Case Study: Designing a Dry Heated Well Using mica-TF® Technology

Steam tables have been the de facto standard used by foodservice operators to keep pre-cooked food at a safe hot temperature. However, steam tables are plagued by many challenges including:

  • High operating costs driven by the need for water to be heated continuously.
  • They pose a safety hazard for employees who risk being injured by the hot water and steam as they change out the food pans.
  • Additional labour is required to replace the water that evaporates as it heats.
  • Some steam tables have an auto-fill and drain capability; however, they require additional plumbing that is expensive.
  • Steam tables need extensive cleaning at the end of the day and have hard to remove lime scales.
  • An Alternative to Water

    To solve these problems, foodservice operators have sought out alternatives to the steam table that are not dependent on water. Datec was approached by a food equipment manufacturer to develop a heater assembly for use in a heated food well which would reduce: 1) energy consumption, 2) cost of installation, and 3) the safety risk associated with the handling of hot water. The client wanted to solve these problems while maintaining food quality and safety.

    The Dry Heated Food Well Solution

    The solution Datec proposed was a heater assembly which met all the requirements put forward by the client and also provided additional benefits.

    Minimal Cost Impact: The implementation of the heater assembly allowed the use of a better heater technology with a minimal cost impact.
    Installation: Installation of the heater assembly was simplified and of a higher quality.
    Reliability: Datec’s heater assembly provides greater reliability and service life.
    Control: Datec’s mica-TF design responded rapidly to control adjustments.
    Uniformity: The heater assembly provided more consistent and uniform heating within the heated well assembly.
    Service: The design of the heater assembly allowed the heaters to be easily replaced in the event of a burn-out, something that was not possible with the previous design.

    The Right Design Makes All the Difference

    Datec used their mica-TF® technology to attain even heat and eliminate the need for water. The challenge was to utilize air, instead of steam, to heat the pan uniformly through convection. The heat needed to be spread out uniformly to avoid hot spots and cold spots. The key was to design a mechanism of efficient and uniform heat transfer from the Datec heater to the food holding pan.

    The process began with performing a thermal study to simulate the heat transfer. This enabled a precise heater design to meet the requirement of the application. Datec developed the mica-TF ® based heater using its proprietary thick film material system to replace the traditional tubular heater that is used in most steam tables.

    Figure 1 IR image of heater – heating side

    Figure 2 IR image of heater – working side

    Datec worked with the client to redesign the food well, install and test the newly developed mica heater in the well. Several in-product tests were conducted to study the key performance aspects of Datec’s system such as power, energy consumption, temperature uniformity, reliability, etc.

    The End Result

    Datec developed a heater assembly capable of replacing water and enabling an effective dry heated well solution that keeps food at its desired fresh and safe temperature.

  • Reduced energy consumption by almost 50% driven by the elimination of water.
  • Halved the space requirements underneath the well.
  • Eliminated the need for plumbing associated with conventional steam tables
  • Proven mica-TF heating technology ensures long term reliability
  • Developed a versatile dry heated well solution that reduced cost and increased flexibility of operation
    Furthermore, Datec designed the heater assembly in a way that the onsite service of equipment would be simplified which means lower cost to service and less downtime.

    Figure 3 IR image of the surface of 3 well system showing very even heat

    Graph 1 Surface temperature of well

    Datec lets you stay ahead of the competition with our thick film heaters for food holding equipment that integrate new technology, increase performance, and reduce costs. Our patented thick film technology allows engineers to create long-term high performance, cost-effective heating solutions for a wide range of applications.

    From prototyping to joint development, contact us to learn how Datec can work with your team.

    Datec is a custom heating element manufacturer specializing in thick film heating solutions. Our solutions are ideal for industries such as: commercial food service, medical devices, electronics, automotive, and appliances.
    From prototyping to joint development, learn more about how Datec can work with your team.

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