Healthcare Laundry: Gregory Gicewicz, Sterile Surgical Systems, Tumwater, Wash.


Gregory Gicewicz

Gregory Gicewicz

Did you ever see those quality statistics that illustrate how defects found downstream are 10 times more expensive? And ones downstream from those are 10 times again more expensive? And so on until we get to customer impacting defects, which are hundreds and even hundreds of thousands of times more expensive? 

Well, laundry process defects follow these same principles. The earlier we identify and address defects, the better it is for our quality, our productivity, and our bottom line.

Linen quality problems in finishing, or even worse, at the customer, can often be traced to soil sorting problems. A faulty soil sort can cost your laundry thousands of dollars in rewash costs, poor finish department productivity, poor plant morale (who wants to inspect a bunch of stained/dirty reject linen?), unsent product (and thus unrealized revenue), and ultimately dissatisfied/lost customers. If not addressed correctly, extra costs can exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars.   

How can a poor soil sort wreak such havoc on our operation? From a productivity perspective, there are two key adverse impacts. First, it slows down all finish operations because finishers need to sort out and re-process incorrect product. 

Imagine feeding a cake of sheets into your ironer and having to pull out several pounds of mis-sorted terry. Not only did you slow down your ironer team, but these mis-sorts must be either reprocessed or re-dried and sent to the dry good finish station. 

Second, it impacts finish product quality. Imagine dirty kitchen rags were mis-sorted into the normal terry. Since kitchen rags require a stronger formula than normal terry, the entire terry load will now be contaminated. 

Now imagine a few dirty incontinence pads were sorted in with the bath blankets. Bath blankets normally run on a light soil formula, while pads run on a heavy soil formula. Consequently, your bath blankets are now contaminated. Hopefully your finish department will catch this. The stakes escalate if contaminated product makes it to the customer.

To improve soil sort quality, it comes down to optimizing people, process and technology. Soil sorting is unglamorous, physical work. Staffing is a challenge. Pay more for a motivated well-trained soil sort team and it will pay hefty dividends. 

If not already present, invest in a raised soil sort platform with a conveyer system. You can spend hundreds of thousands on a state-of-the-art automated soil sort system, or you can build a bare-bones system with a conveyer and a platform. As long as sorters can use gravity to sort down, it will help accuracy and productivity. 

Make sure your soil sort system can handle the necessary categories and make sure your categories are well thought out. Can you sort baby blankets with terry towels? Maybe. Can you sort underpads with pillowcases? Never. You know your operation best. Usually about 20 categories are best. 

Finally, like mastering a difficult piece on the piano, slow it down until the team gets it right. Then speed it up as appropriate, while maintaining accuracy. 

Remember the quality principle. A super-fast, but inaccurate, soil sort costs many times more downstream. Paying a bit more on the front end for a slower, but more accurate, soil sort will pay big dividends in downstream gains and ultimately happier customers. 

Commercial Laundry: David Griggs, Superior Linen Service, Muskogee, Okla.


David Griggs

David Griggs

The soil room is a subject that our facility talks about every day. We are always looking for ideas to improve our sorts. There are many high-tech solutions to help with a cleaner soil room sort. I will speak on a few techniques we have tried to use to improve our sorts on a relatively small budget.

You must always remember that you can only accurately sort so fast. I have seen facilities sort in the 15-22 carts-per-hour range and produce a relatively clean sort. Our laundry has put some measures in place that we feel has helped:

1. Elevate their work station so that it allows operators to toss the linen down into a sling versus trying to throw items into a sling. 

2. Slow the conveyor belt down. We have installed inverters on our conveyor belt motors that allowed us to adjust the speed so we could get a cleaner sort. 

3. Install chutes over the slings to give a better target. A lot of mixed items come from employees throwing to slings on either side of them. Chutes give them a little better target.

4. Work with the bag openers on not piling large items onto small items on the belt. If the belt operators are forced to dig through large items such as blankets to pick up a gown or washcloth, odds are the gowns will end up with the blankets.

5. Staffing. It is always cheaper to sort linen on the soil side of a laundry. If you find you are having several employees on the clean side sorting linen, then you may just be able to add one employee on the soil belt and eliminate the need for resorting on the clean side. 

Consulting Services: Sam Spence, TBR Associates, Saddle Brook, N.J. 


Sam Spence

Sam Spence

When solving an issue such as a perceived uptick in rewash or stain, it is important to define the problem and get to the “root cause” before taking corrective action. Lean Six methodology provides several useful tools for achieving this.

Identify the problem by applying the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) method. If we notice an “uptick” in stain, do we know how much? What was the stain rate previously versus now? This can be measured by weighing stain loads and comparing that weight as a percentage of total pounds washed. 

Similarly, we should do the same for mis-sorts. Weigh mis-sorted linen before sending it back to the soil room to be re-sorted. We will then know if this is a possible factor in our stain problem.

Once we have defined and measured the issue, we can analyze our results to determine the root cause and take corrective action to improve the situation. Ideally, depending on your product mix, stain should not exceed 3-4%. Mis-sort should be in the 2% range. 

If your rates exceed these benchmarks, determine if something in your process has changed. Do you have new employees in soil sort? This may cause increased mis-sorts and can be addressed with increased training. Are you entering the warmer summer months and if so, has your chemical rep added a mildewcide to your wash chemistry? This may be a source of increased stain rates which can now be addressed. 

Most importantly, measure before implementing a change and measure after implementing the change. Only with good data can we accurately assess the effectiveness of our actions.

It is also helpful to analyze your rewash/reclaim process. Expect to see reclaim in the 85% to 90% range after stain washing. If your reclaim rates fall below this level, contact your chemical rep for assistance. 

Additionally, audit stain loads before processing to confirm that passable product is not being rejected as stain. It is not uncommon for acceptable product or wrinkle to end up in the stain loads, which will cause a perceived increase. 

Finally, confirm that bad product that does not reclaim after stain washing is removed from circulation. Again, it is not uncommon for reject items to be repeatedly thrown into stain wash creating the proverbial “stain merry go round.”

Only by establishing solid initial baseline measurements and then measuring our results after implementing changes can we be sure that our efforts are successful allowing us to control our costs and provide our customers with the highest quality service.

Miss Part 1 with ideas from equipment/supply distribution, other institution laundry and uniform/workwear manufacturing experts? Click HERE to read it.