SAVANNAH, Ga. — Blue Heron Linens, located here, is a premier provider of commercial laundry services to the hospitality market.
In business since 2011, the company recently invested in Girbau Industrial ironing and folding solutions that doubled production, slashed labor and elevated end-product quality.
Owner Michael Wine, who anticipates a 12-month return on that investment, says the new technology smoothed the path for new business.
THE AUTOMATION ADVANTAGE
“Following the COVID pandemic, operational costs skyrocketed,” says Wine. “In a year’s time, Savannah area labor costs increased from $9 to $22 per hour, while natural gas quadrupled.”
Tired of chasing labor and looking for a solution, Wine connected with Brennan Pollnow, national sales manager at Girbau Industrial. Together, they came up with an automation solution that ultimately reduced the plant’s dependency on labor and natural gas.
As part of that plan, Wine replaced three old ironers with a highly flexible ironing line—a GI DR1+ single-station clip feeder, a single-roll PC 120 ironer and an FRB Folder with side-stacker. He also added an FTB towel folder.
IRONING SYSTEM DOUBLES PRODUCTION, ENHANCES QUALITY, CUTS LABOR
“The new, highly versatile ironing system offers the flexibility of automatically feeding large items with one operator, like sheets and duvets,” Pollnow says, “or manually feeding small items with one to four operators in one, two or four lanes, like napkins, pillowcases and tabletops.”
The DR1+ feeder features a vacuum table that holds and smooths items as they move toward the ironer. As items enter and pass through the ironer, they are automatically dried and ironed. Linens pass through the FRB Folder, which performs two to three primary folds and up to three cross-folds, as needed.
Finally, linens are automatically stacked and returned to operators.
The result is a high-quality finish at high-speed production rates, according to Wine. The ironing line processes five to six sheets per minute, helping launch Blue Heron Linens’ daily throughput from 4,000 to 10,800 laundry pounds per eight-hour shift.
These impressive results quickly prompted the addition of a second identical system.
“Quality, with no exaggeration, is flawless. We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome,” says Wine. “Production improved dramatically with increases of hundreds of pieces per hour with virtually no misfeeds or misfolds. This helps prevent rewashes and further improves efficiency.”
TOWEL FOLDER IMPACT
Setting the stage for excellence in another area of the plant, the GI FTB Single Sort Dry Goods Folder folds and stacks towels and blankets of varying dimensions. It quickly processes everything from pool towels to bath towels and blankets at rates of up to 900 pieces per hour with a single operator.
Together with the ironing line, it has cut costly labor hours by 50%—a big win for Wine. The boost in production and decrease in labor costs means Blue Heron Linens will realize a quick ROI along with improved profit margins.
“We are surrounded by resort beach customers,” Wine says. “With the FTB, we have the potential to fold 7,000 pool towels within an eight-hour shift.”
OPENING DOORS TO OPPORTUNITY
And he aims to do it with a flawless product. Blue Heron Linens caters to hospitality clients in the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina, as well as the northern coast of Florida.
However, plans are in the works for expanding the company’s geographic reach.
“We doubled in size in a year and a half,” says Wine. “Our enormous gains in throughput now allow us to build into markets we haven’t dreamed of before.”
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