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The Fine Art of Fine-Tuning: Soil Sorting

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(Photo: © American Trade Magazines LLC/Bruce Beggs)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — It seems that making the required adjustments in your laundry operation is a never-ending process. We must consider a number of variables as we make periodic adjustments to our operations. With this in mind, I have decided to discuss—over the course of the next several months—the factors and opportunities available to every manager in fine-tuning their operation.

First, let’s take a look at the soil-sort department. This area varies by laundry, and the quality of the process in this area can make a major impact on the overall operation. I guess the first decision to be made is whether we are going to sort the soiled linen or not.

It used to be a popular idea, both in Canada and the United States, to sort healthcare linen after it had been washed and decontaminated. I know of a number of laundries in both countries that have abandoned that idea in an effort to reduce chemical, labor and linen-replacement costs.

The purpose of sorting soiled linen is to remove trash and other foreign material before the linen is washed, and to facilitate the proper cleaning and handling of the linen through the laundry.

The larger the laundry, the greater the number of sorting classifications. Smaller laundries may mix all large dry items together, while large laundries will sort thermal blankets, bath blankets, knitted contour sheets and incontinent pads into separate classifications.

The more detailed the sort, the more the wash formula and the drying times can be customized for each individual product. (The ability to fine-tune a dryer formula will be considered in a future column.)

Ideally, linen should be handled as few as times as possible as it moves through the laundry. A thorough soil-sort process eliminates the need to sort the product after it has been washed and conditioned or dried.

For example, we use a soil-sort classification just for our white hospital bath towels. This allows the operator on the small-piece folder in the production area to quickly process the items without having to handle unrelated items. Once processed, the items are placed in stacks of 10 on a conveyor belt that moves through an automatic tie machine and then delivers the product to the cart make-up area.

Bath towels are only touched three times before they are ready to be packed for orders: during the soil-sort process, as they are fed into the small-piece folder and, finally, as they are put on the conveyor. This economy of effort leads to a highly efficient and effective laundry.

In reviewing the soil-sort area of the laundry, I will normally check the established classifications to determine if they still meet the needs of the laundry. I check to see how many times each must be handled before the product is ready to be placed in carts for delivery. This survey tells me if I need to add or subtract soil-sort classifications.

I will also review what percentage of my overall work volume is represented by each classification. I want to make sure that high-volume items receive the greatest amount of attention. I also use this information to make sure that all high-volume items are placed in appropriate positions along the soil-sort platform. Efficiency can be improved when high-volume items are placed in the best positions.

It is important to remember that the mix in your laundry will change over time. Your process requires periodic review to ensure that the underlying mix has not changed.

Review and re-evaluate production standards for this area during this fine-tuning process. Changes made in the number of classifications and the placement of each in the soil-sort area will impact an employee’s productivity. Being able to measure the impact of the changes and validate that you have improved your operation is a critical component in being a good manager.

Finally, assess the quality of your soil-sort process. How many items are showing up in the wrong category? A bath towel accidentally sorted into a load of white sheets will need to either be rewashed or gathered, dried and then routed to the appropriate finish area. The most economical way to process linen is to do it right the first time. Tracking the amount of linen that is incorrectly sorted can give you an ongoing measure of your soil-sort area’s effectiveness.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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