Panel of Experts: Commercial or Rental Plant vs. Institution-Based Laundry (Part 1 of 2)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

Are there substantial differences in equipment and procedures between a commercial or rental plant and an institution-based laundry? If so, what are they, and why do such differences exist?

Healthcare Laundry: Scott Beaton, Kaiser Permanente Northern California

There are two major differences between institutional and commercial rental laundry plants regarding laundry processing equipment and operational procedures. The overarching difference is that each must serve a different master.

One is customer-based, high-volume, and driven to make a profit, while the other exists to provide a service for a captive audience. Due to these differences, the degree of necessary automation varies substantially.

The other major difference is that commercial/rental plants wash and process linen to meet the needs of both regulatory and customer-based demands. They deliver linen in a manner that guarantees and produces a positive net operating margin. This is driven by the fact that they are in business to make a profit.

scott beatonRental laundries typically spend more on their equipment, training and education of their workforce than an institutional facility. Pounds per operator hour, or PPOH, become the mantra. The old adage “time is money and money is time” comes to mind. These large, high-volume shared-service laundries and commercial plants tend to be highly automated, with batch washers, shuttle conveyors and pass-through dryers greatly reducing manual-labor requirements.

Commercial rental operations realize quickly in this competitive, price-point-driven market that financial investment and reinvestment is key in both manpower and equipment. This must take place to be competitive and sustainable in an ever-changing business climate.

A rental plant usually realizes that it takes a financial investment to achieve an efficient operation and, as a result, spends money to make money. Institutional laundries would benefit greatly if they would also utilize this model and invest in their infrastructure to best serve their internal customers.

Chemicals Supply: Marlene Williams, Anderson Chemical Co.

As a chemical formulator, my comments will focus on procedural differences between institutional and industrial laundries. Institutional and industrial facilities both launder marlene williamslinen, but the purpose and focus of each is in response to different expectations.

Institutional laundries provide a service within organizations. Industrial laundries are typically focused as independent businesses. This results in different orientations, chemical programs and procedures.

Major concerns for commercial laundries include optimization of production orientation. This would include labor and labor cost as a percent of revenue, utilities, water and chemical costs, production cost per machine, and overall profitability.

Formula times and rewash numbers can be well balanced to provide optimum profit. Hot water, high alkali, and bleach can provide lower pounds of rewash, but at the expense of linen integrity.

Major concerns for institutional laundries include: maintaining facility par, quality of results depending on potentially lower water temperatures, machine programmability, correct choice of program, and chemistry.

While most institutional facilities have well-trained staff, problems can arise when machines and chemical supply malfunction if a staff person does not make timely corrections. Because of a lesser focus on cost per piece, spotting and special pretreatments or machine formulas may be utilized. The luxury of time for rework and special formulas can result in higher volumes of good quality work without the expense of fabric damage.

Linen Supply: Stephen Marcq, General Linen Service

I see substantial differences between equipment and procedures in commercial vs. institutional plants. In commercial plants, for example, it is common to see newer, larger, steve marcqmore energy- and water-efficient machinery, i.e. continuous batch washers vs. smaller washer-extractors, six-roll ironers vs. one-roll, and so forth.

It is more common to see things like heat reclamation and water treatment equipment, as well as use of steam vs. thermal oil, electric and so forth on ironers. The reason is likely because the commercial plant can typically gain economies of scale, lower the per-unit production costs and thus generate a sufficient return on investment on the large up-front expense, although available space also has something to do with it.

The biggest procedural difference I see is that many institutional plants, by their nature, do a larger number of small loads, turning product sometimes several times per day, whereas a commercial plant may have one machine dedicated to a specific item operating eight hours or more daily.

The institutional plant often can customize the finishing procedures and requirements to the exact specification required, whereas the commercial plant has to find some middle ground to suit its mix of customers.

Commercial Laundry: Tom Gildred, Emerald Textiles

Differences in equipment and procedures between a commercial laundry plant and an institution-based laundry are substantial and exist for a variety of reasons.

tom gildredThe equipment in a commercial/rental plant is usually larger in scale and capable of processing huge amounts of volume (pounds) per hour. In newer facilities, or those that invest in newer equipment, tremendous energy efficiencies are achieved that result in energy and water savings. This positively impacts the environment and reduces operating costs.

Equipment in an institution-based laundry is smaller in scale and handles wash loads of lesser volume. In-house laundry facilities sometimes occupy revenue-generating space that might otherwise be used for additional operations within the organization.

Processes and procedures in a commercial plant are typically more automated, so less labor is required to process the laundry. This improves efficiency and decreases the risk of strain and injury to employees. Another difference in a commercial facility is rental pool linen. Large rental pools require fewer linen purchases on a regular basis and offer a consistent, flexible supply of product to all customers as needed.

The chemical mix in a commercial plant is also handled differently because of the opportunity to use each pocket in a continuous batch washer for specific purposes with specialized chemicals. This allows the precise timing, titration and temperature required to achieve the highest levels of cleanliness.

Handling larger wash loads also allows for the production team to run the same products through folding or ironing consistently, which improves efficiencies lost when switching the products that are being processed.

Finally, the focus in a commercial laundry operation is generally specialized and, because of its scale, designed to comply with OSHA, Title 22, and state and federal regulations.

In an institution-based laundry facility, processes are typically labor-intensive, and require more employees, because they are less automated and staff may or may not be assigned exclusively to the laundry function. Since the task of laundry is usually just one aspect of operations in the organization, it may be more difficult to be focused on compliance, efficiency and quality control.

In part, some of the reasons for these differences exist because of specialization as well as the scale and volume of each type of laundry facility. There are economies of scale realized when a commercial plant is focused on processing linen for multiple large healthcare or hospitality customers, vs. operating a laundry department in-house to process only the linens needed by that organization.

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Steve Kallenbach, American Dawn

Typically, the equipment and procedures in processing textiles is about the same—whether in a rental laundry or an OPL (on-premise) hospitality or healthcare steve kallenbachlaundry—but does depend on the volume/poundage of each facility. When it comes to boilers, heaters, reclaimers, sewage treatment, washers, dryers, tunnels, ironers or presses, the equipment manufacturers supply our industry as one. And the chemical companies typically use formulation based on textile/application/poundage vs. market.

While one would think that the processes for these two business channels are equally alike, there are many different practices, based mostly on profitability and/or quality expectations.

The rental channel always has two common goals: growth and profitability. They are sometimes in opposite order, but always present together. This becomes a delicate balance between efficiency and quality. To illustrate, let's look at linen napkins.

A rental laundry typically wants to achieve acceptable market standard quality at the lowest cost. It’s in the business of making profits through textile rental, and therefore measures every microbe of wear life, processing cost, merchandise field recovery, and total merchandise costs (including acquisition) all the way to electricity and building costs.

In comparison, an OPL must maintain the internal (typically single-department customer) quality standard, and is part of a much bigger picture (a small department of a large enterprise). Its building, energy and overhead costs may be charged by estimate or calculation to the whole. Additionally, its quality standards are typically set by one of the other departments that it serves, are not negotiable, and are expected to be maintained, without as much weight given to cost.

The sheer difference in service dynamics and accounting in an OPL drive fairly significant differences in labor management, water/energy/chemical management, textile selection, and inventory management (which typically doesn’t fall under the control of the OPL), all the way to formula times, pressing speeds, and water temperature/steam use.

Additionally, because the perceived quality of OPL customers (key departments) is allowed to be as high as requested, much more finishing (such as pressing vs. tunneling) occurs.

Material handling and delivery also differs between the two types. An OPL typically delivers the goods to another on-premise department (i.e. Guest Services) using carts, rails and perhaps a small vehicle — and goods are many times picked up by the department being serviced. A rental laundry has many more carts (for separation by route/customer) as well as sort railing and numerous route trucks for delivery within a large geographical area.

Numbers will tell a big story here, and both have their place in the textile services markets. Cases can be made in either direction as to what is most efficient and profitable for the enterprise.

Tomorrow: Answers from the textile/uniform rental, consulting services, and equipment manufacturing sectors...


Latest Podcast

As laundry/linen services grow and technology advances, they look to build new plants or renovate existing structures. Find out from Ed Kwasnick of ARCO/Murray what operators are looking for in design and construction today, and into the future.

Want more? Visit the archive »

Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds