Panel of Experts

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Keeping Up with Technology (Conclusion)

“Every year, laundry equipment and software manufacturers make technological advancements to improve performance and efficiency. How can I keep up with the advances and not get left behind (or go crazy trying)?”

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Nick Fertig, Rosen Hotel and Resorts, Orlando, Fla.

Advancements in the field of laundry remind me of computer advancements in the ’90s. As soon as you purchase and install the latest “state of the art” piece of equipment, that same manufacturer is busy marketing version 2.0.

Apparently, in the time it took you to install your purchase, your equipment became obsolete, with the newest version offering deeper utility savings and higher quality and production capacity that puts last year’s model to shame.

The real questions are: Do these “advancements” apply to your laundry, and if so, to what extent?  

If you recently purchased a new car, you usually do not find yourself rushing back out to purchase next year’s model. The same applies to laundry equipment. Equipment has a useful life, and barring any major technological advancements, your current setup may offer similar savings that justify utilizing your current equipment vs. continual upgrades. 

When considering replacing/upgrading equipment, visit other facilities that currently utilize the machines you are looking to purchase. Get their management’s honest feedback.

Have they experienced the savings, increased quality and higher production output promised by the manufacturer? If given the opportunity to do it again, what would they change? Would they proceed with the new equipment or continue to utilize what they had? Are there any options on the equipment they would eliminate/include? Are they on pace to hit their goal ROI? 

All of these are important questions and factors to consider. What better source of honest feedback than someone currently utilizing your possible future purchase?

Having recently completed a laundry renovation and starting my second, I found this to be the best method of separating fact from fiction. A confident manufacturer will invite you to do just this. Their best sales tool is the plant manager currently utilizing their equipment to great success.

Remember, new doesn’t necessarily mean better. Take your time, do your homework and speak to other industry professionals. Not all equipment works as intended in each laundry. Some advancements may be overkill in your facility.

See your possible purchase in action and speak with those that use it each and every day. Validate any listed advancements, and make a well- informed decision based on your location’s needs and goals.

Textiles: Steve Kallenbach, ADI American Dawn, Los Angeles, Calif.

Laundry technology is a fascinating, fast-forward, exponential dynamic in our industry. At every Clean Show, I am amazed at some of the scientific advances of machinery, product and product tracking (RFID or related). 

So, in figuring out what might work for any operator, I use four baselines: 

  1. Has the product or machinery been proven “in the field,” and are there reputable proof- test analyses available that can be verified via direct conversation with the testing operator(s)? 
  2. Does the investment in this new technology deliver an ROI (return on investment) that meets the operation’s needs? 
  3. Is the cost of acquisition within my financial scope? 
  4. If the technology exists within a product (like flame-resistant uniforms, antimicrobial sheets, etc.), is there market acceptance with the bigger players in the industry (or does it have to be explained thoroughly and resold in order to become adopted)? 

In the product arena, we do see a number of new supplier entrants who don’t understand “IL” (industrial launderability) for our industry. They may be reputable, but they haven’t done their homework. 

For instance, it’s great to have a wonderful, soft, fluffy finish on certain textiles, but if that new product cannot withstand IL wash and finishing temperatures (without impacting the wear life, color, size, etc.), then the “new” product won’t matter. Product is where it is critical to have proven, verifiable field tests, and typically, the operator needs to test it again—at their own facility. 

Newer laundry machinery, with technological advances, is easier to analyze. 

Is the advance relevant to your operation and product/customer mix; will the customer “see” a difference in their product quality, or will the operation gain better efficiency/costing/profitability with the new machine? At the current growth rate of the operation, can the new machine sustain the production levels for enough time to pay for itself? What is the ROI schedule? Will the machine last for many years after it’s paid for (given recommended maintenance)? Are there operators already using the new machine? Can you talk with them directly (do you know them, or know someone who knows them)? 

Think about new cars and new models. If you are buying a brand-new car, you thoroughly look at the blogs on the product, and you do competitive comparisons of similar cars. Our industry may not have blogs on equipment, but operators do talk to each other, and it’s certainly recommended here. 

With regard to your “financial scope” already noted, does the operator need to finance the purchase of the new machine? If so, the cost of financing needs to be figured into the ROI. More than ROI, can the operation afford to spend this amount of money? That’s a simple question to answer. 

There is no question that our industry needs technological advances in products, in machines and in merchandise tracking. Fantastic advances have been made to date, and I believe our industry will look much different in the coming generations. We may not even recognize it in 20 years.

So, my advice in looking at technology advances: look hard, study, test, analyze, and if the four baselines are answered to your satisfaction, and it feels right, jump in! 

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

There are truly wonderful innovations being introduced to our industry all the time. Many are quite revolutionary and will cause any laundry owner or operator to stop and reconsider basic assumptions of how their laundry is organized and operated. However, stopping to consider the payback of some of these innovations will eliminate many of them from consideration.

What I’m saying is that if you are building a new laundry from scratch, investing in the newest technology is probably a good idea. However, if you have a fully operational laundry already, the payback is quite different.

I’m not a finance person, so calculations of a financial nature are best discussed with an accountant. But, I can do simple math. For instance, I can figure out that replacing all one’s washers with new ones for a 2% gain in production is not a good idea. If you need new washers anyway, great, but ripping out pretty good ones for slightly better isn’t very bright. 

There isn’t a substitute for doing the research and working out the math. 

Everyone’s situation is quite different. We have customers that are space-limited to the extreme. That’s their driving consideration. Others have labor issues that are unique to their area that complicate any technological changes. Some laundries have utility supply problems that cause them to concentrate on lowering water consumption or wastewater discharge quality. Only you can truly understand the priorities of your situation.

Since I work for a chemical company, I see new compounds and wash formulas all the time. Most of our own representatives can’t agree on the best way to wash anything. That’s because water conditions, soil conditions and types of washers are never the same from one laundry to another. At least with chemicals and formulas, it’s a low-cost investment with little risk to try changing products and wash formulas. Discuss products and techniques with chemical vendors and see what improvements they can offer.  

Large equipment changes or big software purchases are quite different. If you are addressing a breakdown or responding to an injury, you have to make decisions right now and do something. No such urgency exists when considering upgrades, improvements and big investments. If you aren’t sure, think about it some more. Get presentations from vendors, competitive vendors. Sometimes putting off a decision for a while is the best approach.  

But sometimes a new product appears that is the perfect solution to a nagging problem you’ve had for years!

Miss part one with insights from healthcare laundry, distribution and manufacturing experts? Click here to read it.

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