Foodservice Equipment Reports

Conveyor Upkeep

When a casual-dining restaurant near Arlington, Va., failed to replace the stellar employee who had handled routine equipment maintenance, bad things happened to its conveyor oven.

“Our technician found that mice had moved into the control panel and chewed up the wires, and that the air vents and ducts were so clogged that the motor had burned itself up, and its electrical components were fried,” says James White, a service manager with Tech 24, Alexandria, Va. “The equipment looked great from the outside, but they never thought to open up the oven and clean inside. The owners were just as surprised as the technician. The repair bill ran into the thousands of dollars.”

As that operator learned, the biggest culprit in conveyor oven breakdowns is cleaning—too little or too much. “Undercleaning can cause vents, cooling ducts and louvers to become blocked, which in turn leads to overheating of the motor and wire damage in the control panels,” White says. “And overcleaning includes using too much water or chemicals, which then get into the control panel and cause problems with electrical components.”

Conveyor Ovens 101
Your first task is to read your oven’s owner/operator manual. (If you don’t have a copy, download it from the manufacturer’s website.) “Don’t rely on a single demo at installation to cover everything you need to know,” says Bruce Hodge, president of General Parts, based in Waukesha, Wis. “The larger conveyors cost in the thousands
of dollars. Treat them like you would any expensive piece of machinery.”

The maintenance frequencies recommended by Hodge and White are aimed at high-usage operations, but any restaurant with a conveyor oven should follow this regimen on a regular basis:

Daily:
• Check cooling fan operation and clean cooling fan air intake louvers using a stiff brush. “When the cooling fan is impaired, electrical elements can overheat and fail. With some models, oven shutdown can result,” Hodge says.

• Clean the oven exterior by wiping it down rather than spraying it. “When people use hoses, water gets into the control panel and causes damage,” White says. “We can’t stress how critical it is to wipe down the outside. The ideal method is to
spritz your cleaning rag with a mild detergent that’s safe for stainless steel.”

• Clean the conveyor belt by using a stiff brush to remove any food debris. “If you let food burn onto the belt, it will affect the flavor of food going through,” White says.

• Clean crumb tray and guards with mild detergent.

Weekly:
• Clean the conveyor chamber. Many conveyor ovens have belt assemblies that can be easily removed from the unit, allowing you access to the insides to clean out debris that builds up on the belt’s frame. “While it’s out, check the welds and bracing,” White says. “Make sure that bearings on both ends are in good condition. If the bearings fail, they can cut the shafts in half and lead to expensive repairs.”

• Inspect conveyor belt links for damage (i.e. severely bent or missing) that can stress conveyor motors. “Use needle-nose pliers to straighten bent links,” Hodge says. “But if the belt is still catching or stopping, call your service company.”

• Clean hot-air ducts to aid cooking. “Use a stiff brush to make sure airflow is not impeded,” White says. “Blockages here can lead to cooking inconsistencies.”

• Visually inspect power cords and gas hoses for obvious damage. If you spot fraying or weak spots, call the manufacturer’s authorized service agency for repair.

• Make sure exterior cover panel fasteners are secured. “Some models have hidden safety switches that will shut down an oven if the panel is loose,” Hodge notes.

• Inspect end panels at tunnel openings. “When these are improperly installed, you can experience cooking issues since internal convection airflow will likely be compromised,” Hodge says.


Monthly:
• Blow out motors with compressed air or CO2 and deep clean all vents.

• Clean oven interiors with a noncaustic cleaner that’s safe for use on aluminum.

• Lightly lubricate the drive chain.

• Verify that the flue is clean and has no grease buildup.

When To Call Your Servicer
Of course, some maintenance will have to be done by your service agent. Quarterly checkups typically cover the control panel, temperature calibration, conveyor belt speed/tensioning and conveyor shaft bearings and drive-chain sprockets. For gas ovens, your tech will also inspect the gas connection and burner nozzles.

Finally, dealing with equipment innards is daunting to some people. If this describes you, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with, says White. “Ask your service provider for training or set up regular cleaning appointments.”

FER thanks the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association for its help with this story.

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