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April 2000 (Updated March 2003)
By Beth Lorenzini

SPECIAL REPORT: Hot Cabs Go The Distance
It takes a lot more than mere mobility to truly transport bulk hot foods. Check out eight heated transport cabinets built for the rigors of the ride.

Shake, rattle and roll. When bulk food’s on the move, heated transport cabinets take a ton of abuse. Keeping hot foods hot is one thing when your cabinet’s plugged into the same socket all day. But when you start herding these cabs over ramps, through doorways, down halls, in and out of elevators, and across wide carpeted plains, construction counts.

A whole lot of cabinets out there have wheels, but that just makes them mobile, as in “wheel that cab from this side of the kitchen over to that side of the serving line.” What we’re talking about here, however, is actual indoor heated bulk transport—as in hotels, convention centers, banquet halls, stadiums, schools, etc.

And for purposes of this story, that means we’re talking about insulated cabs that will accept a mix of 18” x 26” sheet pans and 12” x 20” hotel pans of assorted depths (21&Mac218;2”, 4”, 6”). We’ve disqualified humidified units here because sloshing water and transit don’t mix.

Narrow the topic thusly, and eight makers account for the vast majority of units out there: Alto-Shaam, Bevles Co., Carter-Hoffmann Corp., Cres Cor, FWE/Food Warming Equipment, Metro Industries Corp., Servolift Eastern Corp. and Wittco Foodservice Equipment. Each of the models shares certain common approaches, but each also goes its own way.

Eight For The Road
First up alphabetically, Alto-Shaam’s aluminium 1200-UP/STD is unique among these eight hot cab models. While most cabs use a convected air system to heat, Alto-Shaam touts Halo Heat radiant technology. With a network of thermocables sandwiched between the inner stainless steel and outer cabinet walls, Halo Heat acts like an electric blanket thrown around your food on three sides. The result: Spills don’t land on any touchy componentry, and the cabinet wipes down easily. To control upward heat migration and reduce heat loss during door openings, the holding area is split into upper and lower cavities, each controlled separately. Controls are top mounted.

Bevles’ stainless CS72-CHUS15 convection heated transport cabinet is the only unit to come standard as a pass-through. (Solid back is a no-charge option.) Bevles says its clients like the pass-through approach because it’s easy to clean and allow employees to load and unload double-quick. Also, Bevles is one of several suppliers to place its heating unit and controls on top of the cabinet, up and away from the inevitable spillage that comes with transport.

Carter-Hoffmann’s stainless PH1830, also a convection unit, goes a different route with component placement. Other makers provide a bottom-mounted pull-out drawer or top-mounted pull-up-and-away unit for heating controls, while C-H gives you a more compact, truly portable heating unit that lifts right out of a cutout in the bottom of the cabinet. Benefits of the design, says the company, include easy servicing, a naturally cooler environment for the fan and motor components (the fan rides outside the bottom of the cabinet), and easy replacement. One other exclusive: C-H sets its front casters one wheel slightly ahead of the other so employees don’t have to angle the cab when they cross grooves.

While Cres Cor also has stainless versions, it put up its aluminum convection cabinet, the H-137-UA-12C, for this article. The company’s keen on aluminum for its light weight and lower cost, noting weight is a big issue as distances rise and employee size drops. For added rigidity, Cres Cor reinforces its side panels with a stainless steel internal frame. Heater and controls are top mounted with an analog thermometer. Also, the Cres Cor unit offers a self-contained power top that allows the interior of the cabinet to be hosed out during cleaning without disturbing the power unit.

For More ‘To Go’
Next up: FWE. Unlike any other model here, FWE’s stainless UHS-12D convection entry goes with a fully-welded, separate base frame to which the cabinet is welded. The bumper is bolted on the bottom. The casters, reinforced with a second set of stress plates, are bolted to this base frame, transmitting all shocks to the base and not the cabinet bottom, says the maker. Unlike the other models featured here, the FWE puts all of its electronics and motors in a false wall on the side—keeping them safe from spills—and locates its control dials at eye level. FWE reinforces its hinges with anchor plates inside the doors, and, like Carter-Hoffmann, reinforces its handles as well. (C-H also reinforces its hinges.)

Another maker big on aluminum, Metro makes a highly specialized line concentrating on fewer models than other manufacturers. The benefits of a limited line, according to Metro, include focused engineering and quick and efficient production. The unit featured here, the C199-HVN, has a bottom-mounted heating unit in a pull-out drawer. Metro’s cabinet features a digital temp display on a control panel that’s also tilted up. Metro’s is one of the more economical buys in the group and has one of the more high-powered heaters.

Servolift Eastern’s model 1500-TMH is all stainless steel and now features, as do all of the company’s heated cabinets, programmable electronic controls as standard (note, our photo shows old controls). Servolift’s heating unit and controls are top mounted.

Finally, Wittco is unique in that the controls for its bottom-mounted heater on the 1826-15-BC-DD-IS are located at the top of the cabinet. The company does this, it says, for operating convenience and to keep wiring out of the way of spills. Wittco, like Alto-Shaam, forgoes a blower, relying on the fact that heat rises to ensure an even distribution of hot air. No blower means the unit has no moving parts to get joggled on the go. And no blower, says Wittco, keeps manufacturing and service call costs down. Wittco also offers fully welded frames as standard, and a lifetime warranty on heating elements.

Tallying Up The Extras
Pick a cabinet from any one of these makers, and prices will range from about $2,200 to $3,200 on the street for stock configurations. Beware, though. Not all stockers are similarly equipped. Even such things as bumpers and handles will be standard on some makes, and optional on others. Add in bumpers, handles, extra latches, larger casters and other goodies, and you could ring up several hundred dollars in options. And speaking of options, those listed in our individual spec boxes are only a partial list.

When you start sorting out your needs, start by checking off the boxes for bumpers and push handles. This is transport, so you’ll need ’em. If bumpers come standard—as they do on the Carter-Hoffmann, FWE and Wittco models—you can expect a completely separate, dedicated aluminum bumper that’s bolted to the cabinet frame and wrapped in vinyl. Where bumpers are optional you’ll find a steel-reinforced vinyl piece that’s wrapped around and bolted to the bottom edge of the cabinet base itself. (The exception here is Alto-Shaam, whose optional bumpers are also separate aluminum/vinyl pieces.)

Full-grip handles are the norm and come standard on Carter-Hoffmann, FWE and Wittco cabinets. Cres Cor alone eschews the full-grip style and instead recesses its standard handles. And all handles get mounted to the sides of each cabinet except those from Bevles, whose optional handles are mounted to the back.

Next, heavy-duty, positive-action latches also come standard on most transport models. If you’re looking at an optional upcharge, get them anyway. You’ll need ’em.

Think about door hinges, too. Some makers’ hinges are heavier than others, and you should appraise them with an eye toward vibration over the long haul and whatever abuse your own team might dish out. Think about right-vs.-left opening, too. Most manufacturers require that you tell them beforehand so they can do it at the factory. Cres Cor and Metro can switch hinges in the field.

Heating Controls: A Top To Bottom Review
One of your key decisions will be whether you want your motors, blowers and controls mounted on the top, bottom or side.

To recap, Alto-Shaam doesn’t use moving air (so blower placement is a non-issue) but rather wall-enclosed radiant heat, and the controls for it are located at the top. Bottom-mount heater proponents, Carter-Hoffmann, Metro and Wittco, go on the idea that heat rises, so you should generate it from the bottom. They add that bottom-mounted heaters bring the center of gravity of the cab to the base—a balancing plus when you’re transporting. These companies also say bottom mounts are easier to service than top mounts.

FWE likes the idea of heat rising, and its fan and element also are at the bottom of the cab. But, as mentioned, the electronics are housed in a false wall on the side of the unit and control dials are at eye-level. Finally, we have Bevles, Cres Cor and Servolift Eastern who swear by top-mounted heaters for this simple reason: With controls on top, food can’t spill on them. These folks also say top-mount controls are easier to operate and monitor and won’t be kicked around in transport.

On convected units, how the air flows is a point of differentiation. Bevles, Carter-Hoffman and FWE direct their blowers to send hot air up the sides of the cab. Bevles and FWE fans blow air in one direction to achieve a counter-clockwise swirl; Carter-Hoffmann’s fan blows air up both sides and the back simultaneously. Metro and Servolift Eastern direct air up through either a louvered or perforated flue on the back inside wall.

Each school argues its benefits. Sidewinders say a sideways swirl retains heat in the cabinet better than a back-to-front pattern when you open the doors. Flueists believe that if you precisely channel air, you achieve better overall heat distribution. So the engineers have their priorities; you’ll have to set your own.

How Racks Stack Up
With almost every manufacturer we’ve included, you get a choice of solid slides, usually extruded or formed aluminum or stainless, or wire rods to support the pans inside. Manufacturers offering solid slides as standard say they’re less expensive, provide a smoother glide and conduct heat better than rods. Those with rods as standard believe solid slides restrict air flow. But slide choice is really a matter of your preference—which is why most of the makers offer both.

Both the solid and wire rod slides on these models are adjustable on racks that hang on the sides of the cabinets. We’ve included what slide style is standard, the increments of adjustment, and pan capacities for each manufacturer in our master chart on the opening spread. Aside from letting you fit a variety of pans into the cabinet, we like the fact that you can pop adjustable slides into your dishwasher or sink for cleaning.

A Plug For Plugs
One of the most common complaints from the field is that the plugs that come standard on units don’t match the site’s electrical setup. Think ahead. You might be equipped with 20-amp circuits in the kitchen, but the banquet hall or meeting room you’re transporting to only has 15-amp jobs. Whoops.

While you’re at it, make sure the length of the cord is long enough. A lot of you are going for ceiling outlets these days to keep the cords off the floors. Which is fine, but if your cabinet uses a bottom-mount heater, a 6’ cord won’t make the stretch from floor to ceiling. Most likely, you can specify a longer cord.

Caster Call
When you’re talking transport, caster choice is a whole lot more of a critical issue than it would be for a stationary cabinet. Most of the makers offer a wide assortment of casters, each suited to different surfaces. For example, if you’re going to transport across carpets, you’ll want a hard caster material, like the polyurethane that’s standard on many of our makes. Neoprene, or balloon tires, will bog you down on carpets, but are quiet and a lot cushier across hard surfaces such as grouted tile and concrete—they’ll make for a smoother, less rattled ride than poly on these surfaces.

If you’re transporting anything fragile—a fluffy, decorated pastry, for example—you might want to consider a “softer” wheel material. If you’re going into the great outdoors, you can get into a whole world of pneumatic and semi-pneumatic tires (like bike tires with either an inner air chamber or actual inner tube inside). But these will require more maintenance over time. Once air escapes, the cab can tilt.

You’ll have myriad caster choices beyond the material of the wheel, including sizes (the larger the diameter, the easier to roll the unit; 5” is usually standard) and even tread shapes within the various material categories. You should get a handle on where you’re planning to roll these cabs ahead of time—walk the walk, so to speak. If you find out you’ve failed to spec the right caster, some manufacturers can change them out in the field. Others can’t. You also want to make sure the caster hubs are a material that won’t rust or corrode when your employees spray down the cabinets to clean them.

Get Ready To Roll
Who’d have thought there’d be so much to consider with a “simple” hot box? But like we said, travel’s tough on a piece of equipment, and you really do need to think about the toll transporting can take. Hope we’ve helped you anticipate your transport needs so you can find a cab that fits the bill.

Need to know more? There's more to know. Any one of these companies will be glad to clue you in on the finer features of their heated transport carts.
Alto-Shaam Inc.
Cres Cor
Lockwood Mfg. Co.
Servolift Eastern Corp.
Crimsco Inc.
Metro Industries Corp.
Useco/Epco Products
Food Warming Equipment
Nu-Vu Food Service Systems
Win-Holt Equipment Co.
Carter-Hoffmann Corp.
Hot Food Boxes
Royalton Foodservice
Equipment Co.
Wittco Foodservice Equipment
Note: Those Companies without direct links may be looked up in our Buyers Guide online.

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