Chemical System Installation Planning

David Barbe |

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The American Laundry News Wire recently featured a link to a great article by Ken Tyler about the lack of planning for the laundry [Design-Build for a Better Future].
He pointed out that facility designers often seem to include the laundry as an afterthought. I agree! And, if laundries are the last part planned, the chemical system for the laundry is the last of that part!
When the time comes to plan for a chemical system, consider these suggestions:PLACE SYSTEM CLOSE TO WASH WHEEL
Just like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location! When the chemical system is placed too far away, it takes a longer time to deliver – thus increasing wash formula time, exposure to chemicals throughout the plant, and response time from washroom personnel.
No one would ever dream of having their plant workflow severely compromised. Planners put in a great deal of effort to ensure that the goods move efficiently from soil sorting to washer to finishing. Yet these same planners will ask the chemical vendor to place its system in whatever space is left.
Our company once installed a chemical system outside on the loading dock. Why? The facility had completely forgotten to set aside space for the chemical system!
The dock was in the diagonally opposite corner from the washers. The chemical system was closer to the finished-goods storage area than anything else, and it never worked well. An additional three to four minutes per load adds up to hours of production lost per month. This is the most critical consideration.PLAN FOR REPLENISHMENT ACCESS
Replacement containers should be easily replaceable, and easy forklift access is ideal. One should be able to do normal things normally. Moving stuff around every time one needs to replace another drum or tote of product is going to get old quickly, and increase labor costs, too. Organize your chemical area so product containers aren’t blocked. Place larger containers where they’re most accessible. Direct access is paramount to safety, which I’ll address next.DON’T PLAN FOR MANUAL TRANSFERS, OR DRUM OR TOTE REFILLING
If anyone has to stand in one place and hold a control open to pump chemical for minutes on end, they’ll become bored, inattentive or, worse, inventive.
We’ve seen employees hang barbell weights from “dead-man” valves so they didn’t have to hold them open. Miniature surgical clamps have been used to jam in pushbuttons. At the facilities where this was done, the managers admitted that several large cleanups were required after expensive and dangerous chemicals overflowed onto the floor.
In addition, having personnel pump product from drum to drum invites inadvertent mixing, contamination, dilution, etc., all of which can, at best, compromise quality. Or worse, everyone in the building could have to run outside for fresh air while the fire department responds!PLAN FOR CONTAINMENT OF LIQUID CHEMICALS
Be certain that a damaged container or an employee’s mistake doesn’t cause a major catastrophe. Accidents happen, but good planning will minimize damage and, most importantly, prevent injury.
Even skilled forklift operators will occasionally stick a fork through a container. So, store reactive products apart from other products. Keep bleach away from sour, peroxides away from alkalis, etc. If in doubt, read the MSDS sheets. (Those are handy and posted, right?)
I hope there isn’t a floor drain beside the chemical storage. But if there is, make sure it goes to the normal washer effluent drain, where chemicals are diluted and monitored for pH. If using barrels, the small containment bases are a great idea. Just don’t put incompatible products over the same pit. When in doubt, check with your vendor.CHECK WITH LOCAL AUTHORITIES FOR RULES, SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
In keeping with the previous point, be sure that local authorities have no problems with any part of your layout. Some authorities will require separation of reactive products, while some will just want a berm around the area. Some will not allow a floor drain, while some won’t notice or care. Ask beforehand; it’s cheaper than rebuilding things.
At a location in Texas, the fire department mandated that containment include all chemicals in the area, plus 30 minutes of sprinkler flow. This required checking the original building blueprints, determining the sprinkler head flow for that area in gallons per minute per square foot, and doing some math. They also wanted individual containment walls around certain chemicals.
In our experience, the local fire department inspector is the person to consult. Your insurance company might provide guidance, too. Also, mark everything — your vendor will provide placards with the proper hazard warnings for each product.PROVIDE EYEWASH, SAFETY SHOWER
Place at least one eyewash station and a safety shower in the immediate chemical area. This is for the protection of your employees and the chemical company’s personnel. Industrial chemicals are extremely dangerous, and alkaline chemicals in particular will attack eye tissue almost instantly.
One should observe the normal personal protection rules, using proper equipment and taking great care when handling concentrated chemicals. One can minimize exposure and risk by handling chemicals as little as possible.
Pump drums completely dry. When the low-level alarm goes off, tilt the drum to get the last bit out. This lowers your cost and eliminates a hazardous waste.
Different chemical systems will require different utilities, but the basics for any system are power and hot and cold water. Larger systems require compressed air and a pumped drain. If there is doubt about the sizes, ask prospective vendors for input, then increase all the sizes. If they don’t need hot water, for instance, provide it anyway. A different vendor may need it in the future.
Be sure air lines are large enough, because more and more systems are air-powered for safety.
Drain access is a growing requirement. Many chemical systems have various calibration methods in which small amounts of diluted chemicals are pumped to drain. Since these are pumped drain lines, a standpipe connection to a drain will work without compromising the containment system.
A 2-inch drainpipe opening three to four feet above the floor with a P-trap on the bottom will meet most chemical vendors’ needs. Again, it’s much easier to run a drain line in the beginning than cut up concrete later.DON’T PLAN TO PUMP UP OR DOWN FROM FLOOR TO FLOOR
Chemical vendors can build a custom system to handle the extra pressure of pumping up extra heights. But, with increased pressure comes increased hazard. On the other hand, gravity is a dependable force.
Having chemicals higher than outlet points is inviting a large loss of chemical. Parts will fail. It’s better not to depend on hardware to protect your facility. Design the system installation to eliminate siphoning in case of a problem.
Our company was invited to bid on a chemical installation where the consultant had already installed day tanks 30 feet above the floor, and black iron pipes throughout the facility to gravity-feed chemicals to all the washers. We pointed out that most of the pipes would corrode quickly, and all but the alkali line would become contaminated. We also noted that a single valve failure would result in complete loss of the day tank into a washer. They refused to alter the requirements, so we declined to bid.
Later, when pressed, we submitted a successful bid, but only if various safety systems were installed to minimize inadvertent flow, and PVC lines were installed. After several years of successful results, we lost the account, and the next vendor removed the safety equipment we had added.
Consult your vendors before laying out your own system. They’ve probably already made many of the mistakes you might make and can offer practical advice.ASK SUPPLIERS FOR INPUT
When planning a new facility, or just renovating an existing one, invite bids from several vendors and listen closely to their facility suggestions. Ask them what they would like to see and why, then plan for everything. You will not be caught off-guard.

About the author

David Barbe


Director of Engineering

David Barbe, director of engineering for U.N.X. INCORPORATED, Greenville, N.C., has worked as an equipment designer there since 1978. He’s been granted numerous patents for chemical dispensing systems and has installed such systems in all types of laundries, both large and small. He holds a bachelor of science degree from East Carolina University in Greenville. He can be reached at 252-355-8400 or


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