OSHKOSH, Wis. — All industrial, commercial and on-premises laundries offer different services, utilize different pieces of equipment, strive toward unique quality goals and operate at varying levels of efficiency. Justifying new equipment and automation isn’t always easy.

When it comes to taking the leap into automation, investing in one piece of equipment can significantly impact quality, production, per-pound laundry processing and labor costs. 

If you’re at a crossroads and considering automation, remember that you aren’t alone in determining whether it makes sense. Contact your equipment distributor to help you assess—in hard numbers—if and when the time is right. 

In this column, I’ll provide some insight into how to get the most out of your staff as you move into automation.

INTEGRATE MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS IN A SINGLE MACHINE 

When a laundry gets above 180 washing pounds per hour, a more automated system makes sense. When you go to a machine that automatically irons, folds and stacks flat goods, laundries eliminate almost all hands-on folding and stacking. 

With a higher-production all-in-one machine, operators feed sheets. The primary folding, secondary folding and stacking are all automatically performed for boosted quality and labor production.

Some all-in-one machines have options for spreader/feeders. The benefit of adding the spreader/feeder is twofold. It improves quality and increases labor efficiencies. A single operator uses spreading clamps for automatic feeding into the ironer/folder/stacker. The automatic spreader/feeder ensures a straight feed, which contributes to a higher quality finished product.

Labor benefits to installing an all-in-one machine: One operator can process 229 pounds per operator hour (1.8 pounds per sheet at 85% efficiency), which equates to 2.5 sheets per minute and 150 sheets per hour. The all-in-one machine eliminates hand feeding, folding and stacking.

MOVE FROM A HEATED-ROLL TO A HEATED-CHEST IRONING SYSTEM 

A heated-roll ironer features an open-air combustion system. Thus, some of its heat escapes and makes it less efficient than a heated-chest ironer. Heated-roll ironers are 70-75% efficient. 

Conversely, a heated-chest ironer offers a sealed combustion system that can use self-contained thermal fluid as a heat source. The closed-loop system transfers more heat through the chest to the damp linen and puts more heat energy to the task of evaporating and ironing. A chest ironer has a faster recovery time to keep at consistent programmed temperatures. 

A heated-chest system with a self-contained thermal fluid system is between 93 and 95% efficient. Because heat stays in the chest ironer, textiles run through more quickly allowing operators to process more linen volume per operator hour. 

Labor benefits to installing a heated-chest ironing system: Three operators can process 306 pounds per operator hour (1.8 pounds per sheet at 85% efficiency), which equates to 10 sheets per minute and 600 sheets per hour. Hand folding is eliminated when the ironing systems includes an integrated folder.

ADDING AN AUTOMATED FEEDER ONTO YOUR IRONING LINE

A feeder offers one to four feeding stations with mechanical clips to spread, center and feed large-sized items, such as sheets. The advantage to an automated feeder—over hand feeding—is quality and production. 

The automated feeder feeds items more quickly than operators can by hand. It also has options, such as vacuum suction and spreading brushes and belts, to ensure consistent quality on every sheet. 

These are important features because they automatically straighten the sheets when fed into the ironer. This eliminates the possibility of operators feeding sheets into the ironer so they sit crookedly rather than centered. Finally, in terms of productivity, the automated feeder can feed sheets as quickly as the chest ironer/folder can process them. 

Labor benefits to installing an automated feeder onto your ironing line: Four operators can process 321 pounds per operator hour (1.8 pounds per sheet at 85% efficiency), which equates to 14 sheets per minute and 840 sheets per hour. Hand folding and hand feeding are eliminated when adding a spreader/feeder to your ironing system.