The introduction of electronics and the attentive study of components have deeply changed ovens, which have become more functional, precise and able to operate with continuity.
Cooking appliances, ovens in particular, have been literally transformed in their use modality by the input of electronics, but their transformation – to be actually usable by the operator – started inside the equipment.
As confirms Domenico Tonello, designer of machines, then sale responsible in a multinational and currently consultant and author of professional kitchens’ layouts in a company, Astecrex, which has been operating in the sector since 1963.
“Electronics has changed the way of using ovens, it allows making use of them continuously and exceeding the constraints that the gas oven intrinsically implied: today electric ovens with new cooking systems (let us think of vacuum) can work with continuity and with a technical precision that guarantees much higher hygienic, organoleptic and tasting quality. However, to reach all that, a radical change is in progress (and absolutely not ended, yet) in components and consequently in the design of components and equipment, in the criteria underlying the choice, the installation and the assembling of a system of elements, to give birth to the professional appliance of the present and of the future.”
What do you mean?
If basic raw materials have remained the same, let us consider AISI 304 stainless steel that remains a minimum, also regulatory, standard, the thermal stress has become a variable to be managed in much more cared and attentive manner, due to both safety and functionality reasons. Currently, the oven cannot withstand steam puffs at 120 °C and this implies specific extremely severe industrial design in the choice of materials, in the selection of key components like sheaths, in the devising of air paths inside cooking chambers.
The technology today residing inside an oven is extremely stressed, therefore we must create irremissible safety conditions, as stated before, but also functionality ones: any compromise in the choice of materials and components involves an undeniable ineradicable consequence, the decrease of the performance quality. Concerning this, electronics has complicated designers’ tasks, because an electronically controlled oven is an oven that must “isolate” its precisely “electronic” brain from the production of its function: very high temperatures and wetness are two fierce enemies of the electronics operation, therefore the designer of a microchip and of en electronic control system, made available to the designer of the machine in its whole, is called to devise them suitably.
Does the need of studying insulating components increase, then?
Yes, but this is one of the two weighing plates, the other consists in the dimensional shrinkage that machines must bear: an oven is expected to have the largest available space for cooking, the technology that makes it functional must not subtract useful working volume, but at the same time the whole electronic management must be adequately separated from the heating zone, where phenomena that put the digital component to hard test occur. Moreover, it is not sufficient to take care of protecting electronics, because its functionality must be safeguarded in any case, with electronics in standby, too. For this reason, it is necessary to set up a design permitting also electromechanical backup activations, to avoid leaving the appliance idle when the after sale service is not immediately available.
Is it possible, then, to draw up a design criterion?
The criterion exists, and not since today, first requirement to be satisfied is safety and the second – shortly after – functionality but these two methodological pillars imply exacting declinations, first because they must meet the “demands” by different interlocutors. An appliance must be safe and functional in phase of installation, of use, of ordinary management, of ordinary and extraordinary maintenance. An oven, just to recall our issue, must be positioned, used, cleaned maintained and repaired always in safe manner and with minimum stand-by. The design of a washing system must severely comply with the need of keeping the oven in the necessary hygiene conditions and it must be efficacious for this but not create residues. This determines strict design rules, which are becoming more extensive up to including a variable that had been underestimated until now in the professional cooking world.
Ergonomics, a kind of ergonomics that, as we have just said, does not concern only the use, for which it is necessary to have for instance a facilitating height of surfaces, controls and use elements, but also maintenance: imposing very complex dismounting operations for the repair or the replacement of an element openly contradicts one of the requisites most demanded by buyers, the service continuity. Let us not forget that what in other fields is called maintenance, here it is subdivided into two ambits, the ordinary management (cleaning and arrangement of standard service conditions) that is entrusted to the operator and the real maintenance that is professionals’ task. Well, ergonomics for the operator means real user-friendly actions, then also manoeuvrability of elements, easy execution of operations and safety in their fulfilment. A component used by a female oven operator should not be too heavy or complex to operate because in this case it damages the overall functionality.
Is ergonomics the new entry in the design world?
It lands in the kitchen, in the professional kitchen, with much delay compared to other worlds, but it is strongly spreading for the reason that surpasses any choice in the appliance matter, efficiency in time.
A very positive statement: however, are these “musts” you are reporting really lived by the market?
Not always and not to the desired extent: economic reasons have often induced appliance manufacturers to give up their in-house production of components, including delicate and important ones, of the oven and of other appliances, but the market has been led to provide solutions more according to logics of price than of adequacy. Besides, it is clear that the component producer standardizes determinate characteristics that in the past were interpreted in custom modality to widen its audience of purchasers. In the standard resides also the fact the component is often perfect in itself but not always the most suitable for being integrated into a specific overall appliance design. For this reason, although the great strides made by electronics, perhaps a return to a more accurate design of elements would better highlight the quality of designs that are certainly highly advanced today.