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Panel of Experts: Waste Not, Want Not (Part 2 of 4)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What would you say are the most common errors in laundry processing that lead to higher-than-necessary energy, fuel or water costs?”

Textile/Uniform Rental: John Shoemaker General Linen & Uniform Service, Detroit, Mich.

These are costs that are certainly rising and becoming a growing expense for laundries. Bringing in experts to make suggestions is prudent. This can be done at no cost more often than not, and you might unearth wonderful savings that you did not consider.

john shoemakerSomething else that may be of value is looking at modern equipment. Water usage is greatly reduced through modern techniques vs. older, traditional equipment.

Meeting and talking to peers is wise. A sharp operator can learn from others and not have to reinvent the wheel. These peers may have come up with an excellent idea that is applicable to your application, as well as stimulate thought-provoking discussions about water, fuel and other energy usage.

Lastly, good maintenance prevails. Are all heat pipes insulated? Are any valves leaking? The basics pay off.

And the old adage of “that which is emphasized is what gets emphasized” is of importance. If you, as a leader, are talking up the containment of these costs, your key people will understand that they are not merely words but a message of extreme importance.

Uniforms: Barb Herman, SanMar Corp, Issaquah, Wash.

In other words, you’re asking about the things that on-premise, commercial or industrial laundry workers could be doing that use more energy, natural gas or water than is needed.

barb hermannOn one hand, our industry considers textile processing and finishing to be a “science.” As a science, a process could be established and followed, and a sustainable, efficient and consistent result expected and obtained … with every laundering. On the other hand, however, textile processing and finishing has so many variables that science becomes difficult to apply. It’s more of a delicate juggling of product, process, equipment, chemistry, standards, people and even weather.

While operations can set process and standards for efficient and consistent outcomes, it is difficult to keep the balance in place all of the time. Washing textiles involves 10 key factors, any of which can throw off the balance of cleanliness, wear life, electrical energy use, water use, gas use, finished appearance and, finally, cost!

Let’s examine each of them individually:

  • Soil Type — Wash loads are typically sorted by regular level or high-level soil, and by food oils vs. petroleum. Formulas for each are different. If an operator either mixes these sorts or uses the wrong formula, the outcome is non-cleanliness, staining and/or odor. The result is customer dissatisfaction and, many times, rewash. The idea that you would wash/process a textile twice for just one service is a complete overuse of energy, gas and water.
  • Textile Color — Most folks know that you shouldn’t wash blacks and whites and colors together, but textiles vary with mixed designs, so sorting for color is more important than in the past. If an operation washes a textile that might redeposit color from a dark to light portion of that textile or even the entire load, the outcome could result in stain- recovery rewash (or even textile replacement).
  • Textile Fabric Content — Formulas are written differently depending on fabric or composition (such as 100% cotton, cotton/poly blends, 100% poly, microfiber, rubber, etc.). If product is mixed or if formulation is misapplied, the outcome can be poor textile wear, unsatisfactory cleanliness, staining, color redeposition, lint redeposition, pilling and more. One of the results is rewash. Duplicated effort wastes resources, time and money.
  • Mechanical Action (Load Percentage Factor) — Some types of product, such as towels, allow 100% or more of machine capacity for the load. Others, such as uniform shirts, have proven best results at 70%. If a machine is under-loaded, the result will typically be textile wear. If a machine is overloaded, the result will typically be poor cleaning. This results in rewash.
  • Water Level — If the formula for a specific textile type calls for a low level and the machine is either programmed incorrectly or is incorrectly putting in high level at that step, the result is diluted chemical mix. If the load step is calling for high level on a flush step, and the machine can only deliver low level (due to misprogramming, malfunction, or water supply), the outcome can result in poor cleanliness, redeposition and even fiber loss. Any of these issues typically result in rewash but also textile replacement.
  • Water Temperature — Water delivery to the wash aisle can vary, depending on equipment, capacity, weather and timing. If a formula calls for 160 F, and your water delivery is over capacity or the steam-up is slow, a ma-chine will simply “vamp” while it waits … wasting valuable electrical energy. If your water heating (whether boiler, direct-fire water heater or combination) is too small to keep up with your flow capacity, the wash floor will simply spin while waiting for water to either arrive or to reach temperature.
  • Water Quality/Softness — If you are lucky enough to get your city water “soft,” this may not have effect. But most plants have to soften their water. Hard water can cause all sorts of issues, from tinting to ineffective cleaning, bleaching and odor. This, of course, results in rewash. On the other hand, water treated too soft simply wastes electrical energy in the process.
  • Processing Time — This is one of the most mis-measured areas of our business. If your machines’ timers malfunction, if they are waiting for water due to capacity, if it takes longer than normal to steam up, or if your valves or drains are open or leaking, then the step times are affected, causing major electrical energy and water misuse. Additionally, if your formula step times are written to be most cost-effective (short), the textiles will not be clean, again causing rewash.
  • Chemistry — Our industry focuses so much on cost that we sometimes compromise the chemistry. In some cases, cheaper chemicals may get you lower cost for that load, but if you have to rewash a good percentage or if you have greater customer dissatisfaction, your costs are actually higher. Improper water level, water temperature and mechanical action can also contribute to bad chemistry, with the same result.
  • Weather — Many plant/production managers (especially those who have relocated to different climates) don’t realize that climate and humidity change can cause varying quality levels. This is particularly true on the dryer or finish floor, where gas is the driver. If the wash load isn’t extracted enough (because the weather got colder) and then hits the dryer floor with too much water in the textiles, your dryer operators may increase dryer time (gas usage) to compensate.
    Additionally, there are key areas of a production plant where energy, gas and water are potentially being wasted.
  • Dryers — Many textiles simply need to be conditioned before pressing. If over-dried, they will not press to an appropriate finish. This not only wastes gas on the dryer floor, but can also cause rewash, wasting the entire cycle of energy, gas and water. In some other cases, dryer malfunction due to poor maintenance can cause overheating or even basket flame impingement. This is one of most costly areas of wasted gas.
  • Steam Tunnel — Several of these machines are designed to take garments directly from the washer-extractor. Oftentimes, the tunnel speed and temperature are tweaked to compensate for moisture that could have been eliminated earlier in the process. When the temperature is too high, the textile, decoration/emblem and identification label can be damaged. Also, the tunnel may be underutilized if the dryer floor completely dries the product.
  • Ironer — Proper use of this finishing equipment is a cross between engineering, speed, temperature, maintenance, textile conditioning, quality expectations, people and weather. Any of these variables can save or waste energy or gas, increase or decrease quality, and directly impact labor costs.
  • Shirt Press — Whether executive or production presses, these units can deliver a much higher finish than a tunnel, but cost more in labor and resources to operate. If the unit is at temperature but running at a lower- than-standard rate, the result can be costly in steam (gas use) and labor. Additionally, overheated presses can cause costly emblem and identification tape issues and eventual replacement.
  • Boiler/Water Heater — Many boilers and water heaters in our industry are old. While they still operate well in terms of output, they may not have the energy or gas efficiency of new technology. Equipment companies can audit your equipment and offer you a comparison of current vs. future energy use.
  • Routing — As our industry has grown, and especially with consolidation, efficient routing has not been well maintained. Additionally, some market sectors require customer accommodations in the form of numerous runbacks. The assigned route typically handles these runbacks instead of the truck that may already be in that area on that day, causing fuel waste that many times goes unchecked.

On the positive side, there are alternative-fuel and electric vehicles available that offer efficient transport options, if the operator has the capital to invest.

Tuesday: Answers from the chemicals supply and long-term-care laundry sectors.Click here for Part 1.

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