OPL 101: Processes Make the Difference in the Laundry

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Bill Kimmel |

Process breakdowns can cost efficiency, quality, linen life

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last month in this column, UniMac North American Sales Manager Bill Brooks discussed features that are worth paying for in new equipment. He positioned that they have to deliver a benefit to the laundry—and not all features benefit all operations. 

On-premises laundry (OPL) managers must always keep an eye on the benefits. However, equally important is having an eye on the processes that are costing the operation money or quality.

On-premises laundries are busy environments. Staff works hard to make the daily throughput volume to ensure clean linens for the floor. 

It’s important, however, to note that because there’s never a shortage of clean linens, it doesn’t mean there aren’t serious issues or process breakdowns costing the operation money. I have walked into laundries where this was the case. Managers saw the totals being hit on a daily basis and were adamant that everything was fine. That is not always the case. 

Process breakdowns may be costing in efficiency, quality and linen life. While new equipment can solve some issues, sometimes problem-solving can be as simple as a manager watching his/her staff work.

MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

In a column about process improvements that may be right in front of our faces, but we missed them, I wouldn’t be doing justice to the topic if I didn’t say something about laundry management systems. How do you know there is a problem if your only measurement is taken if all the laundry was processed? Laundry management systems bridge this data chasm.

Unless you are operating with benchmarks, the laundry has no way of measuring the overall efficiency. As I tell managers, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” So, when I visit with managers to discuss processes and efficiency, one of the first questions I ask is what their baselines are. 

Today’s laundry management systems are one of the biggest process improvement tools managers have at their disposal. I can’t recommend more strongly the value they bring to organizations—and I have seen it firsthand. Many of our customers have uncovered issues they didn’t know they had, and still wouldn’t have, if not for the system showing the problems through the actionable data.

THE INVENTORY ISSUE

Here’s an example of a problem that may be invisible if the only measure is laundry totals being met each day. I ran across an on-premises laundry operating with inadequate par levels. The problems this creates are many.

The process is flawed and inefficient from the start. Staff was spending a significant amount of time oscillating between floors, collecting soiled linens and transferring clean linens as quickly as they were processed. This is quite obviously an inefficient use of labor, but they made it work.

Inefficiency of the operation grew on the wash side. Resources were lost as machines were only loaded to half, and sometimes quarter, capacity, which wastes water and chemistry. In addition, partial loading means chemicals exist in higher concentrations in the wash cylinder (the pump is injecting enough chemicals for a 60-pound load, but it’s only a 25- to 30-pound load).

This higher concentration of chemicals leads to the next issue, which is linens aren’t fully rinsed. Fibers enter drying or finishing with chemicals still present. “Baking in” the chemicals can result in staining, which leads to rewash. With the pH off in linens, they will have a coarse feel and, in hospital/long-term care environments, create bedsores for those with sensitive skin.

While it may have seemed less costly to get by with low par levels, the inefficiency, poor quality, higher rewash percent and reduced linen life make this process/inventory issue a financial drain.

MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN

I’m not sure if this is just an ignored condition or if staff doesn’t fully realize what’s happening, but drain and fill-valve issues are quite obvious, yet a high percentage of the time not addressed. If I walked into 10 nursing homes today, I would bet three or more have this process issue.

Diagnosing it is simple. If you hear water running when the machine is not operating, there’s an obvious issue with a fill valve. If there is steam flowing out the open washer door, same deal.

Likewise, if the washer is filling, yet water is flowing into the drain trough, there’s a stuck drain valve.

A simple process improvement means making staff aware that these are issues to be on the lookout for. Don’t forget that a leaking drain valve impacts the operation in poor wash quality as well, as chemistry is leaking out. Leaking chemistry means the formula is diluted. 

CLEAN VENTS

Another process no-brainer that is overlooked on the drying side is clogged makeup air vents. The results are inefficient drying (longer cycles) and igniter issues. Making periodic cleaning of make-up air ducts part of processes for the laundry team ensures optimal efficiency on multiple levels, including staff time.

Over-drying is another process issue that is easily correctable through technology. Moisture-sensing systems take operator error out of the picture and ensure loads are dried correctly (not over-dried) every time. It’s a fairly inexpensive feature that corrects a costly process issue. 

Most laundry staff will always dry to the longest time possible to make sure when they open the door, the load is dry. So, the process correction is either using technology or reinforcing the correct drying times for specific loads. Whatever the case, this process issue is a big one that costs laundries significantly in wasted utilities, labor and linen life.

ADDITIONAL IDEAS

As we all know, it’s important to have carts reserved for soiled linens and separate ones for clean linens to prevent cross-contamination. Too often, however, laundries merely mark carts of the same color as “clean” or “dirty.” I always recommend utilizing different colors for the carts. It’s a quicker awareness that requires no reading.

For managers not utilizing laundry management systems, they should work with their distributor to better understand the productivity their operations are capable of with the installed equipment. This at least will provide a rough baseline to gauge productivity of their staff and shifts. Reviewing utility bills more closely also will help keep an eye on any potential inefficiency.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the past, managing the daily laundry volume was the best measure of an operation’s success. However, today’s technology has simplified management immensely. Laundry management systems have provided managers with truly actionable data to gauge not only the overall efficiency of the laundry, but also information on where process problems exist.

While it seems daunting, setting baseline key performance indicators and checking against them periodically will help increase productivity and keep staff focused on correct processes. The important thing to know is that small changes to processes can have sizable impacts—either positively or negatively—to a laundry in productivity, efficiency and quality.

Keeping an eye on process today is non-negotiable. It’s up to managers to identify the most streamlined approach to gathering data.

About the author

Bill Kimmel

RJ Kool Co.

President

Bill Kimmel is president of RJ Kool, a UniMac distributor with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. He can be reached at bkimmel@rjkool.com or 800-345-4551, ext. 102.

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