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Making Sense of Automation: From Heated Roll to Heated Chest

Moving from heated-roll flatwork ironer to heated-chest system

OSHKOSH, Wis. — How many laundries use a heated-roll flatwork ironer?

Have they considered the possibility of switching to a heated-chest ironer with a folding system?

It’s not easy to know when it makes sense to move to more automated laundry equipment.  

That’s why I’m writing this article, to help laundries like yours figure out if it’s time to automate.

In the previous article (Making Sense of Automation: Iron, Fold, Stack, posted March 28), I looked at ironers from the perspective of flatwork ironer vs. hand folding, the value of an all-in-one ironer/folder/stacker vs. a flatwork ironer, and the value of an all-in-one system with and without an optional feeder. 

In this article, I’ll go through the steps of moving from a heated-roll flatwork ironer to a system that uses a heated-chest ironer. 


Q: Why might a laundry install a heated-chest ironer in combination with an automatic folder versus a heated-roll flatwork ironer? 

A: Improved quality, efficiency and throughput. There’s a big difference between a heated-roll flatwork ironer and a heated-chest ironer. 

Efficiency: A heated-roll ironer features an open-air combustion system. Thus, some of its heat escapes and makes it less efficient than a heated-chest ironer. 

Heated-roll ironers are 70-75% efficient. Conversely, a heated-chest ironer offers a sealed combustion system that can use thermal fluid/natural gas as heat sources. The closed-loop system transfers more heat through the chest to the damp linen and puts more heat energy to the task of evaporating and ironing. 

A chest ironer is not necessarily hotter in temperature, but it has a faster recovery time to keep at consistent programmed temperatures. A heated-chest system with a thermal fluid/natural gas option is between 93% and 95% efficient. 

Both ironers operate at the same temperature, but the open heated-roll/flatwork ironer is always losing heat, efficiency and productivity. It is constantly burning fuel to maintain temperature to support production needs.

Productivity/Throughput: Because heat stays in the chest ironer, textiles run through more quickly. The heated-roll ironer is slower because heat is always escaping, causing longer recovery times to maintain temperature. Thus, it takes longer to remove linen moisture. 

Quality: In terms of quality, the heated-chest ironing system is far superior. Chest ironers use a continuous, single-piece roll pad to iron linens. This creates completely consistent ironing all the way across the sheet. Conversely, heated-roll flatwork ironers use strap-tensioning systems to hold the sheet against the roll. These belts/straps cause inconsistency in ironing, so the end result isn’t as perfect. Consider installing a heated-chest high-volume ironer if your washing pounds per hour range from 250 to 510.

Is it time to purchase a heated-chest ironing system?

  1. Quality: Linen presentation and guest comfort (mechanical folding produces superior quality over hand folding) are improved.
  2. Linen Life: Linen life is extended. Items move straight from the washer to the ironer. Automatic ironing speeds removal of moisture as items travel through the ironer. This eliminates dryer time and linen wear-and-tear.
  3. Utility Costs: Costs are lower. Heated-chest ironers are 93-95% efficient—24% more efficient than most heated-roll ironers. It eliminates dryer pre-conditioning, lowering utility costs further.
  4. Labor: Such a system eliminates hand folding, as it includes an integrated folder. Two operators feed and one catches.
  5. Production Threshold: One is appropriate for laundries processing 250 to 510 washing pounds per hour.
  6. Sheets per Minute/Hour: 10/600.
  7. Pounds Per Operating Hour (PPOH): 306 at 85% efficiency (assuming 1.8 pounds per sheet). 


Q: A heated-chest ironer and folding system will boost productivity. What difference does it make to also add a feeder to the system?

A: First, you need to understand the feeder. A feeder offers one to four feeding stations with mechanical clips to spread, center and feed large-sized items/sheets. The advantage to an automated feeder, over hand feeding, is quality and production. 

The automated feeder feeds items more quickly than operators can by hand. It also has options to ensure consistent quality on every sheet, such as vacuum suction and spreading brushes and belts. These are important features because they automatically straighten the sheets when fed into the ironer. This eliminates the possibility of operators feeding sheets into the ironer so they enter crooked rather than centered. 

Finally, in terms of productivity, the automated feeder can feed sheets as quickly as the chest ironer/folder can process them. Think about adding a feeder when you reach 510 washing pounds per hour.

Is it time to add an automated feeder to your chest ironing/folding system? Considerations:

  1. Quality: Improved sheet/tablecloth presentation and guest comfort.
  2. Linen Life: Life is extended.
  3. Utility Costs: Lower. It speeds production for less overall daily run time and utility usage.
  4. Labor: Eliminates hands-on feeding and folding. Three to four operators to feed and one to catch.
  5. Production Threshold: Appropriate for laundries processing 510 to 900 washing pounds per hour. Allows for complete utilization of high-speed chest ironer.
  6. Sheets per Minute/Hour: 14/840. 
  7. Pounds Per Operating Hour (PPOH): 321 at 85% efficiency (assuming 1.8 pounds per sheet).

These considerations may help you see how moving from a heated-roll flatwork ironer to a system that uses a heated-chest ironer could benefit your laundry and linen service operation. 

In a future article, I’ll offer information about moving from hand folding to dry-fold automation.

girbau industrial heated chest web

(Photo: Girbau Industrial)

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