Getting Back to Business Post-pandemic

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Getting Back to Business Post-pandemic

Author says engineers, operators need to work with manufacturers to develop solutions

CLAREMORE, Okla. — For over two years, the pandemic dramatically impacted businesses across every market. The industrial laundry and linen industry lost, at times, up to 50% of pre-pandemic pounds.

The pullback in overall business influenced every metric and initiative—from staffing and training to capital expenditures for new equipment and facilities. 

If the attendance at The Clean Show in August is any indicator, we are all ready to get back to business! Nearly 10,000 industry reps, customers and operators attended the show and made it known that it is time to get back to business and move forward. 

Several equipment manufacturers reported equipment sales on the show floor far exceeding what they expected. Despite the talk about a coming recession, business appears to be returning to pre-pandemic levels and 10,000 of us, and more, are ready!

While innovation in new ideas and designs seemed limited this year, it was evident there is certainly an appetite in the industry for R&D to be a major focus in the coming months. 

Many major equipment suppliers indicated a willingness to make a move on the development of new ideas, concepts and designs that will reduce labor, improve plant throughput, upgrade quality and reduce emissions. 

But the equipment manufacturers can’t do it alone. They need the input and ideas generated by an army of operators and customers. To generate these ideas and develop solutions, engineers and operators need to feel free to share with their manufacturers and work together toward a solution.  

Performing tasks the same-old way generation after generation won’t work in the new world in which we operate. Let’s explore a few ways to generate ideas and concepts and how to pitch them to our manufacturers:

Take a holistic approach to analyze your business.

  • Include a look at labor content. Where are more labor hours per piece or pound being expended? Focus on automation, or at least semi-automation, to help move product along with less labor. Don’t forget the peripheral labor content such as material handling to and from the workstation.
  • Don’t get caught up in your current equipment or plant layout. One of the best improvements I implemented once upon a time came from starting with a blank sheet of paper, ignoring what I was seeing in front of me. Too often we can’t see the potential because we are focused on what we feel we may be “stuck with” in the existing equipment layout. Starting with an idea of an all-new layout and working backward will enable you to benefit from improved material handling and reduced labor.

Visit trade shows for other industries. For instance, the packaging industry has its own trade show. The material handling industry has its own show. Visiting these may seem a bit odd but they are an excellent source of ideas and new equipment, and you will be able to envision how their systems apply to your business. Go there with an open mind and don’t hesitate to invite the manufacturers to visit your operation and find applications for their equipment.

Vendor factory visits can be helpful. Visiting your primary equipment suppliers’ factories, viewing how your equipment is made and working with them one-on-one to develop new ideas and designs is a major win for you and the manufacturer. Challenge them in the development of new concepts and ideas, automation, ESG (environmental, social and governance) improvements, safety and maintenance—all areas where your P&L is impacted.

The Bottom Line: Sometimes we are hesitant to change. New, ground-breaking processes may present several unknowns, but doing things the same way for generations will not allow us to meet the challenges of the future.

Often it can be very helpful and beneficial to get out of the plant and refresh your mind with new ideas, concepts and opportunities. Factory visits, trade shows and evaluating other industries are just a few ideas that will help you meet your goals, short-term and long-term.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].