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The Fine Art of Fine-Tuning: Tunnel Washers

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(Photo: © American Trade Magazines LLC)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — This month’s column addresses fine-tuning a tunnel washer system to get maximum productivity. I have never seen a tunnel washer system that had enough dryers to prevent the tunnel from going into hold while it waits for an available dryer. I have seen many a tunnel washer operation that, with proper scheduling of the work, can eliminate the need for the tunnel going into a hold cycle.

The key to maximizing tunnel washer productivity is in knowing how to schedule work through the machine.

To begin, gather this information:

  1. Number of loads to be washed per day of each type of linen
  2. Drying time for each type of load
  3. Hourly requirement of the production side for each item
  4. Inventory level for each type of load (to ascertain need to push through in case of low inventory)
  5. The number of available dryers
  6. Cycle time for the tunnel washer

In my laundry, I have broken my loads down into three categories: No-dry loads (sheets sent directly to the ironers), short-dry loads (patient gowns, pillowcases, bath towels, bath blankets, washcloths), and long-dry loads (thermal blankets, incontinent pads). By developing a scheduling system that follows a set pattern, I can keep all the workstations busy and maximize use of the tunnel washer capacity.

To start improving your tunnel washer capacity, you need a good starting point. Before making any changes, accurately determine, over the course of at least one week, how many loads per hour you are getting through your washer. Compare that figure to the theoretical capacity. For example, a tunnel washer operating on a 2-minute cycle can produce up to 30 loads per hour. A tunnel washer operating on a 2 1/2 minute cycle can produce 24 loads per hour. Chances are, yours is not operating at its theoretical capacity.

A quick review of the problems causing you to not meet maximum capacity will most likely confirm that the problem is lack of dryer capacity. If other problems are discovered—tunnel going into hold for low temperature, or a low water level—these should be corrected before you move forward with a productivity improvement program.

To improve your tunnel productivity, you need to be able to pick and choose which linen items are going into the machine. This may require that your soil-sort area start work 30 to 60 minutes before your tunnel washer. Based on your original research into the types of loads you are washing, and their respective dry times, make a first attempt at developing a tunnel loading schedule. Use this schedule for several days and compare the results with your baseline productivity. Expect to make some changes as you learn what mix of linen works well and what mix of linen does not.

In my plant, I can easily maximize my tunnel output for an hour or two by running a majority of sheets through the tunnel that bypass the dryers and go directly to the ironers. But by doing so, dryers are not utilized and various areas of the laundry run out of linen. My goal is to maximize dryer use and tunnel washer output. Each laundry operates with different equipment and a different linen mix so there is no universal loading system that works for all occasions or circumstances.

By monitoring the loads per hour in your tunnel, and tracking the utilization of your dryers, you should be able to develop a highly workable loading system within a month. The improvements made from this effort, even if small, will have a major impact on your operation over the course of a year.

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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