Definition: One of the major advantages of stainless steel is its fabrication potential. When a standard catalog item does not meet an operation's needs or expectations based on form and function, custom fabrication of the specific unit becomes necessary. Custom stainless-steel fabrication involves more than just the ability to bend metal. It's about combining components and construction techniques to create a fabricated product for each specific customer need. To make a specific piece of equipment fit the needs of a customer, some manufacturers will take standard pieces and modify them accordingly. Others will work with operators to build custom pieces from scratch. The common metal grades can be folded, bent, cold and hot forged, deep drawn, spun and roll formed.
Types: Custom stainless-steel fabricated items can range from a simple 24" wall shelf to a 25" chef counter that contains several components, such as hot food tables, sinks, steam tables, dishtables, refrigerators and utility storage. Large multi-unit operators design from an operational perspective, typically forcing the design team to create custom equipment to meet the needs of the menu.
Construction: Custom-fabricated equipment offers varying thicknesses, from 7 gauge up to 20 gauge. Composition choices include stainless steel, aluminum, carbon steel and stainless steel perforated. It is a common perception that a heavier gauge stainless is always a stronger option. While gauge remains a factor, the way a counter is braced or supported has more to do with the strength of the unit than the actual gauge of the steel. The gauge needed depends on how the equipment will be used. Because meat, blood and acid will eat through stainless, equipment with this type of exposure should be 14 or 16 gauge at the minimum. The difference between gauges is 1,000th of an inch, and the lower the gauge number, the better the quality of stainless steel. Although lower-gauge stainless steel is noticeably heavier in weight, it has the same appearance as higher-gauge steel. Structural configurations include angle iron, channel iron, I-beam, structural tubing and chemical tubing.
Considerations: Custom-fabricated equipment can cost 20 percent to 50 percent more than standard units. However, these units can be built and customized to best suit a particular operation in regards to maximum efficiency and heavy-duty applications. Budget, function/design, available space and specification of exclusivity of the item dictate the need for custom fabrication. For existing kitchens with space issues, custom fabrication may be required. Also, operators with open kitchens may prefer the look of custom pieces, which can offer mitered corners and other aesthetic attributes specified by the facility's manager. The majority of custom fabrication buyers are driven by the need to satisfy the design and specifications that are required to prep, assemble and serve the menu items. Because of today's economic climate, custom fabrication typically becomes a second choice in relation to a standard cataloged product that can be modified to meet the function of the custom item.
Food Safety & Sanitation Essentials: Equipment construction and performance should be approved by regulatory organizations, such as UL and NSF, to ensure that safety and sanitation are addressed during the fabrication process.