Making Sense of Automation: Washers, Open-pocket to Batch Tunnel

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(Photo: Continental Girbau Inc.)

Seth Willer |

Series concludes with examination of batch tunnel washer systems

OSHKOSH, Wis. — One of the key components in a laundry is the washer.

You could say that it is the most important piece of equipment, since without a washer, soiled goods don’t get processed.

While open-pocket washers might make sense with fewer pounds processed per hour, the more automated tunnel washer can increase savings in efficiency and labor in a small space.

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 looked at the benefits of moving from hand folding to an automatic folder, along with exploring various types of automatic folders. In this concluding article, I’ll examine batch tunnel washers and when it’s time to make the move from an open-pocket washer. 

Q: When does it make sense to move from open-pocket washers to a batch tunnel washing system? 

A: Laundries don’t need to process 3,000 pounds of laundry per hour in order to benefit from a tunnel washer in terms of labor, efficiency and productivity. If your laundry is doing 1,000 pounds of laundry per hour, it’s time to consider a tunnel. Not all batch tunnel washers are configured for super-high-volume productivity. 

For instance, five-module tunnels can be configured with all the features and efficiencies of larger batch tunnels (each module can be from 55 to 220 pounds of capacity). We see positive returns—gains in efficiency, labor and productivity—with as little as 1,000 pounds of laundry per hour. The industry offers some small batch tunnel washers offering the same efficiencies as the big tunnels.

Q: You say that smaller tunnel washers have all the “built-in” efficiencies/bells and whistles of large tunnel washers. What do you mean?

A: Exactly that. There are smaller batch tunnel washers on the market that offer water reuse, filtration, heat reclaim and programmability by module, just like larger models. So, in a very small space, an operation pushing out 1,000 pounds of laundry per hour, or more, will realize huge savings in efficiency and labor over using open-pocket washers. 

Keep in mind, some batch tunnel washers require just one person to load and monitor them and use approximately less than 1 gallon of water per laundry pound versus an open-pocket washer that uses 2 to 3 gallons per laundry pound. 

Tunnels with water reclaim systems significantly cut water usage. And, some tunnels have heat reclaim systems that use the heat from drain water to preheat water coming into the tunnel from outside. This can cut natural gas usage (to heat the water) by 30%. The savings go on and on, even for smaller laundries.

Q. Can tunnel washers process different item types and clean them well?

A: Yes. The programmability of today’s tunnels allows for great flexibility of various wash loads with superior results (napkins, table linens, bath mats, rugs, blankets, duvets, hospital gowns, scrubs, sheets, etc.). 

The key is choosing a tunnel where every module is programmable, offering multiple inputs for water, reused water, chemicals, steam, ozone, drain valves, and control over water temperature and mechanical action. Programs can be established based on item type. The operator enters a program based on the first module’s item type and all the modules in the system automatically adjust to that program. This is a great option for laundries processing customer-owned goods (COG). 

Q: What comprises a complete tunnel system? 

A: A tunnel system—or continuous-batch washing system—includes a loading conveyor, batch tunnel washer, water extraction press, shuttle lifting conveyors, pass-through dryers and a master control. Most often, the tunnel washer is sold as part of the system. The equipment is automated, but really simple to use and operate. So, it takes one person to put laundry loads onto the loading conveyor, which automatically feeds the tunnel washer.

The goods travel through each tunnel module, where linens are pre-washed, washed and rinsed according to how the modules are programmed. Then, loads are automatically moved to the water extraction press, where they are pressed. At this point, the laundry resembles a “cake,” which is then automatically shuttled into an open dryer. From there, loads are automatically unloaded for folding or ironing, depending on what’s being washed and dried. Through this entire process, the master control tracks and displays load location, customer name, etc.

Keep in mind that the continuous batch washing system has evolved a great deal. Many falsely believe that you don’t get good wash quality, or that you can’t extract enough water from items with water barriers, like bed pads at nursing homes or hospitals. Actually, the wash quality is often superior. And if you choose a water extraction press that offers programmability, in which you can press, come up and back down (or tap), it’s a snap to extract water, even from items with water barriers.

Q: Explain batch size and why a smaller batch/load size is often better. 

A: Smaller batch/load sizes can create improved efficiency. For instance, if you are a COG laundry and you can’t mix one client’s laundry with another client’s laundry, it is better to use smaller batch/load sizes. Just like sizing open-pocket laundry equipment, it’s important to properly size tunnel modules. 

First, if you have to fill 250 pounds of capacity and you only have 120 pounds of scrubs, for example, you are going to have to wait to run that load. With a smaller batch size, you are simply more efficient. Your equipment isn’t standing there not being used, your labor isn’t standing there waiting, and you aren’t wasting floor space with carts full of loads that are too small.

Second, 250 pounds of laundry is a lot of weight and bulk for your employees to handle. If you don’t have a bag system, it will create problems and possibly injuries. Look for a tunnel washer that allows for manageable load sizes and fits your volume needs.

Q: Do you need a lot of space for a tunnel system?

A: That depends on the size of the tunnel washer and the number of modules you select. For example, we offer batch tunnel washers from five to 20 modules. A five-module tunnel system that processes 2,000 laundry pounds per hour might occupy a space as small as 25-by-50 feet. 

I hope these considerations help you see how moving from open-pocket washers to a tunnel system could benefit your laundry and linen service. 

In addition, I hope my four-part series has answered at least a few of your questions about automating your laundry operation and the benefits of doing so.

RELATED STORIES

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

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

Making Sense of Automation: Moving from Folding by Hand to Automated Folding, Aug. 8, 2017

About the author

Seth Willer

Girbau Industrial

National Sales Manager

Seth Willer, national sales manager for Girbau Industrial, has expertise in on-premises and industrial laundry design, equipment, workflow and productivity.

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