Pneumatics, with a side of fries

Nov. 12, 2014
A New Zealand restaurant installed a pneumatic tube conveying system to add an effective and creative twist to customers’ food delivery experience.

Before the age of computer networks and PCs, pneumatic-tube conveying systems were widely used in offices, factories, and other large establishments to transport paperwork and small objects from one area of a building to another in just a few seconds. These useful systems are still widely used in niche applications today, such as bank drive-in stations and hospitals — where their ability to transport small physical objects is not possible with even the fastest and most powerful computers. In most commercial applications, though, they have been rendered obsolete by email and other forms of digital communication. However, a new niche for the tubes may have recently emerged within the food industry.

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In an effort to change up the average dining experience, a New Zealand restaurant installed a pneumatic tube conveying system to add an effective and creative twist to customers’ food delivery experience. Inspired after watching a cartoon that used tubes to deliver food, C1 Café owner Sam Crofskey decided to turn the idea into reality by incorporating the tubes in the rebuild of his restaurant. The installation of the new food delivery system was just one way to make his cafe stand out from others.

The C1 Café has a special menu containing all items that can be delivered via pneumatics. This salmon burger combo was in the kitchen just seconds before being delivered to the customer’s table.

Pneumatic conveying systems are extremely reliable because they have few moving parts. Power for the system is usually provided by a centrifugal blower, which pulls a partial vacuum to draw the capsule into the tubing network. The blower also produces positive pressure at its discharge that can be used to push tubes through the tubing. The user places paperwork or a small object inside a capsule, opens a door to the pneumatic transporter, and places the capsule inside. Once the door is closed, the capsule then speeds on its way to the destination.

Shown is a loading station and a portion of the tubing.

At first, the tubes were used by wait staff to send orders back to the kitchen as a trial to see if this could work. Following that success, the next step was to install heavy-duty tubing to handle the weight of burgers. C1 Café’s customers choose from a “Pneumatic Menu,” which includes the signature dish, three sliders, and an option of fries. A kitchen worker places the order into a stainless-steel capsule, loads it into the appropriate tube, and the order is sent flying through the tube system at 87 mph to a station near the diner’s table. To prevent any damage to the food, a custom air-brake system slows the canister down before delivery.

Installation of the tubes has been a lengthy process, taking around a year to complete. Crofskey hopes to eventually relocate tubes under the floor and up through the table legs to avoid the space being cluttered up with tubes and also deliver orders right to the customers’ table, bringing a whole new meaning to the term “fast food.”

Check out C1 Café, or see the system in action. The CI Café even shows a journey through the tubing via a small video camera on a capsule.

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