Anything from a simple 24-inch wall shelf to a 25-foot chef counter that contains several components, such as hot food tables, sinks, steam tables, dish tables, refrigerators and utility storage, can be custom fabricated.
Large restaurant chains design from an operational perspective, typically forcing the design team to create custom equipment to meet the needs of the menu.
By definition, the goal of custom fabrication is to provide the best equipment solution for the end user to be both profitable and operationally effective. When a standard catalog item does not meet an operation’s needs in terms of form and/or function, a custom fabricated unit can be created to fulfill the different needs a variety of work environments may require.
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 operator need. In some cases, a fabricator can modify an existing piece of equipment to adapt to a certain task. This may alter the length, work height or other aspect of a unit. In other cases, the operator may partner with a foodservice design consultant and/or an equipment manufacturer to create a totally custom unit from scratch. The common metal grades can be folded, bent, cold and hot forged, deep drawn, spun and roll formed.
Stainless-steel fabrication is a large part of the back-of-the-house design and cost for virtually any project. Custom fabrication can involve anything from a simple worktable, sink or wall flashing to an elaborate serving station complete with curved fronts, integral refrigeration and patterned finishes. The most common types of stainless steel used in foodservice equipment are #201 and #304.
In the past, such custom items were built by the local fabrication shop and often were quite expensive compared to standard products. In the last decade or so, a significant shift has taken place in the custom fabrication industry. Now, national manufacturers offer as standard products virtually anything a designer, chef or owner can dream up, too.
Looking at construction, custom fabricated equipment offers varying thicknesses, from 7 up to 20 gauge. Composition choices include stainless steel, aluminum, carbon steel and stainless steel perforated. Heavier gauge stainless is not always a stronger option. The reality is that the gauge is a factor, but 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 operator will use the equipment. Because meat, blood and acid will eat through stainless, equipment exposed to these elements should be 14 or 16 gauge at the minimum. The difference between gauges is 1/1000th 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. Keep in mind, the way a counter is braced or supported has more to do with the strength of a unit than the gauge of steel.