VERSAILLES, Ky. — Many people measure daily how many steps they take, how many flights of stairs they climb, how many miles they walk or run, and how many calories they burn, thanks to smart watches and other electronic devices.

People keep track of these measurements because they want to know if their fitness level is declining or if it is improving. For instance, all those steps, stairs and burned calories should add up to fewer inches around the waistline or hips. And if they don’t, then people need to figure out what they’re doing wrong.

The same can be said for on-premises laundry (OPL) operations.

Benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPI) are important in the laundry business. Benchmarks are the goals or standards you want to achieve to be as efficient as you can be in your on-premises laundry. KPIs show if you are on or off the path to meeting those benchmarks—such as cost per pound, throughput per day or per shift, and machinery utilization.

And if your answer is off the path, then you need to determine why.

Not that many years ago, an owner of an on-premises laundry couldn’t manage results much beyond getting all the laundry processed in the allotted hours with no overtime. Owners had no way of knowing if their on-premises laundry was efficient or inefficient. They had to operate on the assumption and in good faith that their laundry employees were actually doing the jobs they were paid to do.

ENTER TECHNOLOGY

But technology changed all that about five years ago. Today’s laundry equipment can help you measure and ensure efficiency in all aspects of the operation and from anywhere in the world.

For instance, take an owner of six nursing homes in the same metropolitan area of Tennessee. Most of the time, the six on-site laundries at each of those facilities runs in the same cost figures, within a couple of percentage points. But on occasion, the owner will find one that is running out of the norm.

So, instead of operating at a cost of 20 cents a pound, one will be operating at 35 cents a pound. Fifteen cents a pound can make a big difference in profit when a business is doing 500,000 pounds of laundry a year. That’s $75,000 literally going down the drain that no one would have ever known about without the new smart machines.

With today’s technology, you can see what cycles are being run and when. It’s been an eye opener to on-premises laundry owners since it allows them to really look at and know what is going on in their facilities. It enables them to manage a second or third shift without having someone there to actually supervise it.

I have customers who, on a daily basis, review what was done at their laundries the day before. They have found operators who are washing a load three, four or five times in a row, just to make it appear that they are busy.

BETTER LABOR MANAGEMENT

They can see if an employee has properly scheduled work hours in the laundry by looking at what their production and overall costs are for that shift. They can predict or determine when a nursing home or other facility doesn’t have enough laundry to keep throughput going.

You usually want a par level of three: one set of linen in the laundry, another on the shelf and the third in the room. With a lower par level, facilities are using too much labor, since their workers are standing around and waiting for dirty laundry to be sent to them so they can wash it and send it right back out.

Laundry workers could be much more productive if there were adequate linens to achieve a par level of three.

With labor being about two-thirds of the cost of doing laundry, managing labor is key to managing and keeping your laundry costs in check.

Smart technology will also show you a machine’s utilization percentage and how many minutes that machine has been sitting idle. And if it’s sitting idle, your cost of labor is rising. You can determine cents per pound by shift, and determine what cycles are being run.

You can see if cycles are not balancing properly during extract, which tells you that employees are severely underloading the machines. And if you are running the equipment at half capacity, you’re basically losing money since the cost of water and chemicals is still the same, no matter the size of the load.

You can even see the time between cycles. If it’s 1.5 hours between cycles, you know something is wrong. It could be that there is nothing to wash or your employees are being inefficient, but either way, it’s a problem you’ll need to address.

The new technology also allows you to monitor washer and dryer cycle times and compare those to other machines. If you have one washer completing a cycle in 30 minutes and another machine completing the same cycle in 40 minutes, you know something is wrong.

You can determine if you have a restriction in the flow of water on the one machine. For instance, it may be taking two minutes longer to fill. You don’t think much about two minutes, but if there are five fills in a wash cycle, that’s 10 minutes of time that you’re wasting.

If a wash cycle is taking an additional 10 minutes longer to complete a load, and averaging nine cycles during an eight-hour shift, it would take an additional 90 minutes to wash the same amount of linen.

Drain time can have a similar effect. If you have one machine that takes 30 seconds to drain and another machine takes one minute to drain, on those five drain steps, you will be wasting another 2.5 minutes. Those minutes quickly add up over an eight-hour day, increasing labor costs, while decreasing your throughput and profitability.

OVER-DRYING IS COSTLY

It’s the same story with drying time. If your operators are setting the dryers at maximum drying time and not taking advantage of the moisture-sensing feature that automatically stops the dryer when the load is dry, you’re wasting time.

That’s critical if your employees are setting the dryers for 45 minutes of drying time, but it only takes 30 minutes to dry. You’re wasting 15 minutes and quickly you’ll find that your on-premises laundry costs are rising from that goal of 20 cents a pound to a much higher cost, keeping in mind that labor is about two-thirds of the cost of doing laundry.

On average, in-house laundries are more efficient than outsourcing. In-house laundries will cost about 20 cents per pound; outsourcing is usually 30 to 35 cents a pound or more.

However, if you find your in-house laundry is running 35 cents a pound or more, you have problems and you need to figure out how to fix those problems. Being able to collect the KPI data from each machine on a daily basis makes it much easier to locate your problem areas.

With networked equipment and cloud-based systems, you can access data in real time and make adjustments from anywhere in the world. I was in Europe and was able program a cycle for a professional hockey team that needed a special cycle immediately due to some new regulations.

With the cloud-based setup, owners can not only watch the KPIs, but also maintain their equipment, no matter where they are. For instance, the equipment gives you prompts to let you know that your bearings need to be greased, or you can receive text alerts with error messages.

Basically, the technology calls attention to a problem before it gets to be a catastrophic and costly problem to repair.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Remember, you can only improve what you can measure. Today’s new laundry equipment allows you to set some internal benchmarks and know your true cost per pound. If it’s too high, then you need to look at the performance indicators to determine why.

You can do it; all it takes is the measurements these new machines provide. And if you don’t, you will have no idea how much time and money you are wasting.