so there is no question of “to have a sink or not to have a sink.” With conventional sinks, you can count on some givens: You need frequent dumps and refills throughout the day because the water cools off and gets dirty quickly; you need someone to stand and hand scrub the wares, spending an average of three to five minutes per pot or pan; and how well your pots and pans get cleaned is entirely dependent on the work ethic of the soul doing the scrubbing. And finally, regardless of your best efforts, over time those pots and pans will become dirty beyond anyone’s power to get clean, and you’ll have to replace them.

Enter the power sink, and one by one these issues are resolved. Each of the models offered by the key manufacturers will reduce the number of fills needed by a good half. If your regular sink averages six fills a day, three fills a day will be plenty with a power version. That’s because most are purchased with sink heaters that keep the water hot, and the fast moving, recirculating water suspends and filters debris, keeping the water cleaner longer.

And that jetted water, at least 300 gallons per minute in every model we encountered, powers off pot and pan debris, leaving your human dishwasher free to make better use of his or her time. Compared to the average of three to five minutes to manually scrub each pot, the power versions will do about 15 to 25 pieces on average in six to 15 minutes depending on the soil level. And all that production is happening without anybody standing there on the clock.

“This machine is a godsend,” says Libby Kotzan, hospitality manager for Motorola Inc.’s Libertyville, Ill., facility. “This job (potwashing plus some other duties) used to be a 1 1/2-person job. Now one person easily handles it and is even free to take care of additional tasks around the kitchen. We’ve saved half a full-time slot.”

In addition to the labor and water savings, another advantage surfaces. Several operators say they hadn’t anticipated the savings in pan replacement costs. “I had a $100 pot I was sure I was going to have to toss,’’ says a KFC franchisee. “I left it in overnight and it looked like new. All our pans are lasting longer.”

If few equipment categories have brought out such emotions, fewer have defied standardization as much. In the power sink business, customization is king—in spades. We’ll cover exactly what each manufacturer offers in sizes, standard features and options later in the article, along with the differences in the way the various units actually power wash the wares. But before you’ll need the details, you’ll need to ask yourself a few key questions up front. Is a power sink worth your investment? And if so, what kinds of features and accessories will you need to look for?

Decisions, Decisions
First, figure your budget. Even if you do no power sink at all, a traditional 3-compartment sink runs in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000. Power sink prices vary widely depending on the size and features, but a basic fast-food unit—maybe 9’ with a scrapper sink, spray arm, 36” heated wash tank, rinse and sanitizing sinks and clean-end drainboard—will run in the $6,000 to $8,000 range (less for volume buys, of course). Larger institutional systems are more likely to run in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. Once you subtract the cost of a traditional sink, the amount left over is the true initial cost to upgrade.

Next up, determine how much manual potwashing is costing you on an operational basis. Consider such factors as:
• How many hours a day your operations spend on potwashing
• How much your potwashing labor costs per hour
• How many times your dishwashers have to dump and fill the sink in the course of a day’s operation
• How much detergent they use each time they fill the sink, and the cost
• How much water they use to fill the sink, and how much it costs
• How much you spend on replacing pans each year

Any one of the makers in this story can help you work out your own cost analysis. But even if you’ve got as little as six hours a day in potwash labor, you can probably save three hours a day. At $7 per hour, that’s more than $7,500 a year without benefits. And none of that even begins to count water, chemicals and so on. It’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll get your return on investment within a year, or close to it.

As you’ll read, the sizes, configurations, standard features and options available on these units run the gamut. Where do you start to figure what kind of package you’ll need? Consider these questions:

Better Know What You Want
First, how much total space do you have to fit a sink? This will determine the overall size of the unit you can choose. But keep in mind, these sinks can be made to angle at corners, fit L- and U-shaped spaces, attach to door- and conveyor-style potwash machines—you name it, just about, and these manufacturers can build it.

Next, what is the size of the largest item you’ll be washing? Watch out, this is a trick question. Many operators use power sinks to clean hood filters and broiler parts in addition to traditional cookware. Identifying your largest ware will help you decide on the size of the wash tank.

And just how messy is your cookware? Are you just baking bread, or mixing up gallons of chili? Do you have a buffet in your operation? We hate to ask, but is your food greasy? These factors will help you decide whether you need a scrapper sink and spray arm to prerinse the wares, a disposal for leftover foods, and a sink heater to maintain hot water temperatures. Note: Very few units are purchased without sink heaters.

Finally, what do your local health departments require when it comes to sanitizing? This will tell you if you need three or four compartments, how large your sanitation sink needs to be, or whether you must forgo the sanitation sink portion in favor of a high-temp potwash machine. It will also tell you how large a clean-end drainboard you’ll need.

Whirlpools Vs. Waves
Once you’ve sorted out those issues, what else are you looking for? Differentiations from model to model can be subtle—details in thoughtful design, or similar features packaged differently. But the big difference among potwashers can be summed up in two words: Water motion—the stuff patents are made of. When you comparison shop, each manufacturer will make a case for you on the washing ability of its own particular tank’s outlet and intake design. Alphabetically, let’s start with Hobart’s TurboWash.

The TurboWash goes for the tornado or whirlpool motion. It uses eight angled 1 1/2”-diameter nozzles clustered vertically (two rows of four) on one side of the wash tank to start the action. The Hobart intake, which draws the water out of the tank and back through the pump, is located low along the back wall of the sink. The intake boasts two filtering covers, a removable outer cover and a hinged inner screen that provides secondary protection should someone forget to replace the outer filter cover after wiping it off. Hobart also touts the fact that both the nozzles and the intake screens are recessed into the walls of the sink.

Like the TurboWash, Insinger’s Aqua-Scrubber creates a strong whirlpool. The unit features eight 1 1/4”diameter nozzles on the side, but they’re spaced horizontally, not vertically. And instead of placing the intake on the back wall, Insinger puts it on the same sidewall as the nozzles and across the back corner of the sink. As for the nozzles, they’re angled slightly downward and toward the front so that the water hits the front wall of the tank, deflects to the opposite side, to the back wall and back to the original side in a counterclockwise motion where it recirculates through the inlet. Insinger, like Hobart, recesses the intake and the jet nozzles, an effort that might help keep plumbing bits out of harm’s way should an errant pot somehow hurl upstream and whack the side wall.

Metcratft’s Power Soak takes a noticeably different approach to water flow, with four 2”-diameter nozzles arrayed evenly and spread across the entire back wall of the unit (a 54” or 60” wash tank gets five nozzles) in a horizontal row.

The intake is located on the side wall of the sink. The jet nozzles shoot water downward from the back to the bottom front, where it deflects up in a powerful wave—similar to a barrel roll. Metcraft says it spread the jets for broad coverage, and put them on the back wall pointing forward so the water flows a shorter distance and doesn’t dissipate velocity.

As we said, each maker has its theories about water flow. But as you can imagine, how water moves in an empty tank is different from how it moves in a tank that’s full. When you’re coming to decision time, your best bet is to watch ’em in action—loaded.

Whichever motion you have a notion to buy, the unit you’ll get will be made of 14-gauge, 304 stainless steel. Any model can be built for right to left or left to right operation, and all will automatically shut down the pump if there is no water in the tank. The centrifugal pumps on each are easily accessible from the front of the units.

Something In Common
These models share many options, too. For example, Hobart, Insinger and Metcraft all offer:
• Disposals, which you’ll want if you’re dumping the leftovers from buffets or deli displays, for example.
• Sink overflows, a must if you opt not to get a scrapper sink. The overflow, or scrap trough, removes skimmed debris from the roiling water and extends the life of the water.
• Under and over shelves, to add storage space to tight operations.
• Pump timers that allow the unit to run and then shut off after hours. These are usually preset for four hours by the factory and are used in conjunction with the low/high wash tank heater settings. Operators who spec this option tell us they often run the unit at normal heat (112°F-ish) during the day and then turn the unit to high heat (120°F to 140°F depending on the model) just before closing. They set the timer and take off. That way, last minute or very heavily soiled wares can be washed during down time and are ready when the place opens in the morning.
• Sink separators for tanks 42” or wider to allow you to do smaller loads without filling the whole tank.
• Each brand gives you wire utensil baskets (standard in most, optional from Hobart) to hook onto the side of the wash tank for hanging such goodies as spatulas, whisks, scrapers and the like. While we’re talking about utensils, though, a word of warning: Never use a power sink to clean sharp objects such as knives.

In addition, Hobart and Insinger offer an auto fill feature, that allows you to set the unit to automatically refill with the push of a button. A sensor determines the tank is full and shuts off the water.

Hobart also offers a recessed, removable basket strainer for the bottom of the wash tank that makes it easy to clean out debris before refilling an emptied sink.

Final Notes
The number and combination of configurations, sizes and options you can order in a power sink, as we said, defy full description. And while almost every unit made by Hobart and Metcraft is custom, Insinger offers prefab units.

Insinger has two models, the Dash 103 and Marathon 140, that are ready to go. That means they’re completely outfitted with scrapper sinks, spray arms, wash tank, heater with low- and high-heat settings, rinse and sanitizer sinks, clean-end drainboard, and all the faucets and drains. The Dash 103 is an 8 1/2’ unit comprised of a 28” scrapper, 30” wash tank, and rinse sink, sanitizing sink and clean end of 15” each. The Marathon 140, at just under 12’, has a 28” scrapper. Get the 140, and you get the 48” wash tank. You also get 20” rinse and sanitize sinks and a 24” drainboard.

With the issue of labor—so hard to find, so costly, so hard to retain—we think you’ll be hearing a lot about these power sinks in the future. They really seem to make extraordinary sense in so many foodservice operations. So do the math and figure the worth. And if you do decide to buy, we suggest you have your units delivered with big red bows, because your crews will consider them a gift.

For More Information
Glass Pro Inc.

Hobart Corp.

Insinger Machine Co.

Jackson MSC Inc.

Power Soak by Metcraft

The Stero Co.


In Sync With Retro Sink Models
For those of you with 1-compartment sinks, or with 3-compartment units that you just don’t want to replace, several retrofittable power-washing alternatives are worth investigating. Jackson MSC’s Whirl Wizard I and Wells Mfg.’s Hydro-Surge both agitate water and detergent to clean pots and pans. Another option, Turbo PS, a product Glass Pro debuted at the National Restaurant Association Show in 1999, adapts its rotating-brush-based glass cleaning machine for pots and pans.

Whirl Wizard I mounts to your drain opening, turning any sink into a recirculating soak sink. The unit draws water in through the drain entry, filters it and sends it back up through a tube to four perforated spray arms extending out from the drain opening. The unit features a compact 1-hp pump that fits under the sink.

The Wizard’s water continuously recirculates out the drain and back up through the spray arms. Any debris that fits through the filter covering the drain gets cut up by blades located in the pump. The pump maintains water temperatures between 110°F and 120°F and requires 115V and 20 amps. The unit runs in the neighborhood of $2,000.

About half that price will get you a Hydro-Surge from Wells. The unit, comprising a 1/3-hp, 120V, 6-amp pump, works in any sink basin that is at least 12” deep. Not included in the price is the cost to cut out a hole in the side of the wash tank for mounting. How’s it work? Water shoots from the side-mounted unit through downward angled vents, jetting downward to hit the opposite bottom sink corner, and then returns in a figure-eight flow to the filter-covered intake. Inside, a propeller sends the water back up through the top vents, all at 500 gpm.

And it might not be just for potwashing. Wells says it has many customers using the unit in a veggie prep sink to clean vegetables. One user even called tech support to find out if he could reduce the power a little—appears the 500 gpms were wreaking havoc with the turkeys he was trying to clean! He was told cleaning turkeys in this manner was definitely not recommended.

Maybe you’re not quite ready for that big a splash. Fear not. For a few hundred dollars, you can give your designated dishwasher a hand up, or in this case, a brush up. Glass Pro’s Turbo PS sits on a submersible base and features five vertical brushes (a la glasswashers) that rotate at 300 rpm courtesy of a 1/3-hp motor. Dishwashers simply turn the unit on from a switch attached to the 8’ cord (which, with electrical requirements of 115V and 10 amps, has ground protection and will plug into any outlet), and press pots and pans into the brushes—almost like a buffing action. The unit requires attendance.

Four of the Turbo PS’s five brushes rotate in one direction while the fifth center brush turns in the opposite direction, all under water. Currently, bristles are made of Tynex, the same material and stiffness as the bristles on a hair brush. The company also is experimenting with bristles both softer and harder to accommodate a wide variety of cookware. Existing brushes come in a variety of heights and widths, as well, all the way up to a 10”-high, 6”-wide brush that works well for coffee pots. And you can mix and match brushes on any unit, which is why brushes are sold separately.—BL


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