Compact Laundries Squeeze in Productivity

Bruce Beggs |

ITHACA, N.Y. — The on-premise laundry at Kendal at Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community in the central Finger Lakes region of New York, is not unlike many on-premise laundries (OPL) operating today.
Using three washer-extractors (two 90-pound models and one 55-pounder), a commercial top loader and three dryers (120 pounds each), Vicki Elliott’s staff of two FTEs and one part-timer run an 8-hour shift six days a week in processing 275,000 pounds of linen annually for Kendal’s 350 residents.
“We provide and launder all linens and personals in the Health Center and sheets and towels for the IL (independent living) residents,” says Elliott, RLLD, the environmental services manager.
And the laundry manages to do this in space covering less than 1,000 square feet — 403 square feet for the soiled-linen area, 403 square feet for the clean-linen area and just 158 square feet for clean-linen storage.
Nowhere is the efficient use of space more important than in a compact laundry.GOOD EQUIPMENT, GOOD PEOPLE
Keeping the equipment running at the highest level possible and employing skilled, dedicated workers are essential to the continued success and viability of small laundries.
Washers and washer-extractors, dryers and flatwork finishing equipment are vital tools. Today’s advanced models offer fast throughput, optimum results and low costs.
“We can function with one of the washers or dryers down, but it would make things difficult if we didn’t have all machines functioning,” Elliott says. “We hand-fold all of the linen, so I couldn’t live without my two operators.”
At less than 700 square feet, the OPL serving Mercy Hospital & Healthcare Center in Moose Lake, Minn., processes up to 25,000 pounds monthly for a 25-bed hospital and 84-bed nursing home, according to Dale Riihiluoma, CLLM, environmental services supervisor. Two full-time, three part-time and two “casual” employees work three staggered, daytime shifts.
Its primary pieces of equipment are two washer-extractors (75 pounds and 35 pounds) and two dryers (both 75 pounds). All goods are hand-folded.
“Space is always an issue,” says Riihiluoma, noting that the laundry has only a two-hour turnaround to process and return the soiled linen it receives. “We keep everything kind of compact.”GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE
Many OPLs rely on carts and trucks as their sole material-handling tools. Neil MacDonald, who manages the OPL at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club in Lihue, Hawaii, says he would be lost without full-swivel-caster carts.
“There’s not much space between the walls and the spreader-feeder/ironer (in our production area),” he says. The highly maneuverable carts make it much easier to move them into position.
The Cleveland Regional Medical Center OPL in Shelby, N.C., covers 3,500 square feet in processing 2.2 million pounds annually for two hospitals, two nursing homes, a surgery clinic, the county jail and four doctors' offices.
The washroom includes four washer-extractors (one at 600 pounds, two at 255 and one at 90), six dryers (150 pounds each), an ironer, a folder with stacker and two small-piece folders, manned by 16.5 FTEs on daily shifts. “I can’t live without any of it,” says Wes Breedlove, RLLD, director of textile service.
Soil and/or clean rail systems can increase a laundry’s available floor space, and Breedlove’s laundry uses monorails for soiled loading and for clean-linen storage.
“Obviously, everything is tight, and that means that it must flow smoothly,” he says.
At 9,952 square feet, the MultiCare Health System OPL on the first floor of Tacoma General Hospital serves four hospitals, two surgery centers and many other smaller sites, according to Jane Salscheider, manager, linen services.
Its 33 FTEs processed 6.5 million pounds in 2007, using a complement of six washer-extractors (ranging from 20 pounds to 600 pounds), three dryers, an ironer/folder with stacker, a small-piece folder, blanket folder, string-tying machine, steam press, collar press and a shrink-wrapping machine.
The OPL also makes use of overhead rails for staging and storage, and uses an “Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV)” to move clean-/soiled-linen carts throughout the hospital.
Storage of both clean and soiled linen is always a “big problem,” Salscheider says, in working to ensure the facility fully complies with all regulatory agencies and bodies at all times.
“We have couriers leaving full soiled-linen containers and storing empty containers in an employee entrance, and we are continually having to make sure the egress is not blocked and that all soiled linen is in designated, tied soiled-linen bags inside the storage carts.”
The Port Huron (Mich.) Hospital OPL processes 3.5 million pounds annually from its 10,000-square-foot department, says Randy Wendland, CLLM, laundry manager. Roughly 60% of goods processed are from other healthcare entities.
Compact laundries minimize the distance that has to be traveled between processing steps, Wendland says, and have less opportunity to accumulate unnecessary items.
“Some misconceptions are that compact laundries can’t be as efficient as large commercial (automated) plants when, in fact, foot by foot, they can be very competitive,” he says.SOME FREE ADVICE
What suggestions would you have for someone who’s beginning to manage a compact laundry for the first time?
“Keep the work flowing,” Elliott advises. “Don’t process more than you can push through and finish in one day. Make sure there are jobs to be done when there is downtime between loads.”
“Stay organized and cross-train staff,” Salscheider says. “Make sure your staff are well-educated on all policies and task assignments, reviewing frequently.”
“You have to be fairly organized and watch what you wash and dry,” says Riihiluoma, adding that his laundry converted to an all-in-one chemical delivery system to simplify its wash operation.
“The manager of a compact laundry has to look at every square foot as an opportunity,” Wendland says. “Avoid crossover and backtracking to save steps in between processes.”
“Go slow, and don’t make any quick changes,” advises Breedlove. “Study the situation and analyze it before any change is made. Make the best out of what little you have.”

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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