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Panel of Experts: Consider Impact Before Over/Under-Loading Equipment (Part 1 of 2)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

Is My Washer’s or Dryer’s Loading Capacity Set in Stone? Can I Load a Little Heavier to Get More Work Through When We’re Under the Gun?

UNIFORMS/WORKWEAR MANUFACTURING: STEVE KALLENBACH, AMERICAN DAWN, LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

The answer is yes, you can. But in overloading and under-loading, there are some ramifications.

steve kallenbachSometimes, the outcome might outweigh the costs, but it’s definitely something to be mindful about before proceeding as a regular part of your production process.

First, there are five key elements in washing textiles: mechanical action, temperature, water level, time, and chemistry. If you increase or decrease one of these elements, it will impact other elements of the cleaning process.

Additionally, in many cases, it will add wear and tear to your machinery.

When you increase (or over-load) your washer-extractor, you decrease the amount of “open” area for the textiles to tumble—commonly referred to as “mechanical action.”

This decreases the textile cleanliness outcome, doesn’t take out stains (likely causing early replacement), and will definitely add to mechanical stress on the machine, especially if the load is over 100% of the stated capacity.

You can sometimes offset this inequity by increasing the formula time and/or the chemistry, but while the overload may reduce the amount of loads, your true operating costs may actually increase.

Sometimes, you have to consider more than just weight...volume, perhaps. Large items that absorb little water (such as mats) will have less negative impact than items that hold lots of liquid (microfiber toweling) when loaded strictly by weight.

Additionally, the soil type can dictate the load factor, if you are trying to provide more than normal mechanical action to remove heavy soil, etc. If you know the relative absorption of the product as well as the soil factor of the load, it will assist in your management call to either overload or under-load. Either way, you need to closely monitor your quality output and make adjustments continually and accordingly.

You also need to monitor rejects and rewash. The load factor may actually cost more than just following the usual formulation instructions, as it could result in double processing! One old trick in loading full-drop wash wheels is to visually load the machine to three-quarters full level.

When you under-load your washer-extractor, you increase the mechanical action significantly. While this is not an efficient use of resources, and may cost you significantly more to produce, the practice can also break down the fibers of your fabrics and cause all sorts of textile wear issues, such as heavy pilling, tears, etc.

While the appearance on the surface may lead you to believe that you are either cleaning product better or producing faster, the hidden reality is that you could be damaging your machines or your textiles.

In the end, this all comes down to customer satisfaction and relative costs. My advice: Be careful, be calculated, get the opinion of your chemical supplier, monitor the quality and textile life closely, and track your machine maintenance.

COMMERCIAL LAUNDRY: TOM GILDRED, EMERALD TEXTILES, SAN DIEGO, CALIF.

tom gildredWhile there may be no “magic” answer to this question, I believe the real answer is “it depends.” Several factors that impact decisions regarding loading capacity should be considered when defining the formulas for processing. Some of these include quality standard, type of machinery, category of linen, and the degree of soil present.

Depending on your objectives, and the four factors I’ve mentioned, it might make sense to load either slightlyheavier or slightlylighter to achieve your goals. For instance, terry cloth items absorb more water, which is important to remember when considering overloading this type of item, as the additional water will make it even heavier. Other less-absorbent items, such as gowns, could be managed in heavier loads.

Certain products are well suited for under-loading in the drying process to ensure a quality finish without wrinkles, while some items may be overloaded with no problem—in fact, it may be desirable. Each type of load has its own custom formula, including how much of the product to include in the load. This formula is best determined by the particular item’s specifications and its level of soil in order to achieve the quality required.

Both overloading and under-loading are strategies that can be used to achieve optimal efficiency and quality. The right combination of load capacity, chemical mix, water temperature and processing time ensures production efficiency, optimum throughput and the proper quality levels.

MEMBER AT LARGE: DOUGLAS STORY, SWISHER HYGIENE

douglas storyI think we should first define what overloading a washer means. Is it 100 pounds in a 100-pound wash wheel, or is it 200 pounds in a 100-pound wash wheel? Well, you could be loaded correctly in both cases.

If the load is not soiled, or is lightly soiled, you could load to 100 pounds and it would be correct. But, if it is a load of wet bar towels, loading a 100-pound washer to 200 pounds could result in just processing 100 pounds of dry, clean bar towels, so that loading is correct as well! Simply speaking, you have to know the average soil load of the fabrics that you are processing in order to properly load the washers.

As for loading in general, I don’t think the standards are set in stone but the warranty on the equipment is. If one overloads the washer too much, you may end up with mechanical issues. In reality, one could, on occasion, overload a washer by 10-15% of rated capacity, but it should be an exception and not a standard operating procedure.

Water levels, electric motors, brakes and space capacity can all be negatively affected by overloading a washer, and all this is in addition to the poor-to-horrible quality the washer will be producing.

What happens to the fabric when you overload a washer? Here are a few things:

  • Mechanical action is reduced or eliminated
  • Distribution of water is limited

It is possible that not all the fabric in a horribly overloaded washer will even touch water during the process. I learned this lesson in college after trying to wash all my jeans and heavy shirts on the cheap at a Laundromat. I still had powdered soap on my very dry jeans as I unloaded the washer. What a mess.

  • Distribution of chemicals throughout the washer is uneven

This can damage areas where concentrated chemicals contact the linens.

  • Fabrics are not adequately cleaned and cannot be considered hygienically clean or sanitized

In spite of the accounting calculations on the enhanced productivity, overloading may create mechanical and quality issues that would override most savings over a longer period of time.

As for under-loading, it is just a waste of labor, equipment and operational efficiency! The industry is starting to create washers and dispensing systems that can actually compensate for various load sizes, but I still find it a waste in terms of equipment and time expenditures.

If you have a 100-pound washer, use its capabilities to the maximum. This will ensure that you are using labor, chemicals and time optimally in your efforts to produce a quality product at the best possible price.

A few points about under-loading:

  • Chemical concentrations are too high
  • Mechanical and chemical wear on fabrics is excessive
  • Water use per pound processed is excessive
  • Energy use per pound processed is excessive
  • Labor cost per pound processed is excessive

So, whenever possible, load your washers to within 10-15% of the rated capacity of what would be considered the clean, dry weight of the fabric. And for goodness sake, use a well-calibrated scale to make sure you are adding the right poundage to your washers.

Loading your washers as they should be loaded will go a long way to maximizing the overall efficiency of your washroom operation.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!

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