There are times when having more than one oven sounds like a good idea, but whether in a personal kitchen or a restaurant, space is a precious commodity. A new product from Menomonee Falls-based Alto-Shaam Inc., the Vector Multi-Cook Oven, offers professionals the flexibility of up to four ovens in a 21-inch footprint. Getting the product to market in just nine months required a heavy lift from engineering and manufacturing teams operating on a compressed timeline to take full advantage of industry tradeshows. Steve Maahs, president and chief operating officer, turned to Bill Strenglis, an Alto-Shaam board member and retired president of Unified Brands, to lead the effort.
September 2016: Alto-Shaam begins discussions with Dallas-based Appliance Innovation Inc., a design engineering firm that had developed prototypes of what would become the Vector ovens. The product uses structured air technology to direct heat and airflow for a faster cooking process and a more even bake. “This was true innovation,” Strenglis said.
November 2016: The two companies put together a non-binding agreement that gave Alto-Shaam until Jan. 20, 2017 to pull the trigger. Looming on the horizon was The North American Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers Show in February. The show is held every two years.
January 2017: Alto-Shaam acquires the technology from Appliance Innovation. Strenglis’ role shifts from board member leading an acquisition to acting product manager. Alto-Shaam engineer Brad Lynn and a team travel to Dallas to build units and develop knowledge for production. Project engineers begin commercialization work, conducting reliability testing and refining the product.
February: Alto-Shaam unveils prototypes of the Vector ovens at The NAFEM Show, taking advantage of one of the industry’s biggest platforms. “It gives us the ability to have a big megaphone,” Strenglis said. Testing and production planning continue in Menomonee Falls. The manufacturing team brings in materials to produce 40 prototypes, while establishing work instructions, best practices and quality checks. Feedback from the shop floor contributes to design improvements.
March through May: The Vector ovens are recognized with a Kitchen Innovations Award from the National Restaurant Association. Work continues on preparing for production. Chris Novak, Alto-Shaam project engineer, pointed out having motors and heating elements isn’t something new, but combining four units in one presents additional challenges. “When you start putting it together in new ways, the interactions are where things fail,” he said, stressing the need for reliability testing. Alto-Shaam unveils half-size production units at the National Restaurant Association show in May and begins taking orders, less than nine months after first being introduced to the technology.