How can a laundry manager determine if they’re getting the best results from the chemical formulas they’re using? For what key quality indicators should they be looking?CONSULTING: Chip Malboeuf is vice president of operations for Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va. It provides facility planning and process improvement services for companies in the laundry industry. His experience includes process engineering and plant design.
First and foremost, the laundry manager must set expectations with the chemical suppliers and then hold them to them.
Most chemical companies use automatic injection systems and computer programs to set formulas for each classification. Regardless if you’re using an automatic injection system or manual chemical supply, the chemical companies should audit the effectiveness of their systems on a regular basis.
The laundry manager in turn should audit the chemical company representatives when they’re in the plant for service.
Some key audit items are:
- Titrate a load of goods with the chemical representative and document the following key indicators:
- Are the temperatures correct at each step?
- Are water levels correct at each step?
- Are the times correct for each step?
- Are there any leaks?
- Is the pH level correct at each step?
- Does the steam come on when required?
- Take the time to read the chemical company’s service report. Many times, items that the chemical representative notices affect the quality of goods. Pay particular attention to leaking valves and drains.
- Is your water consumption high? This is a good indicator that water levels are set too high or washers need to be checked for leaks.
Soil separation is another critical area to audit. Chemical formulas are designed to be effective on certain soil classifications and types of goods; mixing classifications will result in poor quality or destroyed goods. Walk through the soil-sort/count area and observe the following:
- Are soil-sort operators separating goods by classification?
- Are operators placing the goods in the proper sling or container?
- Are slings and containers labeled properly?
- Are slings or containers weighed properly?
After reviewing the soil separation, the next step is to audit the washroom by performing a visual walkabout audit. During the walk- through, look for the following key items:
Are the washers loaded to the proper capacity?
- Are they underloaded? If so, this will reduce mechanical action and increase chemical costs.
- Are they overloaded? This will reduce mechanical action and chemical reaction.
- Are drains leaking?
- Are chemical lines leaking?
- Are door seals leaking?
- Are water or steam valves leaking?
- Monitor the chemical company’s production reports, if you have them. Washroom operators have been known to skip steps in formulas to finish a load quickly.
A daily review of these reports will reveal if operators are skipping formula steps. Probably the best indicator of quality is your plant employees. Ask them what they think about the quality of the product they’re handling. Listen to their concerns and suggestions. Most importantly, act on the employees’ concerns and suggestions; they see the product every day and know when quality changes.
As you continue to walk through the plant, visually observe the following items:
Are the employees’ hands dirty from hanging garments, feeding equipment or folding towels?
- Are the pads on your ironers and garment presses dirty?
- Is your steam tunnel belching blue smoke?
- Is your rewash high?
- Measure your current percentage and then do a root-cause analysis to determine the causes. Act on the causes and eliminate them one at a time.
- Perform the “white paper” test on an item designated for rewash. Rub a clean piece of copy paper over the item to see if any soil transfers to the paper. If you detect a transfer, the item isn’t clean and should be rewashed. If there is no transfer, the item is stained and either needs to be processed in a stain wash formula or discarded.
Another key indicator of quality is your customer.
As laundry managers, we sometimes lose focus on what our primary business is. The laundry’s goal is to give the customer clean, fresh goods every delivery. Customer feedback is he final measure of the quality of goods delivered.
Laundry managers should perform spontaneous customer interviews to gauge their perception of the quality of goods being delivered. Remember that “Perception is reality.”
Here are some keys to conducting a successful interview:
Have a list of questions ready to ask the customer about the quality of goods you service. Having the list enables you to control the interview and focus on legitimate concerns. It’s important to keep emotions out of the interview and deal with just the facts.
- Based on the answers to your questions, confirm the customer’s expectations and determine if you can meet them.
- Educate the customer on your processes and industry standards.
An additional tool to measure the quality of goods delivered to the customer is the use of customer surveys. These will give you a broad spectrum of feedback from your customers and indicate how they perceive the quality of goods delivered.
These surveys should be constructed carefully and the questions phrased in such a way that the answers are either “Yes” or “No.” Avoid questions that produce “Maybe” or “Sometimes” answers, because the goods either meet a customer’s expectations or they don’t.
Act on the survey results.
Respond to negative answers by contacting the customers and getting more detailed feedback.
- Review the survey results with your chemical supplier and have the supplier address cleanliness issues identified by the customer.
- Compile the survey data into a Pareto chart and perform a root-cause analysis on each category, starting with the worst rating.
- Give feedback to the customer on what processes or changes you made to resolve his or her issues.
Finally, act on customer complaints. A formal complaint call program needs to be in place to log customer complaints.
The complaints should be logged by customer and category of complaint. These should be acted on daily by the service department, and the facts should be presented to production so adjustments in formulas can be made if required.
It’s important to categorize the complaints into a Pareto chart to look for trends and to address the worst complaints first.
It’s critical for laundry managers to be aware of the quality of goods produced every day and to build an instinctive perception of the quality of goods.
Key measures don’t have to be complicated. Walking the floor every day, observing production practices and communicating with the plant and service employees will increase a manager’s awareness of the quality of goods being produced.