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Clean Workplace Promotes Morale, Safety (Part 1 of 3)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

What tasks should we be performing regularly to keep our facility clean? To what degree do we need to clean our equipment?

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Bill Bell, Steiner-Atlantic Corp., Miami, Fla.

bill bellThis great topic is one that every laundry in America can work on. The main enemy of a laundry is lint, lint and more lint. How do we keep the laundry clean when we generate so much lint? The industry has some equipment that can help in the fight against lint buildup: external lint collectors for dryers, 360-degree fans that remove lint from ceilings, and lint “busters” that will trap lint in filters.

Compressed air and shop vacuums are another weapon against lint. Blowing down and vacuuming your equipment to remove lint will not only make the workspace more enjoyable for your employees, it also optimizes your equipment. Most flatwork equipment uses photo-eyes, which do not like dirt and lint. If you are experiencing jams or poor-quality folds on your sheet folder, the photo-eye may be covered with lint. The simple practice of blowing down the equipment first thing in the morning prior to start-up can improve quality, efficiency and the overall work environment.

Another area to examine is your process. For example, are you generating too much lint by over-drying your textiles? Newer-technology dryers with microprocessor controls and moisture detection can reduce over-drying. Benchmark with your local chemical and equipment vendor to make sure that you’re using your chemistry and equipment correctly.

Make cleaning a priority, and make it part of your preventive maintenance. Give your engineering team a portable Shop-Vac®. Open up the panels of your equipment to vacuum the lint trapped inside.

During my laundry visits, I am amazed how often I see washers that are only a few years old but look like they are 20 years old because no one has wiped them down. Conversely, I have seen 20-year-old washers that look brand-new because they have been cleaned on a regular basis.

As managers, the hardest thing to manage is people. Getting your employees to buy into your procedures is the key. Simple housekeeping chores can make a world of difference for not only a cleaner environment but a safer one, as well.

Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va. 

david bernsteinUpon reading this question, my mind went to thoughts of periodic blow-down in order to remove accumulated lint from ceilings and rafters. I also thought of the need to keep floors swept regularly; to remove accumulated lint from folders; the waxing of ironers; the immediate cleaning of spills to prevent slips, trips and falls; and other periodic and ad hoc cleaning that is necessary in today’s laundry operations.

But I have decided to address one particular area that is near and dear to my heart, and one that is too often ignored when it comes to important cleaning tasks that can have a direct and significant impact on productivity, efficiency and throughput.

I have often said that the drying department is one of the most important, yet one of the most ignored, departments in many commercial, industrial and on-premise laundries.

I’ve come to believe that many owners, managers, supervisors and production employees must think of dryers as they do the Energizer bunny or a Timex watch—they just “keep going and going” or they “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin.’”

The reality is that while a well-manufactured modern dryer will indeed keep going no matter how it is abused, ignored or otherwise improperly maintained, failure to properly clean and perform even simple maintenance will result in a slow, almost imperceptible, degradation in productivity and efficiency.

The first component of a dryer that requires regular cleaning is the perforated portion of the basket (the little holes that allow air to enter the machine and mix with the goods). The heat inside a drying chamber is hot enough to melt any plastic items found inside onto the basket, clogging the holes, thereby reducing drying efficiency and productivity and increasing dry times. One of the biggest reasons why your 2-year-old dryer is taking twice as long to dry loads today as when it was new is clogged basket perforations.

(For purposes of this article, I’m addressing those of you whose dryers do not have removable panels, automated plastic-removal systems, or baskets coated with non-stick materials.)

Obviously, the cheapest and easiest way to remove plastic from dryer perforations is to stop it from entering the machine in the first place. Retraining and monitoring your soil-sort employees will go a long way in this regard. Keep in mind, though, that no matter how diligent your soil sorters are, some plastic is still likely to make its way into your dryers.

The best time to remove plastic is immediately after the load has been removed from the machine while the material is still warm and pliable. Train operators to inspect dryers after every load and to remove melted plastic immediately. Metal baskets may still be too hot for operators to touch with their bare hands, so make sure your operators use gloves and a plastic putty knife. If your dryers are large, requiring someone to enter the machine, be certain to follow proper lock-out/tag-out procedures and, where required, confined space rules.

If you’re faced with the accumulation of months or years of plastic build-up, removing the plastic manually means hours of scraping, punching or using a wire brush to get the hard-as-concrete plastic out of your dryers. But once clean, you should be able to keep your dryers that way simply and easily in the future.

For those of you who would prefer to clean your dryers through other means, consider hiring a service that uses a truck-mounted pressure washer combined with dry ice to blast, freeze and remove plastic from your machines. These services are not inexpensive, but they are effective in removing heavy build-up.

A less expensive, albeit much noisier, alternative involves placing ceramic balls, about the size of golf balls, inside an empty dryer and allowing them to roll and tumble around, knocking off and removing accumulated plastic.

Next, clean your dryers’ fans and motors, including the main exhaust blower fan and the burner blower motor. Regular cleaning will ensure that the dryer continues to pull the same amount of air through the machine as it did when it was brand new. Perhaps more importantly, you must ensure that the burner blower motor is kept clean because a dirty blower may not supply enough combustion air to the burner, decreasing efficiency and increasing fuel usage.

And bear in mind that when you clean the motors and fans, be sure to use a vacuum and not compressed air. Compressed air will force accumulated lint, dirt and other debris farther into the motor, instead of removing these contaminants.

Next, it is time to check and clean your lint collectors and lint collection bags. Failure to keep lint bags emptied and/or to inspect and ensure the proper operation of the lint screen and blow-down mechanism on your lint collectors could cause a decrease in dryer efficiency, an increase in dry times and an increased risk of scorching or fire.

Lint bags should be emptied on a regular basis, preferably several times per shift, and lint screens and operation and observation of the lint blow-down process should become part of your regular preventive-maintenance schedule.

Finally, make sure that you regularly clean (and calibrate) your dryers’ thermocouples (i.e. temperature sensors) and humidity sensors to ensure that your machines’ computer controls are receiving the proper readings in order to maintain peak efficiency and productivity. 

Check back Thursday for Part 2!

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