Getting Ready for the Big Finish (Part 1)

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Matt Poe |

Finishing equipment has advanced in terms of automation levels

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.

AUTOMATION LEVELS

Joe Gudenburr, president of G.A. Braun Inc., says the past five years have probably been more active in terms of product enhancements, the advent and application of new technologies to the industry, and in the development of new product offerings/product line extensions.

“Automation is a very interesting topic, as I think we, not unlike many industries, allow the marketing to get a bit ahead of the reality,” he shares. “Automation is a must in today’s challenging labor environment, and companies must be constantly evaluating opportunities to apply new processes to their operational environments to be more efficient and competitive. The key is making certain that the buying party understands the responsibilities that come along with an automated environment.”

As an equipment manufacturer, Gudenburr says Braun looks to incorporate all the newest positive motion control with positioning feedback on products, where practical.

“Just as Moore’s Law is one manifestation of the rapid advance and exponential growth of technology in general, the technological innovations and advancements in Lapauw’s machinery have increased with similar speed within the past five years,” says David Bernstein, president of Lapauw USA. “Today’s equipment is more productive than ever before, and just as—if not more—reliable.” 

He says the company’s equipment is designed by a growing team of engineers in the research and development department, using the latest computer design and modeling software, and is manufactured using state-of-the-art machinery and techniques.

“The goal of automation is to streamline the flatwork finishing process to continually increase productivity and labor savings while minimizing room for error,” says Tom Kindy, regional sales director for Chicago Dryer Co. “Chicago® has worked toward this by introducing new equipment and technology that makes the flatwork finishing process more efficient for everyone, from the manager to the mechanic to the operators.”

Gudenburr says that in recent times, the evolution of industrial technology has provided advances with servo drives, steppers, precision actuators, and low-cost frequency drives to be coupled with powerful touchscreen PLCs (programmable logic controllers).  

“Obvious gains are with simplified control of system motion and repeatable component operation with feedback monitoring,” he says. “As engineered into our newest sheet feeder, the interconnected use of smart components with PLC I/Os (input/outputs) allows the engineer on site to identify the need for planned proactive maintenance rather than reactive repairs with detail pinpoint troubleshooting.”  

Leonard Automatics is another manufacturer to see growth in PLC usage. Dan Farnsworth, vice president of sales and marketing for Leonard, says most of the company’s large equipment utilizes Siemens PLCs for operation. 

“Over the last five years, these controls have become faster, more reliable, and provide greater functionality than ever before,” he says. “Particularly when you look at the online troubleshooting and reporting capabilities.”

Colmac sales representative Jeff Hughes also mentions PLCs as recent innovations in tunnel finisher automation.

“Equipment PLCs are designed with safety, efficiency and maintenance in mind,” he says. “Onboard diagnostics are integrated into the PLC, assisting in maintenance and minimizing downtime.”

Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc., says improved controls allow for more folds, feeding options and automated counting; ergonomically designed feed stations; and stackers that are able to separate up to three types of sheets on different stacks. He adds that data management has also improved to assist management in evaluating the plant.

Joseph Amaral, vice president of corporate sales for RAMCO Laundry Machinery, says most of the changes have taken place in the data manager aspect—being able to do full reporting on production, service and maintenance accountability of the finishing equipment.

Rick McElhose, another Colmac sales representative, says automatic hanging stations assist with the loading of tunnel conveyors by making sure every conveyor hook is filled. These hanging stations allow operators to see a 30-40% increase in productivity over traditional hanging. Automated hanging provides maximum tunnel efficiency and throughput, he adds.

Another advancement Hughes notes? Automatic lint screens.

“Automatic lint screens save employee time and labor by reducing the need to be cleaned from multiple times daily to once per day,” he says. “Continually cleaned screens allow for even airflow in the tunnel and maximum finish quality.”

Kindy says Chicago® has worked to develop technology that optimizes a laundry, such as conveyor delivery systems with traffic control technology, quality electronic assurance camera systems, as well as data accumulation and reporting tools for tracking flatwork finishing production data.

He says that gathering data directly from the equipment, such as from its CHI•Touch control system with the new CHI•Trac Electronic Data Accumulation and Reporting System, provides far greater detail on significant data points than “add-on” systems. This allows customers to carefully manage the efficiency of their laundry from a computer or mobile device and easily identify where improvements can be made.

There are many factors that affect the type and level of automation specified in a given facility, but in 2018 one of the main issues is the cost and availability of labor, Bernstein points out. 

“Minimum wage is increasing all across the U.S., indeed, across the world, but laundry operators’ attempts at raising prices are too rejected by customers,” he says. “In these cases, laundry operators have a need and desire to reduce labor as much as possible, so in many cases laundry automation shows a huge and fast return on investment. 

“Of course, an added benefit of many of these technologies is an increase in employee safety, not to mention increases in quality, accuracy and productivity.”

Still, Gudenburr says two things must be in place for any business to be effective, and for any automated solution to perform consistently and reliably: the proper human resources (skills, attitude, culture, accountabilities), and the proper processes to make certain that the people and equipment can be effective (ownership commitment).

“If both don’t exist, the best solutions will fail,” he says. “Automation is not inexpensive, and a great deal of due diligence must be exercised by both the client and, equally as important, the seller.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion on selecting the right equipment.

About the author

Matt Poe

American Trade Magazines

Editor

Matt Poe is editor of American Laundry News. He can be reached at mpoe@atmags.com or 866-942-5694.

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