Panel of Experts

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Improving Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation (Conclusion)

“In what ways—by utilizing technology and/or more closely managing resources—can a manager improve his/her laundry’s energy efficiency and water conservation?”

Consulting Services: Michael Dodge, Softrol, Minneapolis, Minn.

We are always looking for technology to solve problems. With my experience, a more practical and “hands on” approach to understanding data is needed. Managing resources is the key.

A laundry company I worked with had a wonderful comprehensive report (for energy consumption, water usage and the pounds produced) and it was under-utilized. Our “old school” chief industry engineer hammered on the plants to understand the information on this report as it related to processing laundry.

When our chief industrial engineer retired, that voice was lost.

Everything a production manager needed to know about the wash aisle and utilities (energy and water consumption) was in this report, but very few production managers and plant engineers took the time to really look and understand it. They would record meter reads and poundage data every day and never understood the data they were entering onto this report.

Some even reported data in the wrong units just to complete the reports without thinking about what the data meant.

First, we need to ensure we are recording the data. This is how technology can help, by speeding up the process of collecting data. 

Next, we need to take the time to look at the data and understand it. This should be reviewed every day, week and month—and compared to the previous time period’s results. We need to understand why we have the differences of results of energy and water consumption in relationship to the pounds and product mix produced.

With this understanding, we can improve the wash aisle performances and run it much more efficiently. An efficient wash aisle operation will improve energy and water usage.

Equipment Manufacturing: Keith Ware, Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc., Beacon Falls, Conn.

Evaluating your plant’s energy and water efficiency is key to improving your operation’s bottom-line performance. Plants often attempt to start with some type of new or modern energy-saving systems or devices, but most should start with a basic approach to conservation efforts. Here are some thoughts about specific areas of concern:

Proper Load Sizes. This is the one area that can have the biggest impact, with no added capital costs. If you are under-loading your washer’s established weights, you are wasting water, since the space occupied by the soiled linen is replaced by water as your washer achieves its proper levels. Not only are you heating this additional water, you are slightly diluting your chemicals in your wash liquor.

Maximizing your washer capacity also translates to proper load sizes in your dryers, helping to reduce energy consumption. If you are operating a 150-pound tunnel washer and you do not properly size your loads, you could be losing 10-15% capacity per transfer. Multiply this by 30 transfers per hour, 16 hours per day, on a seven-day operation, and you could lose upwards of 75,600 pounds per week of production capacity. 

That number should spur your team into action to improve load weights.

Measure. Measure. Measure. Your operations should be monitoring water, gas and electrical consumption every day. Often, taking a water meter measurement at the end and beginning of shifts will determine if there are any water leaks in your system.

In the past, one plant that started this process realized they were losing 8,000-10,000 gallons of water per night due to a valve leak. If the team was not measuring consumption, this water loss could have continued for years.

Dryers. They are a huge source of energy consumption, and are rarely metered for gas consumption. It is important to know if a single dryer or a bank of them is performing to specifications. If one large dryer is utilizing 40% more energy drying items, this issue should be addressed through reprogramming the dryer formulas, the possible repair of the dryer burner, or, if it is an extremely old unit, consider replacing the dryer with a more efficient unit. 

Without meters, you will not know the individual performance of the equipment. This also includes items such as boilers, thermal fluid ironers, hot water heaters, etc.

Maintenance. Proper maintenance of your equipment is key to lowering energy costs and water consumption. Improperly functioning water or drain valves can waste a lot of water, and gas trains or flame cones not properly maintained can waste natural gas or steam. Poorly maintained steam traps can lead to lower chest temperatures and higher energy costs.

Too high or too low a water temperature in your hot and tempered water tanks can result in additional steam consumption to bring the washer up to temperature. Taking water from just over 200 F to steam requires almost nine times the energy to flash that water to steam. If you are using steam to boost washer temperatures, it will cost you much more.

Energy-Efficient Equipment. There is no chance a 20-year-old dryer will be as efficient as a new one built today. Utilizing infrared to determine dryness of load, more efficient burners and improved software allow for improved energy consumption. 

Does your laundry have wastewater heat recovery, helping to capture the waste heat of your water going down the drain? Utilization of stack economizers to pre-heat incoming water with boiler stack gases can impact energy consumption. Water recycling systems can help reduce water consumption by reusing water in your wash process. By converting from washer-extractor systems to tunnel washers, if the volume warrants, you can obtain a two-thirds or greater reduction in water usage.

In summary, when reducing water and energy consumption, there is no one magic bullet. It takes a consistent approach of monitoring your usage, maintaining your equipment and, in many cases, investing in new technology that can provide a return on investment.

Often when speaking to laundry managers, I’ve learned they evaluate their energy usage by the cost of the utility bill. This is not the best way to look at actual usage.

Consider that eight to 10 years ago, natural gas was $1.20-$1.30/therm. In 2018, well prices are $0.26-$0.29/therm. Your bill is tremendously lower, but did your consumption improve? The lower price of natural gas lengthens the return on investment on your conservation project, but prices don’t stay low forever.

Water and sewer rates continue to climb as municipalities improve or expand their treatment facilities and water shortages in Western states continue to grow.  

In the end, we all want to be green, but the most important form of green is what you put in your company’s wallet.  

Miss Part 1, with advice from experts in healthcare laundry and chemicals supply? Click here to read it.

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