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Making Sense of Automation: Moving from Folding by Hand to Automated Folding

How can moving to an automatic folder impact laundry business?

OSHKOSH, Wis. — What’s one of the most tedious tasks for employees in your laundry and linen service operation?

If you work with blankets and towels and the like, I’m guessing hand folding is close to the top of the list. And since it’s labor-intensive, folding linens by hand might be a drain on the company’s bottom line.

Have you considered the possibility of switching to an automatic folder?

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

That’s why I’m writing for American Laundry News, to help you figure out if it’s time for your laundry to automate.

Last time, I took you through the steps of moving from a heated-roll flatwork ironer to a system that uses a heated-chest ironer. In this article, I’ll examine automatic folders and guide you through when it might be time to stop hand folding and start automating the process. 

Q. How does an automated folder work?

A: There are two types of automatic drywork folders—models that automatically sort and those that don’t. Both will quickly fold blankets, gowns, bed pads, hand towels, bath towels, bath mats and more. An auto-sort folder, however, offers the added benefit of automatically sorting items as they are fed into the folder. Items are then automatically stacked.

Here’s how an auto-sort folder works: When items are hand-fed into the folder, the machine identifies the fed items and adjusts folding configurations to suit those specific dimensions. The folding timing and air blasts are automatically adjusted for each item without any interaction from the operator. The machine does this quickly so one operator can feed three different-sized items in a row without changing programs. The folder automatically adapts the folds to fit the item. 

The stacks are collected under the folder and delivered to a discharge conveyor. The conveyor returns the stacks to the original operator. It only takes one operator for this entire process. An auto-sort folder can generate up to 1,000 folded pieces per hour.

Q: Why would a laundry install an auto-sort folder instead of hand folding? 

A: 1. Production. The most compelling reason to go from folding by hand to an auto-sort folder is improved production. The typical laundry employee can sort, fold and stack different-sized items at a rate of 120 pieces per hour. An automatic towel folder, using one operator, can fold and stack 800 different-sized pieces per hour. 

By using an auto-sort towel folder, which automatically sorts, folds and stacks, productivity further improves to 1,000 pieces per hour. Again, only one operator is needed. 

2. Labor Savings. The second reason to move to an auto-sort folder is a drastic reduction in labor hours. Finishing, folding and stacking are the most labor-intensive parts of the laundry process. Through automation, and the installation of an auto-sort folder, you can cut labor hours by 87%. 

For example, it takes one person 10 hours to sort, fold and stack 1,250 items. With an auto-sort folder and one operator, the process for the same number of items only takes 1.25 hours.

3. Quality. Finally, quality improves with automation. The folder creates consistent folds and stacks every single time. Consistency of folds and stacks simplifies prepping laundry for transportation and storage, which saves additional labor hours and further improves
facility productivity. 

Whether yours is a commercial laundry, hotel laundry or healthcare laundry, high-quality stacks will give the impression of a high-quality wash and high-quality service. 

I hope these considerations help you see how moving from folding by hand to an automatic folder could benefit your laundry and linen service operation. 

In an upcoming article, I’ll wrap up this series on automation by examining when it’s the right time to move from open-pocket washers to a tunnel system.


Making Sense of Automation: From Heated Roll to Heated Chest, April 27, 2017

Making Sense of Automation: Iron, Fold, Stack, March 28, 2017

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(Photo: Girbau Industrial)

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