Design-Build a Laundry (Part 2): Finishing, Folding and More

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CHICAGO — My last column addressed some basics pertinent to a design-build initiative supporting a new laundry facility or modernization of an existing facility.
Design-build must take into account the amount of FTEs you have available, or expect to have available, to produce a quantity of textiles, not to mention reach utility- and energy-cost goals for each aspect of the operation. As we now move into finishing, this becomes even more apparent.
These days, most high-efficiency plants have dryers that automatically discharge goods onto conveyor systems. One must calculate the number of dryer loads to be discharged and to come off the conveyor system. Failing to calculate this correctly can lead to production jams.
A method to get dryer loads off the conveyor should the system fail also must be considered. If planning to unload the dryers into carts, calculate how many would be utilized, their size, and the queue space required for staging prior to travel to the finishing area.
At this point, you must decide what degree of automation and production you want to use once the preconditioned or dried textiles come off the clean-side conveyor system. Do you take the work overhead? If so, what degrees of storage do you need prior to ironing and folding in small-piece operations? Finally, what do you plan to do once the goods come to the flatwork feeder and small-piece folders?
Another consideration in the design-build protocol also involves ceiling height, such as having enough space to store work overhead above ironers. If you have 15-16 feet clear, most available systems can accomplish this. One can save valuable floor space by taking advantage of this opportunity.
Ergonomic and production expectations become critical as we enter the feeding area. One must define necessary production by piece and the related ergonomic expectations. Do you desire a system that takes fewer FTEs to feed an ironing system, i.e., the number of employees needed to take goods from a holding area and feed the system, per product category per operator hour?
As with any finishing system, the ironer, folder/cross-folder and stacker can only produce that which is fed. Therefore, the type of ironing system becomes critical not only to space but also utility consumption and maintenance requirements.
If you have a steam system that can achieve a minimum 125 psi at the ironer, you are in pretty good shape to achieve production expectations, assuming the quality of steam is adequate. But if you don’t have that capability, then you need to look at other systems using oil, gas or thermal fluid to achieve the expected production. Historically, well-maintained gas-fired or thermal-fluid ironers require less space and achieve greater production than steam systems.
Your feeding, ironing and folding systems must be able to work in unison to achieve the production expectations you require. A slow feeding system will never meet the overall expectations in a high-speed ironing-and-folding environment. While we have not yet addressed ancillary support equipment, keep in mind that air pressure is an important aspect for feeding-system performance.
Next, let’s look at how we take goods from the ironing system—usually from the stacker or off the end of the ironer. There are ways to automate transportation of flat goods from a stacker to cart-assembly areas, but defining production requirements is critical once again.
These same conveyance systems can also be used when taking other goods from ironing systems, although some manual attention is required. These systems can reduce the FTEs normally required in this area, but extensive use can result in lost floor space and be cause for safety concerns (fire egress, for example). Make sure you utilize safety stipulations throughout the planning process.
Finally, let’s look at small-piece folding operations. Planning must address conveyance as well as define expectations about how the finished work will be transferred.
Small-piece folding systems can be complex and dramatically reduce the number of FTEs previously used to hand-fold goods. Performance requirements for this design-build section are important. You need to define what you expect these systems to accomplish per hour, i.e. types and sizes of towels, pajamas, robes, gowns, blankets, etc. Regarding ergonomics, define how employees will be expected to feed large-piece and small-piece folders, and what process will be used to get goods to the operators, tables, lifts, carts, etc.
Next month, I will address ancillary support systems, cart makeup, and basic design-build space requirements.


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