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Cut Usage, Lower Costs, Keep the Quality (Part 1)

Getting better prices, tracking/monitoring, reuse, maintenance all help

CHICAGO — Commercial laundry operations are always looking for ways to control costs while maintaining the quality of the goods processed.

While labor is usually the largest cost center in a laundry plant, energy and utility usage can add up as well.

Laundry operations today continually look for ways to cut energy/utility usage in the plant (and in the delivery fleet) while maintaining excellent service and results.

Not only does cutting usage and increasing efficiency lower costs, it also lowers the environmental impact of a laundry operation.

American Laundry News spoke with laundry industry managers to get their stories on how they cut usage and costs.

BETTER PRICES, TRACKING USAGE, BETTER EFFICIENCY

Meeraj Mehta, manager of engineering for Prudential Overall Supply in Irvine, Calif., says his company’s energy/utility usage was anywhere from 30 to 50% higher five to 10 years ago compared to current, especially since oil and gas prices were high at that time.

With lower prices and energy-saving measures, he estimates Prudential’s current energy/utility usage is approximately 2-5% of revenue.

Securing a better price was one key to cutting costs. 

“Fixed price electrical and natural gas contracts with our energy supplier,” says Mehta.

In the plant, one way Prudential boosted efficiency was with tracking.

“We use energy tracking meters and software to measure most of our energy cost,” he says. “If you can track and measure it, you can find ways to control and reduce it.”

A practical way the company has achieved better efficiency in the plant is by the use of variable frequency drives (VFDs) on big electrical motors, such as washers, dryers, air compressors, remote terminal units (RTUs), etc., to better control motor speed and torque by varying motor input frequency and voltage, according to Mehta. 

In addition to VFDs, he says that process water controls are used to balance the supply and demand of energy requirements during the day-to-day production.

Water and water-related heat usage is cut by using heat recovery and water reuse systems, he says, such as a wastewater heat recovery system, a boiler exhaust energy recovery system, a water reuse system, etc.

Other ways Prudential cut energy/utility usage and costs? 

“Checking and fixing air leaks in the plants,” shares Mehta. “And ensuring all hot water and steam pipes and process tanks are properly insulated.”

Software also plays a key role in helping to regulate usage in the plant, he says. Prudential makes use of tools from its chemical supplier, Ecolab, as well as using energy and production monitoring software.

Also, the plant makes use of an evaporator cooling system instead of the standard AC system.

Not only has Prudential become more efficient and cut costs in the plant, it also has done so on the delivery side of the business. 

“We have increased the overall miles per gallon of our fleet by replacing our older trucks with more fuel-efficient engines and transmissions,” Mehta says. “We’ve also increased the gross vehicle weight rating of our vehicles, allowing us to reduce the numbers of truck on the road. And we’ve converted the fleet to full synthetic oils.

“Finally, better preventive maintenance controls help to manage the fleet at 98% PM current.”     

He adds that drivers have been trained to reduce idle times.

Mehta sees Prudential further cutting energy/utility usage and costs in several ways. In the plant, use of a solar and smart electrical energy storage system could control electrical peak demand charges and reduce overall energy usage, along with continuing to use high-efficiency washers and dryers, steam boilers, and air compressors.

“Increasing plant productivity by more automation ultimately reduces our energy requirement,” he adds.

For the delivery fleet, Mehta sees better route optimization, along with applying a top speed limit via the electronic control unit (ECU) on both the company’s gas- and diesel-powered vehicles to reduce fuel cost, reduce tire wear, increase brake life and reduce accidents  

HOLDING STEADY WITH REUSE, MONITORING, MAINTENANCE

About five to 10 years ago, Richard Engler, manager of textile processing at John Peter Smith Health Network (JPS), Fort Worth, Texas, says approximately 15% of the laundry’s budget was taken up by energy/utility costs. Today, he estimates that to be around 18%

While the energy/utility line item has risen, Engler credits JPS’s energy-savings efforts with keep the rise to a minimum. 

“We are trying to keep them as flat as possible,” he says.

Engler says some of the laundry’s main energy-saving efforts include water recycling (for both the water and the energy used to heat the water), lower-temperature wash chemistry, energy-efficient lighting, and more careful temperature monitoring.

JPS also implemented smaller, yet effective, methods to cut energy/utility costs, such as more frequent cleaning of the dryer screens and ensuring dryers aren’t over drying.            

Also, Engler says it’s important to be sure preventative maintenance is both on time and effective.

“One item we have used is to teach employees to ensure equipment not in use is not just stopped, but powered off,” he says. “It’s key to pay attention for energy savings.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion on consolidation and future efficiencies.