Keeping Up with Technology (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“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)?”

Healthcare Laundry: Charles Loelius, Cleantex, Irvington, N.J.

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Charles Loelius

Charles Loelius

With the numerous exhibits of laundry and drycleaning equipment on display at the Clean Show, it is easy to see how one could fall victim to sensory overload. I have been in the business a very long time and still find the amount of information needed to digest to be daunting. For someone new to the laundry business, the process has to be incredibly challenging.

For anyone, new to the business or not, looking to select new equipment to either build, expand or upgrade a laundry, it is of paramount importance to find an established, reliable manufacturer/distributor with whom you can partner.

Your best methodology in determining a reliable and reputable partner is to look at their track record. Visit a laundry that the manufacturer/distributor has outfitted or built. Talk to the owners or managers. Are they happy with their equipment? Did they receive what was promised? Did the manufacturer/distributor provide guidance and assistance with layout and design? Did the manufacturer/distributor provide after-installation follow-up? Are they available when you need them?

Talk with, and do your due diligence on, more than one manufacturer/distributor. There are many well-established companies in the market, so don’t overlook any.

Talk with experienced operators in the field to get their opinions on what works and what doesn’t. Firsthand knowledge is hard to beat.

You will have to know your budget, your desired capacity and overall vision. Since the largest cost in a laundry is labor, particular attention should be paid to modern technologies. Ignore the bells and whistles and get down to equipment basics:

  • What does it cost?
  • What is the ROI?
  • Does it maximize efficiency? 
  • Does it maximize our throughput?
  • Does it improve capacity?
  • Does it make us better?

Most manufacturers/distributors want to share in your success and will not sell you equipment that is impractical for your operation. They are, by design and necessity, experts in the field and are an invaluable asset to any growing laundry. 

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Chuck Rossmiller, Medline Industries, Mundelein, Ill.

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Chuck Rossmiller

Chuck Rossmiller

The technology at Clean was definitely interesting, and can be intoxicating. The equipment vendors have done a great job responding to the needs of their laundry customers to develop new technology that improves quality, increases productivity, uses less energy, is safer and is more space-efficient.

To determine where you’ll get the best bang for your buck, you need to figure out and quantify the opportunities in your laundry. You don’t want to spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment that you won’t fully utilize or that has features that won’t be useful for you. 

Start with an assessment of the equipment and products that you currently have. Make a list of your equipment, its age, capability (optimal throughput by product), annual cost to maintain, safety concerns and energy consumption. Next, compile a list of the products you produce, the quantity needed, how they are folded and finished, and any concerns you have related to those products, such as the fold doesn’t fit on your current carts or the product is too thick to go through your current folder consistently.

Putting these two lists together, you can determine where you have opportunity for additional equipment that would improve productivity.

If you have a small-piece folder that is only capable of folding bath towels, and you hand-fold hand towels, patient gowns and baby blankets, you should look at a small-piece folder that can fold multiple products. Some of these folders will sort and stack multiple different products, which will reduce the labor needed for sorting, as well as improve the labor efficiency of hand-folding.

In general, if you can move product from hand-folding to machine-folding, you will improve labor efficiency—the caveat being you need to have enough volume of the product to fully utilize the folder.

If you currently hand-fold thermal blankets with two people producing 200 blankets per hour for five hours every day, you would use 50 labor hours per week folding thermal blankets. If you bought a folder that could produce 300 blankets per hour with a single operator, you would reduce your labor for folding thermals by 33 hours per week, but you’d only have 3.3 hours of work per day for that folder. If you didn’t have other product that you could use the folder for, your return on investment (ROI) would be very long, and that money could probably be used more efficiently.  

When it comes to energy savings, you’ll need to do the math. The cost of natural gas, electricity, water and sewer vary widely from city to city and from year to year. Do the work to get accurate measurements of your consumption for each of those categories. In some cases, that means using monitors to measure consumption; in others, it’s a matter of getting the consumption data for that piece of equipment and entering accurate data for load sizes and determining what you’re actually consuming through each piece of equipment.  

Once you know what you’re using, you can compare that to what the new piece of equipment would consume doing the same volume of work. Multiply those consumption differences by the cost of the utility you’re measuring and you’ll know what your potential savings are.  

Energy savings alone may not justify the purchase, but with older equipment, when you consider the annual maintenance cost (parts, labor and downtime), safety concerns and increased labor efficiency, you may find that the new piece of equipment will enhance your bottom line immediately.  

Finally, use your available resources. The equipment manufacturers and distributors have created tools for assessing your needs and the ROI for new equipment. Once you’ve completed your internal data  gathering, work with the vendor to build a case for what type of equipment will best serve your needs and give you the best return on investment. 

Equipment Manufacturing: Tony Jackson, Kannegiesser ETECH, Grand Prairie, Texas

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Tony Jackson

Tony Jackson

The Clean Show has always been a busy few days, and for someone new to laundry, I can understand the feeling of being overwhelmed.

The exhibition in general has grown and seems to break attendance records every two years. That is very good for our industry and conveys the importance placed on companies preparing to display interesting technology trends and advancements.

As an equipment vendor working the show, we typically don’t have a lot of time to walk around and see all of the various booths. I was even overwhelmed by the number of attendees to visit this year with particular interest in a fully integrated approach for their laundry.

The question at hand is a loaded one and can’t be answered for everyone, as each case is different and all laundries have a unique set of business attributes.

Coming to the Clean Show is a good start for an overall introduction to the products and offerings to determine which direction would best apply to your situation. The key is to figure out which equipment or product will yield the most efficiencies while providing a good return on investment.

The most frequent question I ask customers is, “What is your biggest headache in the plant, and what production bottleneck are you trying to solve?”

To keep the show productive, attendees should gather information and meet the sales representative for the specific products. The next step is to have the vendor visit your plant and assist with finding solutions to best fit your application. Most vendors have tools for calculating production efficiencies and can assist with recommending the right fit and best technology. 

The key is to not try to solve everything during the show and use it as a time to gather information and learn about new and exciting trends to help your business. 

Check back tomorrow for thoughts from hospitality laundry, textiles and chemicals experts.

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