Image caption: The Gastronomous team.
People are thinking carefully about new ways to work and the rules of engagement. In general, more people are leaving their jobs. There’s been a full-scale exodus from hospitality during the pandemic. The global health crisis exasperated a pre-existing condition. Filling jobs has been hard in the sector for decades.
We’re well past due for an automation revolution. In global tech centres, there’s a scramble to find answers. To address one of the biggest pain points in restaurants: How to handle work that is repetitive and low on the human fulfillment scale.
Some wring their hands over the loss of humans in the workplace. But no amount of that puts people to work.
The project was funded by the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributions.
“Thanks to SONAMI, we get to interact with industrial research and development,” says Steve Remilli, program manager at the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI).
He’s one of the mechanical engineering researchers working with a hospitality industry game-changer, Gastronomous, designers of robotic kitchens.
The collaboration between MMRI and Gastronomous was one that was mutually beneficial. Steve Remilli and team were there to provide design assistance and meet with Gastronomous to keep the project moving. Not to mention, the MMRI team had the expertise to provide Gastronomous with manufacturing support in the way of machining new components or even doing some quick modifications on the new prototype.
In the following video, a robot makes a bowl of pasta in red sauce—from start to finish. The process, including dishwashing, is broken down into infinitesimal parts. Everything is visible and fascinating to watch. It’s no wonder businesses want these machines behind glass—so their customers can see a robot making dinner.
Watch Gastronomous Robots in Action:
The robot has two main components: the hardware and the software that drives the action. “We collect data at every step in the process,” says Andrew Skrepnek, chief innovation officer.
The data points include the mechanics, temperature and timing. On top of that are federally and provincially regulated procedures governing the process of cooking—food safety and HAACP standards. It’s built-in at each step. It looks like a mechanical play on the surface—preparing a bowl of pasta according to customer specifications—but underpinning it is a complex operation. It’s the mastery.
Skrepnek and co-founder Kevork Sevadjian, the chief economic officer, leveraged their 25 years of expertise and success in automotive parts manufacturing. In 2015 the pair were in a garage playing with robots cooking food. They knew a revolution was on the horizon. In September 2021, they launched Gastronomous. They’re the only players in the Canadian market.
“We were approached by FANUC, one of the largest robotic companies in Japan,” says Skrepnek, “They knew what we were doing, told us big North American restaurant groups were interested; that’s when we decided to focus full-time on kitchen automation.”
Pasta is just one process. Gastronomous performs countless customized tasks like grilling, frying, and garnishing salads.
Big things are happening. Right now, they’re running a pilot using proprietorial robotic technology and working with a sizeable industry partner who wants to be out front.
“Our hands-on, real-life automotive experience is an advantage,” says Skrepnek, “We know how to make things work.”
There’s a sense of vitality and respect in the working relationship between Remelli at MMRI and the Gastronomous team. They collaborate on issues on the fly. The race to market with a robust system requires efficiency. “The value we bring is troubleshooting issues, says Remilli, “Our advantage is we have the facilities and can respond quickly.”
A robotic kitchen would not require onsite operators or technicians. The company provides the support. “We’re in restaurants and working with brands not just for the show,” says Kristian Tazbazian, co-founder and chief operating officer, “We provide a solid return on investment.”
They have developed technology that doesn’t exist. Everything is customized. “It’s going to be bigger than automotive,” says Skrepnek, “MMRI and SONAMI helped us with rapid prototyping and proving things out.”
“Gastronomous was able to cut down their development time through this collaboration with MMRI and SONAMI. Our teams were able to provide labour and machining time that allow Skrepnek and Tazbazians team to land on a prototype sooner,” says Remilli.
The big sell for putting robots behind the swinging doors of your favourite chain restaurant is consistency and efficiency. But there are other benefits, including environmental. “One piece of our equipment is consuming 75 percent less natural gas and emitting 25 tonnes less carbon per year; it’s like taking five cars off the road,” says Tazbazian.
The project SONAMI and Gastronomous partnered on is top secret. Patents are pending. It’s exciting. And it will probably be in the kitchen the next time you go out for dinner.
If you would like to discuss your organization’s needs with a SONAMI representative, please contact [email protected].