Improving Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“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?”

Healthcare Laundry: Richard Engler, John Peter Smith Health Network, Fort Worth, Texas

Efficiency improvements are potentially available at any and every point in the processing cycle. Operator inefficiency, customer demands, employee performance and management oversight can all reduce the efficient use of resources.

Keep in mind that efficiency is built on sound operating processes, and without the basics, performance consistency is, at best, capricious. Things like operating equipment at the stated capacity and ensuring that equipment utilization is maximized are key to ensuring the program can move to the next level.

Equipment PM (preventative maintenance) and daily maintenance can have a decided impact on the performance of the equipment and the efficient use of the energy necessary to operate. Hold times and unattended equipment left on or running can cost energy and unnecessary wear.

Maximizing automation is often expensive, and options limited by the size of the operation and the physical facility itself. An example of this is the processing of COGs (customer-owned goods) in a CBW® (continuous batch washer) can often result in 50 pounds of linen being placed into a 130-pound pocket and washed at the end of the day. 

To add insult to injury, the textiles were then passed on the shuttle and automatically dried. Not good use of anything. Management must be attentive to this type of inefficiency.

Paying attention to the type of products and their proper processing is a necessity to operate efficiently. Mixing linen that is similar at the soil sort is a shortcut that can cause you to pay later in the flow. Mixing scrubs with scrub jackets in the sort will cost you in the dryers with getting the knitted cuffs fully dry, even though the scrub shirts were dry several minutes earlier.  

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Richard Engler

Richard Engler

Also in the dryer area, the construction of the materials processed has a role to play in the performance of the equipment, too. A higher content of polyester in a gown or fitted sheet will dry more quickly and can reduce costs.

Drying formulas are a key to efficiency, as it is too common to over-dry linen to offset the potential wet load. Look for worn, damaged or missing parts of the dryer seals and ensure prompt replacement. Keep the dryer’s burner calibrated to limit these operating costs.

Things that can be done will be worth reviewing periodically for potential benefit. Lower wash temperatures are now possible with chemistry formulated for that purpose. The energy savings can be impactful to more than offsetting the expense of these products. However, caution is needed when chemistry is on a flat-rate-per-weight contract, as there is potential to overuse utilities to compensate for lower chemical dosage.

Thermal equipment may have a positive impact on energy by reducing demand on boilers. The list goes on and on.

Packaging of products for the customer can save a tremendous amount of equipment time and utility energy. The customer needs to agree and approve of the textile packaging to reduce the use of resources.

Examples of this include: the placing of knit fitted sheets into a bag instead of folding and stacking them (the impact reduces production energy, time and utilities while having no negative impact to the ultimate customer, the patient); and packaging washcloths in bags of 25 or 50 as opposed to laying them flat for delivery.

The patient impact is negligible, and the resources saved are tremendous. The current method of processing usually has about a 38 PPOH (pounds per operator hour) efficiency, which greatly reduces your goal to efficiently spend labor hours.

Recently, I have begun looking again at water recycling. Healthcare tends to be conservative regarding embracing advancements, primarily due the amount of regulatory oversight and the limitations associated with it.

Previously when reviewing the potential for this technology, I was not comfortable with the particulate size that could pass the filters and did not pursue the option. This particulate size-versus-filter capability continued to improve and has reached a level that provides a new confidence.

My case for goal has been the bacteria clostridium difficile. Here is how it “sizes up”: C. diff bacteria are around 0.3-2.0 by 1.5-20.0 micrometers in size. Now that filters can capture this, I will need to reconsider the possibility of adding water recycling to our operation.

Chemicals Supply: Rich Fosmire, Epic Industries a Division of Simoniz USA, Bolton, Conn.

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Rich Fosmire

Rich Fosmire

Controlling operating costs at an on-premises laundry (OPL) is an essential part of the everyday business.

A significant effort can be made to control employee acquisition, linen replacement and maintenance costs, but a larger impact on operating costs can be had in more closely managing your laundry’s efficiency and water consumption. OPLs are a significant user of utilities—especially water consumption and energy used to heat water or operate equipment.

A few simple ways to manage your laundry resources will have a dramatic effect on the bottom line.

By using less water, laundries can save money not only on water supply costs, but also on wastewater disposal charges and other associated costs, such as energy for heating hot water that may be wasted. To that end, make sure the following policies are being followed:

  1. Load machines to manufacturer’s capacity. Do not wash half loads to catch up.
  2. Wash on proper cycle. Incorrect program selection can result in excessive water and detergent use and reduce efficiency.
  3. In most machines, 80% of the energy used is for heating the water in the wash phase. When purchasing new machines, the best available energy-efficiency rating is recommended.
  4. Monitor rewash and aim to achieve a rewash rate of between 3% and 5%. A rate of less than 3% indicates over-washing (the dirt has been removed, but washing continues). Over 5% indicates inadequate washing; therefore, rewash is required.
  5. Consider installing a complete chemical dispensing program to control overuse of products and for long-term control. Most systems are provided and maintained by your chemical supplier.
  6. Consider a water softener. The benefits of using softened water include less detergent use, which may require less rinse water, and a reduction in hard-water scale, resulting in fewer leaks and lower energy use.

My father used to say, “Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” Although my recommendations sound like “pennies,” they actually will result in significant energy savings and water consumption. 

Check back tomorrow for advice from a laundry consultant and an equipment manufacturing expert.

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