There are actually very few companies that make holding cabinets specifically for crystallizing chocolate - Irinox and Hilliards are two. Most of the industry goes one of two ways:
1) Cooling tunnels
2) Holding rooms
Both take up relatively large amounts of space with cooling tunnels being the most expensive option, albeit the one with the highest throughput. If you're cranking out a lot of product, a tunnel may be the way to go. While they require a lot of floor space (and waste all the space above), the volume that actually needs to be cooled is very small.
Holding rooms are a good option in some cases. The rooms can be inexpensive to very expensive to build and operate (depending on how they are constructed and where they are on the floor plan) and what kind of cooling, airflow, and dehumidification is in place. They rely on the fact that they are comprised of a large volume of cool air. Product to be cooled is put on sheet pans in speed racks (every other rack to allow for adequate air flow) and a couple of low-volume fans move the air around.
As near as I know, there are no full-line product suppliers into the chocolatier industry. There are smallwares companies that sell small tools and small equipment, and then the appliance companies that sell the larger equipment. Smallwares companies (Vollrath is one) sell a lot of stuff but nothing big. The companies that sell big equipment tend to make the equipment they sell so you have to shop around. Design & Realisation in Canada (dr.ca) is probably as close as it comes - I noticed that they just started selling larger tempering units w/enrobers. Chef Rubber (chefrubber.com) is another source - but they don't have any larger units.
As far as induction burners go, Vollrath is one company, Spring another, and there was a brand that got a good mention in the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated. For the most part, avoid home units - get something designed for professional/restaurant use. Many brands include the ability to set a temperature not just a power level and it's worth the extra money to get one that has that ability.
If you are looking to an enrobing line then what you want to do is to talk to people that own them and ask them what they do and don't like. It's not just about belt width, takeoff length, and the capacity of the tempering unit attached to the enrober.
You need to consider the quality of the tempering unit (i.e., does it do a good job of tempering the range of chocolates you'll be using), capacity, and how easy it is to change from one chocolate to another - and related cleaning issues.
I also advise, if at all possible, to avoid a single point of failure in any production business. You need to protect against a single piece of equipment breaking bringing all production to a halt until it's fixed.
Thank you -- this is very helpful and I will stop trawling around trying to find what isn't out there! I doubt we'll go the tunnel approach -- so you are suggesting that I crystallize my chocolates and hold them in a temperature/humidity controlled chamber, correct? I saw a description on one of the Chocolate Life forums on building such a chamber. Do you recommend that we consider such a strategy? Are there actually plans available that I could begin to study? Also, do you store finished chocolates in this room, or elsewhere?
I am looking at enrobers for the future. I can see how much they could increase efficiency but for the moment will go with hand dipping until I'm sure that our volume justifies the expense.
Your last advice is a really good point. I've experienced that.
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner on this. Which approach you choose (chocolate holding cabinet, chocolate crystallization/storage room) is dependent on a wide range of factors with the most important being how much space you have and what your growth plans are. Without knowing either of those things - it's impossible for me to give a best answer.
Unless you make to order, you always have the issue of where to put chocolates that are finished and ready to sell while they are waiting to be sold/boxed. One way to extend shelf life is to keep them in a cool, humidity-controlled environment. Again, there are a lot of ways to do this, which way again depends on many factors.
If you are space constrained, don't plan to build up a huge amount of inventory backlog, and hope that business quickly grows to the point that you've outgrown your space and you need to move to a larger one, a chocolate holding cabinet is a great option. It provides work surface and a controlled environment to crystallize and store your work. When you need to move, you take the cabinet with you. If you build a room or rooms, when you move - you leave all that $$ behind unless you deliberately build a portable room (i.e., a walk-in).
Your answers are always so comprehensive. Thank you. We will probably start with a small space so perhaps a holding cabinet will be the way to go. Are there actually plans or directions for a build your own walk-in? I am thinking about getting a freezer for longer storage. I have done the experiment and have successfully frozen and defrosted vacuum packed chocolates.
Normally you buy a walk in. They are pre-fabricated and tend to be expensive to purchase and operate. There are ways to make them much less expensively using readily available building materials - and operate them far less expensively using conventional AC units.
The least expensive way to get freezer storage is to buy chest freezers at a chain appliance store. They don't cost much, you can buy only the volume you need, and you can use two or more to keep track of inventory turn comparatively efficiently. Just make sure to get the kind that defrost or you will have moisture problems.
Yes indeed. There's nothing like frost free! And yes, walk-ins are expensive. I've heard that it's a bad idea to buy them second hand. Do you concur? I will have to search this site -- I deem to recall reading a description of someone who built a walk in using AC.
You can buy the walk-in enclosure used, but I don't think it's a good idea to use the refrigeration system. In general, they tend to be really over-engineered (which means they use a lot of energy) and you risk damage in dismantling, transport, and reinstallation the refrigeration unit. There are a number of techniques to build custom-fit walk-ins less expensively than buying them used or new.