With many corners of the retail food industry facing labor shortages, it’s more important than ever that commissaries, central kitchens and other offsite providers of foods to grocery stores have the right equipment to take the burden off of human hands.

And to ensure that equipment is working as well as it can, preventative maintenance is essential.

Torrance, Calif.-based Bakon Food Equipment’s approach to equipment maintenance has always been to supply its customers with high quality equipment that is easy to operate, clean and service, said Luc Imberechts, the company’s owner.

“We also focus on using high quality and easy-to-source components,” he said. “And we believe that it’s important to provide our customers with the correct information about how to best maintain their machines.”

Bakon is constantly working on ways to improve its manuals, checklists, videos, training, video conferences and other methods of educating its customers on the importance of equipment maintenance and how to implement those ideals on a day-to-day basis.

 “Communication is key,” Imberechts said. “We want the customer to not hesitate to contact us if they have questions or need support.”

The Bakon showroom is often used for both on-site hands-on and remote video training sessions. For the company’s larger machines, more and more customers are taking advantage of Bakon’s Red Case service, a subscription-based service that allows Bakon to access machines online to perform quarterly systematic checks of the machine or on an as-needed basis.

Services like Red Case, Imberechts said, give users the edge of taking a proactive approach to the maintenance of their Bakon equipment.

The number one maintenance priority, Imberechts added, is the proper cleaning of the equipment, small or large, Imberechts said. Some of Bakon’s larger machines have the option of coming equipped with cleaning assistant features (onboard rinsing systems, e.g.) or CIP capabilities.

Many happy returns

Sonia Bal, marketing director for Delta, British Columbia-based Unifiller Systems Inc., understands that equipment maintenance plays a central role in realizing a mantra the company holds near and dear: a happy customer is a returning customer.

“We're not in the industry for short term sales gains,” Bal said. “We understand that building a long-term and rewarding relationship with customers means working with them to ensure that the equipment is up and running successfully as we promised and is supported with reliable after-sale service.”

Too often, she added, other companies in the industry provide a good product but “absolutely lose at the customer service side of things.” 

For Unifiller, proper maintenance starts with a simple design and easy interface, with the fewest parts to install, clean, maintain or replace.

The company also supports all equipment purchases with manuals, quick start guides, spare parts kits, preventative maintenance programs and, when possible, video.

Unifiller customers, Bal said, have access to a wide variety of support services including standard service visits, onsite guided installs and safety training in English and Spanish. Service support can be provided via various channels including live video for its global customers, often 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Often, effective equipment maintenance begins with something as simple as making sure Unifiller is communicating with the right people at the companies it’s sold its equipment to.

“It sounds obvious, but to many it's not,” Bal said. “Often, the person purchasing the equipment isn't the one running or maintaining it. So it's very important to get the proper training to the right person, in simple terms and the most convenient way.”

To that end, Unifiller’s guides provide milestones for preventative maintenance and reminders regarding common wear and tear. Unifiller also checks in on its customers to ensure things are running properly.

Ensuring proper maintenance means always looking for new ways to improve best practices and training. Unifiller, for instance, is now in the process of developing technology that will trigger alerts to its customers regarding required maintenance.

Unifiller’s top priority when it creates new equipment, Bal said, is to design for easy sanitation (often a quick washdown) that is complemented with a quick turnover (few parts to disassemble and assemble). The company provides its customers with recommendations for what service and maintenance should be carried out on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. For example, its Universal Servo machine recommends preventative maintenance at 3 Years, 6000 hours or 7 Million Cycles.

Key to the success of Unifiller’s equipment maintenance is the quality of the people implementing it, Bal said.

“Time after time, we hear amazing feedback from our customers whenever one of our service techs has been onsite for an install, service or courtesy visit,” she said. “Many of our customers see a spectacular return on investment when they purchase their Unifiller equipment - they understand its value to their bottom line. With this comes an understanding of the need to keep their equipment highly maintained.” 

Good for business, good for the environment

Conyers, Ga.-based Dover Food Retail works closely with its customers to take preventative measures to ensure that its equipment — ranging from Hillphoenix brand refrigeration systems, power systems and display cases to Anthony brand doors — is performing at optimum levels to reduce the likelihood of equipment failures from day-to-day wear and tear, said Marjorie Proctor, design and marketing specialist.

“The benefits of regularly maintaining equipment will help to prevent loss of product, loss of business and improve energy efficiency, just to name a few,” Proctor said. “It’s important to remember that refrigerated equipment runs continuously — it never stops.  Keeping equipment maintained and properly running helps with a retailer’s bottom line and reputation.”

There are at least two categories for preventative maintenance to help keep equipment at its peak, Proctor said.

The first concerns the quality of the individual retailer’s team members who are tasked with the maintenance on site.

“There are many things store personnel can do daily, weekly or monthly to ensure a case is maintained,” she said. “Food safety is a number one priority, and to ensure shoppers are satisfied with the products they take home, cleaning is at the top of the list for preventative maintenance at the display case.”

During regularly scheduled cleanings, properly trained store employees can also look for a variety of other potential problems, including:

  • Display case drains aren’t clogged or obstructed;
  • Door seals and gaskets aren’t damaged or missing;
  • Lights are all working in displays;
  • Pistons are functioning properly on service cases with lift-up glass;
  • No loud or unusual noise is coming from the case;
  • Filters are cleaned on self-contained cases as well as airflow is not blocked; and
  • Internal airflow is not blocked inside the display cases to ensure proper airflow.

“We recommend our customers read our display case manuals, watch our display case cleaning videos and familiarize team members with the basic functions of our cases to help keep their equipment at peak operating conditions,” Proctor said.

The second category of preventive maintenance central to Dover’s approach is the company’s Certified Refrigeration Maintenance team, specialized commercial refrigeration professionals who are trained to help a retailer maintain and repair equipment. 

At Dover, Proctor said, the company’s field support team, dealers and AMS Group work with retailers to perform or plan routine maintenance checks on refrigeration systems and display cases. 

Many of the tasks performed by a refrigeration professional at the display case include checking refrigeration levels, case fans and fan motors, door hardware and gaskets and temperature and defrost schedules; ensuring coils are completely clearing during defrost cycles; and checking and repairing electrical connections. 

“Preventative maintenance doesn’t stop at the display case,” Proctor said. “It’s also important for a technician to check over the refrigeration systems periodically to check the oil and filters as needed, depending on the type of refrigeration system the store utilizes, as well as ensuring coils and condensers/condensing units are kept clean.”

Having a certified technician who regularly visits and inspects equipment to detect potential problems will help to detect and minimize equipment breakdowns, she added, and developing and following through with a  preventative maintenance plan will help the longevity of a retailer’s equipment as well as reliability.