Stainless Steel Commercial Kitchen Fabrication

Not every commercial kitchen has the same dimensions or architectural features. Not every commercial kitchen uses the same type of equipment or prepares the same kind of menu items. Common to most kitchens are pieces of equipment such as ranges, ovens, broilers, fryers, mixers, dishmachines, and more. But once designers map out where all the standard equipment will go, they must fill in the remaining spaces with all the other items needed to run a kitchen, such as worktables, shelves, storage cabinets, serving counters, sinks, equipment stands, dish tables, built-in refrigeration units, hoods, and much more. Many of these items are readily available in standard sizes, but often they must be custom fabricated for specific dimensions, applications, and duty levels. Stainless steel is the material of choice for easy cleaning and resistance to corrosion.

Stainless Steel For Commercial Kitchens

There are many different types of stainless steel. They vary depending on their composition. Most contain differing amounts of elements such as chromium, manganese, silicon, carbon, nickel, and molybdenum. The composition or “mix” of these elements in stainless steel determines its qualities. The mix for one kind of stainless steel might make it stronger. The mix for another type might make it shinier. Where commercial kitchens are concerned, it is the amount of chromium and nickel in stainless steel that matter most because they determine how resistant it will be to corrosion and rust.

Choosing The Right Type of Stainless Steel

Each job requires an initial determination of what type of stainless steel to use. Determining factors include:

  • Price – Thicker stainless steel costs more per square foot than thinner stainless steel. Stainless steel with more chromium and nickel content costs more per square foot than stainless steel with less of those precious metals.
  • Duty Level – Heavy duty equipment requires heavier gauge stainless steel for strength. A worktable used for butchering needs to be more sturdy, and support more weight, than a worktable used for assembling desserts.
  • Environment – Heat and humidity must be considered. An equipment stand that supports a large griddle must be able to withstand high heat. Equipment that will be exposed to water and corrosives, such as a pot sink, needs to be more rust and corrosion resistant.

Common Grades Of Stainless Steel

The chart below shows the different grades of stainless steel commonly used in the foodservice industry. 400 Series Stainless Steel can rust, but it is less expensive and a “good” choice for items like budget priced sinks and tables. 304 Stainless Steel can also rust, but only with excessive exposure to salts, food acids, and some cleaning agents. It is a “better” choice, at a higher price point, for mid-grade or custom tables and sinks. 316 Stainless Steel falls into the “best” category for high corrosion resistance, but due to its higher price point, it is usually reserved for applications with excessive exposure to high heat, water, salts, and/or corrosives. There are other types of stainless steel used in the foodservice industry, but these are the most common.

Quality Level Name Characteristics Use

  • GOOD:  Name: 400 Series Stainless Steel  Characteristics: Can rust
    Use: Suitable for economy sinks and tables
  • BETTER: Name: 304 Stainless Steel  Characteristics: Will rust if exposed to corrosives
    Use: Suitable for most food contact surfaces, but excessive exposure to salts and corrosives can cause rust and/or pitting
  • BEST: Name: 316 Stainless Steel Characteristics: Highly corrosion resistant
    Use: More suitable for meat products and foods with high salt content as well as harsh environments

The chart below shows the common gauges or “thicknesses” of stainless steel used in the foodservice industry. The most common are 18, 16 and 14 gauge. 18 gauge is the thinnest and fine for light duty or economy tables and sinks. 16 gauge is medium thickness and better for medium duty items such as mid-grade custom tables and sinks. 14 gauge is the thickest and most expensive. It is usually reserved for heavy duty tables, sinks, and equipment stands.

Common Gauges Of Stainless Steel

  • GOOD: Gauge: 18 Characteristics: Thinnest Uses: Economy sinks and tables
  • BEST: Gauge: 16 Characteristics: Medium Duty Uses: Mid-grade custom tables and sinks
  • BEST: Gauge: 14 Characteristics: Thickest Uses: Heavy duty custom tables, sinks and equipment stands

Other Metals

Galvanized steel is an economy steel that has been dipped in hot zinc to provide a rust proof surface. It is not approved for direct food contact, but it is ideal for items such as sink legs and undershelves. For non-food contact surfaces that won’t see much abuse, painted steel is also an option. Examples might include the side or back panels of a display case or serving line. For front of house application, where visual appeal is paramount, brass and copper are popular.

Custom Stainless Steel Fabrication Process

The steps in the fabrication process vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. In general, there are three phases.

Initial Design & Development – The design process begins by defining the goals for the finished product. Questions such as the following should be answered:

  • What is it?
  • What will it do?
  • How will it be used?
  • What are the quality and duty requirements?
  • What are the appearance requirements?
  • What are the dimensions?
  • Are there any local code requirements that must be satisfied?

It is important to define goals early. With stainless steel, it can be time consuming and costly to make changes or start over mid-project. Limitations must be identified early. Questions such as: “How do we fit a 42” table through a 36” kitchen door?” must be answered up front.

Eventually, enough detail will be collected to create shop drawings. These should include all the instructions, dimensions, details, and information necessary for the fabricator. The shop drawings must be approved by the customer before production begins.

Production – The production phase is where designs, drawings, and sheets of stainless steel are turned into end products. Fabrication involves any number of metal working techniques done by hand or by modern metal working equipment. Sheets of stainless steel are cut, folded, machined, punched, sheared, stamped, welded, and more, to create whatever the customer needs. Skilled fabricators can also assist with other phases of the fabrication process such as design, troubleshooting, and cost controls. Most of the production phase takes place in the fabricator’s shop. The final product is either shipped to the job site complete, or in pieces ready to assemble.

Installation – The final phase is installation. It may involve final assembly and finishing. It may involve mounting or affixing the item to other pieces of equipment, walls, floors, or ceilings. It may also include coordination with other subcontractors such as plumbers and electricians.

Catalog vs. Custom Fabricators

In general, there are two types of fabricators. Which you choose probably depends on the size and complexity of your stainless steel fabrication needs, as well as your budget.

Catalog – Many fabricators have large catalogs full of stock items in relatively standard sizes and configurations. These may include wall shelves, worktables, sinks, floor drains, dish tables, and more. Some may be in-stock and ready to ship. Others may be commonly specified items where the fabricator always has the drawings and materials on hand and ready to go. They can build and deliver the product in just a few days.

Additionally, most fabricators of this type are more than happy to “customize” a catalog order by tweaking dimensions or adding features to satisfy the customer’s needs. Catalog and custom catalog items are typically more affordable than full custom orders. A Kitchen Spot Expert may be able to help you find catalog or custom catalog item from manufacturers such as Advance Tabco, John Boos, and The Eagle Group.

Custom Fabricators – Some fabricators don’t fabricate single pieces of equipment at all. They don’t have catalogs. Instead, they specialize in large custom projects where everything is built and assembled according to the customer’s design specifications. These often include entire custom kitchens or serving lines. Custom fabricators often purchase components such as refrigeration units or cooking systems from other manufacturers to incorporate into a larger fabrication projects.

Custom fabricators usually offer their own design services, or get involved with the project designer early in the process. They may make site visits, gather field dimensions, create drawings, do engineering and layout, and may even do the final installation. They may also work with other types of materials such as wood, Corian, or masonry. A Kitchen Spot Expert can help design your project, or refer you to a designer who can.

Stainless steel fabrication is the answer to many commercial kitchen questions. Whether you want to build an entirely new kitchen, or just add a workstation to a strategic location, stainless steel fabrication allows you to put the space you have to its best possible use. Careful planning and design will ensure that your project goes smoothly and meets or exceeds your demands. A skillful fabricator can help you with troubleshooting, materials selection, cost considerations, and installation issues. Contact a Kitchen Spot Expert today to discuss your plans and to get your project started.