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Looking for a Bottleneck? Start at the Beginning (Part 1 of 3)

“I’ve noticed my plant’s production has begun to lag and I believe that it’s being caused by a bottleneck somewhere in the workflow. Where are the problem areas most likely to be and how can I prevent such delays from occurring in the future?”Textile/Uniform Rental — Kurt Rutkowski, Universal Linen Service, Louisville, Ky.
Production bottlenecks can occur in many different areas.
The bottleneck on the wash side could be caused by not getting enough “product” sorted to keep the flow of work moving.
The dryer area is another spot that can bottleneck. The work schedule needs to provide a product flow to keep all of the dryers running, but not create a backlog waiting for a dryer to open up.
On the finish side, plants can get bottlenecked at the ironers. It’s a delicate balance to keep the work flowing.
The best prevention is constant productivity monitoring. We use a production “pulse” that provides daily numbers of each work area. This tool gives us a daily snapshot but also enables us to identify trends to determine if we need additional preventive maintenance on a machine, if we need to change the wash schedule to ensure an adequate flow of work for each workstation, or if we need to replace employees. Monitoring is crucial to our effectiveness.
[NP][/NP]Preventive maintenance and limiting downtime can also prevent bottlenecks from occurring. Dryers require regular inspection, lint traps must be cleaned, and conveyors need to be in good working condition. Ironers that need to be cleaned or waxed can slow production and produce an inferior product. Our employees can only produce what the equipment will allow.
Bottlenecks in production can cripple your operation. A successful operation coaches to the production standards, removes obstacles, and values the input of its employees. When workflow problems arise, we need to be positioned to solve them quickly and efficiently.
A temporary bottleneck can be used as a learning opportunity, but a long-term bottleneck lessens your efficiencies and eventually your overall profitability.Long-Term-Care Laundry — Gary Clifford, Pines of Sarasota, Sarasota, Fla.
When dealing with bottlenecks in healthcare laundry that cause lags in production, it is important to look first at the set-up of your laundry.
Does your sorting area work well, and can you develop a flow from one area to the next? Look for ease of moving carts from one area to another. Sometimes you only need to move tables or racks around a little bit to get a better path from area to area.
[NP][/NP]Next, look at your machines. Do you have the capacity to efficiently process the amount of linen coming to you?
Determine your usual average daily load and be certain your machines are correctly sized to handle that load. And don’t drastically oversize your machines either, as that can cause time-delay problems and waste utilities, chemicals and energy.
Use the resources available from your equipment vendor to help decide the best fit for your facility. If you have the space for multiple machines, it is often better to consider different-sized machines to have more flexibility when your day-to-day loads change.
Make sure you keep your machines in top working order. It should be a high priority to keep your machines running, as nothing slows (or stops) your production as quickly as having a machine down.
Also, look at your folding or processing area to be sure you have everything moving through as smoothly as possible. Manual or machine folding is something to consider. If your daily workload is too high, you may need to purchase folding or processing machinery to speed up your process. You may find that you get a quick return on your investment with a machine to help process your linens; just be sure it is the right machine and that your numbers are correct.
Take a good look at where your personnel are positioned and be sure to put the right person in the right place. People have different abilities; you want to have the best folder working there, and the best sorter working there. Don’t hesitate to move staff around a little bit until you find the correct fit.
Something else to consider is some form of award system for exceptional performance. Whether you use a monetary award or special recognition, you may find your staff becomes more motivated and that production increases.Equipment Manufacturing — Joe Gudenburr, G.A. Braun, Syracuse, N.Y.
This is fitting as a follow-up to my April comments regarding the utilization of performance metrics. If you have implemented said metrics, you will quickly see when your process is running at a less-than-budgeted level, and typically you can see where the problem is not only manifesting, but, more importantly, being created.
[NP][/NP]As with any process, start at the beginning. Too often, people attack where the problem manifests as opposed to trying to understand what upstream variables can create it. By taking such an approach, the process typically only spins further out of control, and becomes less efficient.
On the wash-room side, the processing areas really start from the soil sort and flow out to the point where the goods depart the dryers or a bypass conveyor to be transferred into the finishing area of the operation. There are a number of places where constraints can be generated within the wash room.
Often, the problems start in the soil room as like materials are not staged properly, which causes machines to run underloaded, or possibly with unpaired batches (in a tunnel), or with empty pockets. All of these negatively impact capacity and downstream processing areas.
Undersized loads that go to a dryer do not equate to shorter dry times and more efficient energy consumption. The reality is, smaller loads increase drying times and energy consumption. They also create an out-of-balance situation with the wash room in which washing systems (conventional or tunnel) are now waiting for a dryer to accept washed items.
Another problem area has to do with formula management. On the conventional wash front, the current generation of machines available on the market has a great deal of flexibility with formula configuration to optimize not only the wash process but also the extraction process. By leveraging this capability, you can optimize dryer efficiency, or the extraction process so that linens can go straight to the ironer without conditioning.
On the tunnel side, I often see operators fixated on speed. Many think that running a 90-second cycle will result in more volume being processed through the system. Nine times out of 10, this is not the case.
A press reaches its optimal extraction based on its ability to remove water from the basket, and its ability to rapidly build to its desired pressure. The best presses on the market typically will achieve 40-45 seconds under high pressure in a 90-second formula. However, optimal extraction typically takes place between 60-75 seconds under high pressure (the best presses can achieve this utilizing a 2-minute formula time).
It should be noted that there is another misconception with respect to a bar rating. You must evaluate a press based on its system pressure and the ability to build pressure at the membrane. Higher numbers don’t always equate to higher membrane or system pressures. Also, there is a point in the pressing process where the materials are compressed creating a barrier layer. No matter how hard you press, you will not remove more water. I recommend that you let your OEM educate you on your specific machine and its capabilities.
I can’t tell you how many accounts tell me, “I am running 90 seconds and I can’t understand why I am not getting 40 transfers an hour.” When we look at the system, we typically find that the volume of dryers was not sized to condition all products, or to support a 40-transfer-an-hour capacity. A too-short press cycle is driving the conditioning situation.
When you show these same accounts that they can save energy, improve capacity and eliminate conditioning by running a more optimal formula, they are hesitant, but appreciate the approach once it is shown to perform as advertised.
A third problem area in the wash room is tied to material handling. I see many plants that simply don’t keep up with unloading their dryers or their conveyors. This is usually tied to a lack of operational discipline within the facility, and in some cases one can improve capacities by as much as 10%. This costs nothing!
I see three common problems on the finishing side at many plants. The first is ironer line speeds. This can be a result of not having a large-enough ironer, or enough surface contact under pressure to dry the product. This may be the result of insufficient boiler capacity, or the bypass items reaching the ironing line with too much moisture content. The latter ties back to formulas and cycle times.
The second finishing concern has to do with material handling. Most plants have a great deal of “touch” labor on the finishing end. Automation and the elimination of processing or handling nodes can greatly improve overall efficiency. Automation can provide a real benefit, but if it isn’t designed into the system, it can create a bottleneck.
Finally, there is another limitation that many plants face with respect to how their product mix aligns with the capabilities of their processing equipment. Often, there are specific machines that could be called one-dimensional. Once said equipment or processing systems have exhausted the products they are designed to process, they often sit idle.
A way to optimize capacity, energy, and labor utilization on the finishing end is to make certain that you employ dynamic solutions to provide processing flexibility as volume and mix change throughout the year.
I have listed the most common problem areas that I come across within the various markets that our industry serves. Obviously, there are other areas that you could focus on as you dissect your specific operation.

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