Effective Tunnel Finishing, Part 1

Dan Farnsworth |

Steam tunnel finishers are simple pieces of equipment that provide extremely reliable production throughout each processing day, but the process of tunnel finishing your garment production is not as simple as one might think.
Just as preventative maintenance is an important part of garment quality, consistency, energy consumption and the reliability of your tunnel finisher, the proper handling of garments and wash-floor etiquette play significant roles in finished quality.
Effective finishing begins with proper sorting, washing and handling.SOIL SORT
The process starts with proper separation of wash categories – whether they’re shirts or pants; cotton, permanent press or blend; light or heavy soil.
Different fibers react to the wash cycle differently and require different wash formulas to properly clean garments, maintain appearance and prolong durability.
A good example of this is the separation of cotton and 65/35 poly-cotton. If you put these two fabric types together in loads, then the goods won’t slip across each other like they do when washed separately. The 65/35 seems to adhere to the cotton, so instead of tumbling free, shirt sleeves and pant legs get tied around each other.
In contrast, when washed separately, you’ll get a good exchange of liquors through the fabric and proper mechanical action will be maintained. Also, the goods will cool down properly, because knotting hasn’t occurred in the wash wheel.
In a similar fashion, light and heavy soil work needs to be kept separate. Suppose you have a roofing customer whose garments are placed with light soil goods. In the wash wheel, tar will likely be dispersed throughout the entire load. If it includes executive shirts that will be pressed, you’ll possibly transfer that tar to your press. This, in turn, will pass the troublesome goo onto every other shirt that goes on the buck.PROPER FORMULA SELECTION
Sorting errors don’t seem to be as common as choosing the wrong formula for correctly sorted goods. For example, if you run 65/35 on a cotton formula, the load won’t cool properly, and the resulting thermal shock will likely set wrinkles that a finisher can’t remove. The same outcome will likely occur if shirts are washed on a pants formula due to over-extraction.
If you wash heavily soiled goods as light soil, dirt will spread throughout the load. If you catch this before the finishing process, then you’re OK and can rewash them. But if you don’t, you run the risk of setting the excess grease as stains into the fabric, especially if the finishing temperature isn’t set correctly.
Suppose your plant does a fair amount of blood work and you accidentally use one of these formulas for colors. Because blood is washed at higher temperatures, you’ll likely overheat these goods, making it more difficult to cool down properly.
Such difficulties are harder to identify when you use automated wash floors and soil sling systems. With this equipment, a mismatched bag and formula won’t be seen until the goods come out of the wash room, as opposed to detecting the problem right away when hand-loading a washer and manually selecting the formula.
As you know, automation typically pays big dividends, but your finishing staff must really be on the stick. As they do their work on such goods, they may ask, “Why didn’t these finish properly?”
The key to avoiding sorting and other misclassification problems is proper management and training.
Are people taught to identify loads properly? Do they understand the various input codes for automated systems? How conscientious are staff about doing their jobs, or are they just kind of getting by? Turnover on the wash floor can be the culprit.
How motivated are the staff and managers? Soil-room work, whether it’s a uniform or linen plant, can be tough. It’s not a pristine environment. So when you ask people to work there and to input data correctly into your system, you’ve got to set the proper tone.
But even conscientious operators make mistakes. Oftentimes, shirts are washed with pants formulas simply because no one changed the wash formula when loading the washer-extractor. To compound this, issues with overextraction and heat shock are difficult to spot coming out of the washer-extractor. After all, wouldn’t you expect goods to emerge wet and wrinkled after washing?
In cases where the staff is astute enough to recognize a quality problem as the load emerges from a wash wheel, will they suspect a programming mishap? They really should. It’s unlikely that the machine hasn’t performed according to the program it was given. If somebody “told” a washer to run formula No. 18, it’s almost certain to not have run formula No. 5.MACHINE FLAWS
We all know that machines do break, and, from time to time, may not execute a formula properly. There are many, varied things that can go wrong during the course of a wash formula, and the evidence can be obvious or obscure.
Sometimes these malfunctions are intermittent rather than consistent, making it more difficult to troubleshoot the cause of the problem. A valve might stick today but not stick again for a day and a half.
As we become more and more dependent upon automation to help us work, we shouldn’t lose our grip entirely. Close, daily scrutiny of procedures is an important part of any successful operation.
Sometimes this can be as simple as looking through the window of the wash wheel to verify the proper amount of water has been filled. Other times, this might require a standing vigil next to the washer with a stopwatch for an entire cycle to time the different portions of the cycle.
Close scrutiny is the only way to ensure proper wash formula execution.

About the author

Dan Farnsworth

Leonard Automatics

Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Dan Farnsworth is vice president of sales and marketing for Leonard Automatics, Denver, N.C.


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