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Lack of Skills Illustrates Need to Beef Up Educational Programs

An Exclusive

CHICAGO — Based on discussions over the last several years with folks having just completed educational programs sponsored by various entities, I am astonished that many managers in the laundry industry are still unable to complete essential tasks that are key components to making them a success.

It is not totally the fault of teaching establishments. The number of dedicated, knowledgeable professionals in our field is becoming less and less due to attrition and the inability of certain organizations to fill vacancies with qualified individuals who have demonstrated proven abilities in laundry management.

Many new managers (and some old) are not able to properly design a new laundry system. They seem to not know or have forgotten that things like water, steam, air and chemicals are the basis by which one begins the design process. For example, do not start designing a wash system without knowing what type of ancillary design systems exist to support the effort.

You don’t design a new laundry that doesn’t have adequate steam pressure or facilities to support new systems. You don’t build a new laundry without incorporating employee facilities such as restrooms, dining areas, parking, etc. You don’t specify a new item of equipment if you cannot get to the spot of installation.

You specify washing and drying systems based on production capabilities demonstrated in a proposal, and then hold the supplier responsible for meeting those requirements. Never, ever specify how many wash chambers you need for a continuous batch washer, as the technology that has evolved over 10 years demonstrates a vast difference between what top- and bottom-transfer designs can achieve.

Writing specifications for textiles can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I recently read a specification in which the customer stated only that it desired a 180-thread-count sheet. I was shocked, but not for the first time. Absent were finished sizes/dimensions, fabric construction, shrinkage allowances, colors (if required), fabric weights, types of fabric, labeling requirements, country of origin restrictions/requirements, delivery expectations, and applicable ASTM requirements, and I’m sure I may have missed some other points.

I retrieved some information that was part of the International Fabricare Institute (IFI)—now the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (DLI)—educational program, where you went to school for months, studying everything from operations to the nuts and bolts of laundry and drycleaning chemistry. IFI did much work to restore products for the Smithsonian Institution in those days.

If you are placed in a position to specify a textile product, think of the following:

• Quality of fibers, fabrics and manufacturer

• Aesthetic appeal

• Comfort expectations

• Does it fit the purpose?

• Does it meet the target market?

• How well is it designed and constructed?

• What are the expectations, and will it perform?

While the corporate logistics novice desiring to make a name for himself or herself will never understand or appreciate this, standardization of laundry equipment and systems for an organization or corporate entity goes beyond making any sense (I’m being nice here).

Every laundry is built and designed differently. There are differences in floor structure, roof-load situations, clear ceiling heights, HVAC locations, water conditions, installation requirements, structure access, system loading/unloading needs, production needs, and types of items to be processed. Drain configurations and utility designs always vary from one plant to the next, and all have different ancillary support systems—air, water, chemicals, steam quality and pressure, thermal, etc. Expectations for automation are always unique; I could go on and on.

If you do not know laundry operations and the systems that process laundry, rely on those with true experience and expertise; keep in mind that titles and supporting programs like contracting do not necessarily demonstrate expertise or experience. Buyers should rely on technical expertise before making contractual decisions.

Most importantly, understand that standardization doesn’t permit determining best value and won’t allow one to take advantage of changes in the state of the art, which is always evolving.

I challenge our industry to step up to the plate, to get more involved in educational programs, to develop unbiased experts who can really inform customers and buyers of the pros and cons.

The old warhorses of our industry are fading or have faded away. I am proud to say that I learned from many of these giants. We need to regenerate or create the same type of environment that these true experts left for many of us.

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