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Michigan Co-op Plant Becomes 1st ‘Steamless’ Healthcare Laundry in U.S. (Part 2 of 2)

Bruce Beggs |

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —When Executive Director Duane Houvener and board members for the West Michigan Shared Hospital Laundry (WMSHL) clipped a ceremonial ribbon in late September, they “rededicated” the newly retrofitted plant, reportedly the first fully “steamless” large-scale healthcare laundry in North America.RETROFITTED AT HALF THE COST OF BUILDING NEW
Two years ago, the WMSHL board charged Houvener with presenting options for the direction that the at-capacity facility should take. He turned to fellow members of the International Association for Healthcare Textile Management (IAHTM) for help.
“I asked the IAHTM group for a peer review, because strength comes in numbers,” Houvener says. “Three of my colleagues came in and spent the better part of a week here, analyzing everything that we did, and helped make recommendations so that it wasn’t just me saying this is what we needed to do.”
He presented his findings to the board, and American Laundry Systems (ALS) was hired as a consultant. The company conducted operational surveys and began exploring the steamless laundry concept in depth, Houvener says.
ALS recommended that, rather than build a new plant for an estimated $25 million, WMSHL should consider retrofitting the plant with new equipment and expanding the facility by roughly 32,000 square feet for half the cost. Once ALS demonstrated that this work could be done without interrupting laundry production, the WMSHL board gave the project the green light.
“Bringing ALS on board helped as well, given that this was potentially project No. 52 (for it),” Houvener says. “When you’ve got a company with that kind of track record and history saying that ‘Something needs to be done and we think this is the best avenue,’ that adds validity to their proposals.”USE NATURAL GAS TO HEAT AS MUCH EQUIPMENT AND WATER AS POSSIBLE
With the help of Jensen USA, Thermal Engineering of Arizona (TEA), Leonard Automatics, Chicago Dryer Co. and Kaeser Compressors, ALS put together a plan that makes this laundry unique.
Generally, the concept was to use natural gas to heat as much equipment and water as possible. Natural gas-fired equipment’s efficiency is in the 95% range or better, ALS says, while steam-fired equipment has 75-80% efficiency.
Jensen USA provided much of the equipment and layout planning. Its Futurail sorting system consists of two high-volume sorting belts, each fed by cart dumpers. At the sorting station, items are sorted from a raised platform directly into slings underneath.
The wash room consists of two Senking MaxiLine (265-pound) tunnel systems (including companion 51-inch, 57-bar presses and 14 gas-heated dryers) and a conventional wash aisle with two 450-pound washer-extractors and two dryers. The overall design allows for the addition of two more tunnels, with the related presses and “cake breakers” and up to 10 extra dryers.
There are four ironing lines utilizing gas-fired, self-contained thermal flatwork ironers, with future expansion plans to add four more ironer lines plus related equipment.
A TEA water-recycling system using ceramic microfiltration (CMF) ensures the plant gains maximum use of the heated water, ALS says. “Super-heated” water is injected into the Leonard Automatics garment tunnel for processing healthcare uniforms.
Some other plant highlights include:

  • Soil sorters use a vacuum system to presort heavier and larger items from the sorting deck. Piping is used on the dump table to send blankets, etc., directly into the appropriate sling.
  • Open-pocket washer-extractors are fed with soil-side loaded conveyors protruding through a soil/clean side separating wall.
  • No shuttle is used in the facility. All goods bound for the dryers arrive via the “clean goods” automated sling system.

“We had a good plan, and it all came together and in the end it worked, but I had no idea how extensive and intrusive it would be,” Houvener says. “I always thought I had a good team in place. Now, I know I’ve got a great team in place.
“Other than the floor in the existing part, it’s a brand-new laundry. Our employees know that if they come to work every day and do their job, they’re going to have a job as long as they want it.”Click here to read Part 1 of this story.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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