CHICAGO — Finishing equipment comes in all shapes and sizes.
Spreader/feeders, small-piece feeders, steam and self-contained flatwork ironers, large-piece folder/crossfolders, small-piece accumulation, small-piece folding, garment finishing tunnels, garment folding, walk-off mat rolling—there is finishing equipment for every size and type of linen and laundry plant.
And advancing automation is changing how finishing equipment operates. So, how is a laundry supposed to choose the best finishing equipment and system for its operations?
American Laundry News spoke with several manufacturers of finishing equipment to find out how the technology has changed and what factors a laundry needs to consider to help select the proper equipment.
SELECTING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Tom Kindy, regional sales director for Chicago Dryer Co., says selecting finishing equipment starts with identifying the laundry’s goals, given the target market.
“We then need to understand the items that require processing and by what methods: ironing, dry folding, accumulating, hand folding, etc.,” he says. “We also consider the processes pre- and post-finishing and how that affects the laundry design. We need to analyze the spatial limitations within the building selected, available utilities, and process flow—ingress and egress. These items and more are key to refining what equipment will work best in their environment.”
Colmac sales representative Jeff Hughes says the important questions that need to be answered when considering an equipment purchase include the type of garments being finished, moisture content, garment material, quality of finish, as well as the quantity of goods an operator must process to meet customer demand.
“Answers to these questions have an immense effect on the type and size of equipment suggested,” adds Rick McElhose, another Colmac sales representative.
David Bernstein, president of Lapauw USA, agrees that the type of goods being processed is an important factor in determining the design and requirements, especially with a new plant.
“Prior to putting pen to paper, there needs to be a detailed analysis of the products and associated volumes to be processed not only at startup, but also considering future growth,” he says. “Every single classification, no matter how small the volume, needs to be analyzed to determine the new facility’s requirements for equipment, automation levels, floor space, staffing and infrastructure.”
And, as automation changes, a laundry will want to change and grow with, Joseph Amaral, vice president of corporate sales for RAMCO Laundry Machinery, points out.
“Make sure there is room to automate more later and access to get equipment in for replacement,” he advises.
The type of goods to be processed greatly influences not only the equipment selection, but the level of automation required, or even available, says David Netusil, manager of sales support and marketing for JENSEN USA Inc.
“There is pretty much an automated finishing solution for most all large pieces (sheets, duvets, table linens). However, small pieces are a bit more difficult,” he adds.
In addition, Netusil says it’s extremely helpful to obtain a list of goods and their associated production count, preferably over a one-year period.
“That information is input into a spreadsheet that auto-calculates and provides an equipment selection,” he shares. “This is an outstanding starting point, but could require an adjustment specifically to the client’s desires.”
To Seth Willer, national sales manager for Girbau Industrial, the type of goods being processed matters for many reasons in regards to selecting finishing equipment.
“For example, if a laundry needs to iron several items, an ironer must provide the flexibility to handle all of them,” he points out. “Additionally, this might make a feeder with automatic sorting more important. Similarly, the thickness level of items impacts production. Girbau Industrial ironers automatically iron damp linens straight out of the washer. The ironers automatically speed up or slow down based on thread count and moisture level.”
“Our team works with the client to determine their product mix and what sizes of sheets, table linen, towels, etc., are being processed,” Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc., says. “We then develop a plan based on that product mix for the equipment that will best meet their production demands and budgetary requirements. We also evaluate throughput of the equipment, based on the specifics of textiles and daily requirements.”
Ware says that Lavatec helps determine if a laundry’s linen is 100% cotton blends for throughput analysis, based on the equipment’s rated and real-world capacity.
“If they are processing a large amount of polyester products, we can help conclude whether clients need a steam or thermal ironer to match the desired output and quality levels,” he says.
Dan Farnsworth, vice president of sales and marketing for Leonard Automatics, says that when considering finishing equipment for any laundry, there has to be a good understanding of what goods are being processed, the growth potential, and the overall expectations moving forward.
“Not all laundries require significant automation,” he shares. “There are a lot of plants out there that are still very manual and very successful. However, if you are looking at a mid-size to larger processing facility, the automation many times will have an attractive ROI from the labor side.”
Amaral says the type of goods a laundry processes will determine the ironer type and speed needed to process goods. It will also determine the number of large-piece stackers needed for separation of sizes after processing, and whether or not a laundry needs small-piece accumulation equipment and the number of folders needed before stacking.
Amaral offers the following example of how a laundry can select its finishing equipment.
“We were in an operation where the customer had three return-to-operator towel folders and four people sorting towels,” he shares. “We proposed three new triple-sort folders with rear discharge onto a consolidation conveyor. With this application, the feeders would not have to stop to pack terry, which would increase production by 30%, easily. Plus, you would not need to separate goods.
“One FTE (full-time employee) would be used to pack terry at the end of the conveyor, and the other three FTEs used for sorting can now be utilized in other areas of production. This scenario has maximized the efficiency of the FTE labor. The return on investment is less than two years on a 15-year expense.”
When determining the level of ironing quality, Ware says a clipped feeder usually provides a better leading edge than a cornerless feeder, but often the production capacity is slightly less.
“Which variable is more important to the client helps to determine the feeder selection,” says Ware. “Does the client process a significant number of napkins or pillowslips? What type of accumulator on the back end best works for the operators? It even includes selecting the type of large-piece stacker—if most of the work is based on a single-size sheet or tablecloth, do you need a double or triple sort stacker for the folder?”
Joe Gudenburr, president of G.A. Braun Inc., also agrees that the type of goods processed has a significant impact on the finishing equipment selected for a plant.
“Too often, these things get overlooked, and people focus on a total poundage number,” he says. “That actually means very little, as the other variables dictate how you size the equipment and the process to be most effective, and to operate without bottlenecks or constraints.
“Nothing is ‘auto-magic,’ and it takes a coordinated approach by the suppliers and the client to see that a vision can become reality.”
While Farnsworth does agree that linen type influences finishing equipment selection, that factor may not be an issue for some manufacturers.
“For our mix of equipment, the ‘type’ of goods really does not play into the selection,” he points out. “It really revolves around pure production numbers.”
With any flatwork process, there are many variables to consider, according to Bill Brooks, UniMac North American sales manager. A lower processing speed and higher moisture content will provide the best-quality finish but sacrifice production speed, so production output is a requirement that needs to be understood.
“A sizing aid is used to determine what model and production meets the requirement of a facility,” he explains. “The width and length of the goods are the initial requirement for sizing, and the speed of processing is then used to determine production output requirements over time.”
According to Brooks, design changes have greatly improved the energy efficiency of his company’s product. The roll-heated ironer is designed for low to medium volumes and high-quality output, without the requirement of a large floor footprint.
“The roll diameter size is a factor when considering if higher production is important, with larger diameter rolls providing higher production outputs and smaller diameter rolls for the lower-production facilities,” says Brooks. “The length of the roll must be sized to process the widest product being finished.
“I would review the production output requirements and the time available to process. So, if a facility is planning to process ‘X’ bed linens and pillowcases, and all table linens and napkins, all of those requirements would be input to determine which size of finisher and processing speed is required to accomplish the job in the time allowed.”
Netusil says JENSEN offers a full line of finishing equipment to fit virtually any need, from the most automated facility desiring artificial intelligence (AI) to a fairly simple start-up facility.
“In terms of introducing a reasonable ROI, it simply gets down to the level of production required, the associated labor wages, the lack of a good labor pool, utilities, etc.,” he says. “Any or all of these factors play into the level of automation that makes good financial sense.”
The key to selecting the right finishing equipment is a laundry and an equipment manufacturer or distributor working together.
“We actually have a detailed ‘Operational Questionnaire’ for the operators to fill out to start the investigative process into what their ‘wants, needs and expectations’ are,” Farnsworth shares. “Once we get that detailed information, we will typically plan a site visit to get a greater understanding of their process, flow, etc. At that point, we would be able to tailor an excellent solution for them.”
“The days of a salesman simply stopping in and dropping off product literature and hoping that the client can determine from reading the marketing claims what is best for them are long gone,” Gudenburr adds. “A technical, operationally minded, and fact- and science-based assessment process must take place to see that all are pleased with the end result that is achieved. Automation in factories is no different. The key to its success starts well before the buying and implementation process.”
Ware says if he were working with a laundry on selecting finishing equipment, he would obtain production reports based on pieces produced, review the production efficiency of the equipment chosen, and provide a design that best meets the demand of the plant.
“We have seen situations where a plant does not have access to natural gas, and propane costs are extremely high,” he shares. “In these cases, there is no sense of attempting to sell a self-contained ironer if the only reliable fuel source is bunker fuel for the boilers. If a plant is 100% healthcare, there is also no need for a wide ironer, since all healthcare sheets will be accommodated on a 120-inch-wide ironer.”
Ware goes on to say that if the plant is mixed and the client does hospital and hotel work, a wider ironer will provide the flexibility to produce large bed sheeting.
“Each plant must be evaluated by the product mix or future growth mix to help determine the best equipment complement to service the needs of the laundry,” he emphasizes. “When asked what is the standard layout, we often state each plant is like a snowflake. They may look similar, but each one is unique in its own way.”
“It is about your customers’ needs and the proper solution,” adds Amaral. “Making sure you are listening and process their direct needs. You want to look at the heat source, cotton content, thread count, size of goods, make sure you’re sizing the equipment accordingly. Plus, everyone forgets one of the biggest factors is room, size and access to laundry area.”
Miss Part 1 on increasing automation levels in finishing equipment? Click here to read it.