Laundry Systems Require the Perfect Fit

Gerard O’Neill |

(Editor’s Note: American Laundry News asked laundry engineer and consultant Gerard O’Neill to explain what operators must do to properly match their systems to the amount and types of work their plants have to process.)
Let’s talk about new plants before we touch on existing plants. Assuming that location – access to highways, routes, etc. – has been researched and all is well, then you should focus a large amount of your energy on utilities.
The availability and cost of getting them to the planned building or site is critical. I’ve seen more than my share of customers who’ve purchased property only to find the cost of bringing sewer, city water, gas and electrical power to their plant financially crippling.
Impact fees are another cost that can creep up on you. This is the price a municipality will charge you for the benefit of connecting to their sewer lines. It doesn’t include the cost of the actual permitting and construction work to carry out the same. These can soar into hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the area of the country and the municipality in question.
Next comes wastewater discharge limits and permits. Again, depending on the locality, you could have the cost of a full-blown pretreatment system or a basic equalization system staring you in the face just for having moved to a new location. Do your research before you leap to that location that has easy access to highways.
Of course, the extent to which you may need to treat waste water depends a lot on locality but also on the mix of goods in your facility. Industrial uniforms with shop towels and wipers are a Publicly Owned Treatment Works’ (POTW) best friend. They will either charge you a fortune to discharge, or they won’t allow you to discharge at all without complying with their limits.
A pH level that’s close to neutral (8 to 10, typically) and less than 100 milligrams per liter for oil and grease, or standards that are more strict, are in place around the country. The same may apply to your plant if it’s a linen plant, dust control or healthcare facility. Do your research and check the discharge limits in your location before taking the plunge.
These items are part of all plant systems, just as your wash room, material handling, process water or steam generation are. Your utility system is the first step in calculating your needs in the boiler room. Your wash room (tunnel washer or open-pocket washer-extractors) also influences your utility systems and boiler room. Your monorail or material-handling system in turn is influenced by your washroom system, and so on, and so on.
So, where do you start? Start at the utilities and see if you have enough available or if you need to upgrade. Typically, a 50,000-square-foot plant with general linen/mixed goods needs the following:— Gas: 3 to 5 pounds per square inch (psi).— Sewer: 8- to 12-inch line.— Water: 3- to 4-inch line.— Electricity: 2,000 to 3,000 amps; 480 volts.— Height: 24 to 28 feet clear.— Floor: 6-inch concrete rated at 4,000 psi.
A U-shaped or straight-through workflow is the most desirable. While not always feasible, it’s the most efficient of all workflows for any type of facility, from healthcare to industrial.
While we’re at it, let’s look at some other rules of thumb. Bear in mind that no plant is the same and the ratio or percentage of space you allocate may change dramatically based upon type of work and mix in your facility.— Soiled laundry (dock, receive, stage, hold, weigh): 8-10%.— Cart washing: 1-2%.— Soiled-laundry sorting: 9-10%.— Wash floor (Batch tunnel washers and washer-extractors): 9-10%.— Flatwork (Large- and small-piece line, hand-folding): 25-30%.— Uniform line (steam, sort, stage, make up carts): 5-10%.— Operating room (sort, inspect, mend, fold, store): 5-10%.— Clean linen (weigh, hold short/long, ship): 20-25%.— Sewing station: 1-2%.— Storage (linen, chemicals, housekeeping): 4-5%.
Ratios differ from a healthcare facility to an industrial facility. If you have an automated, open-pocket washroom, or if you have (or you intend to buy) a tunnel washing system, the ratios will change dramatically, too.
While there is great debate about open-pocket washer-extractors vs. batch or tunnel washing systems, the common sense approach always works best. Each of these systems has its own issues and its own pros and cons.
If maximum flexibility and built-in redundancy is key to your decision, then open-pocket washers are the system for you. If maximum water conservation and consistent throughput are your main concerns, then tunnel washing systems are the way to go. Whatever your choice and whatever your needs, there is a system there for you. A mix of both may be the correct balance for your plant.
Product mix is critical in this decision, and don’t forget to match your wash room with a complementary material-handling system. Full auto-loading and auto-opening sling systems can be designed for any type of wash room. The same applies for delivery of goods to your clean-linen department. A good material-handling system can cut labor costs, reduce insurance premiums, free up valuable floor space and ergonomically improve your new or existing facility.
If, for whatever reason, some of the systems or rules of thumb can’t be adopted, there’s no need to panic. There’s no perfect scenario, no perfect plant that accounts for any possibility. Does a hospital plan for a drycleaning department or an industrial launderer plan for a healthcare account?
Budgetary reasons may hold you back from full automation. The payback or return on investment (ROI) may be too long for you. A rule of thumb on ROIs: Anything under two years is a “must do,” between three and five years is a “should-do,” and between five and 10 years is a “could-do.” Of course, these depend on the amount of money invested.
Any plant or facility can be made better. It can be improved, massaged into a more efficient production flow. Washroom systems can be upgraded and energy costs reduced. Process water systems can be upgraded or improved. Lack of utilities can be countered by changes in plant systems.
Your educated, intelligent decisions today can help you plan for the future or a change in product mix tomorrow.

About the author

Gerard O’Neill

American Laundry Systems

President and CEO

Gerard O’Neill is the president and CEO of American Laundry Systems, a division of E&O Mechanical, Haverhill, Mass. His company caters exclusively to the commercial laundry business in providing plant design, layout, mechanical and utility specifications, independent equipment recommendations, consulting services and project management. He can be reached at 978-373-1883 or by e-mail.


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