CHICAGO — Sooner or later, many of our readers will be involved in either expanding their existing facilities, or constructing a new laundry plant from scratch. To give you a head start on such a project, we recently invited some high-level executives representing several segments of the industry to respond to some of the significant challenges that a laundry manager may face.
What are the areas in which the most common design mistakes may be made?
Bob Corfield, president, Laundry Design Group: Well before design, budgeting or utility planning mistakes are the most common planning mistakes. But within design, I have seen a lack of understanding on how to best utilize monorail storage systems, and most critically, integration between systems in relation to automation. Both of these mistakes can be fatal to achieving production and subsequently the financial goals of a project. Choosing a highly productive tunnel system that requires two batches for dryer loading efficiency, and is matched to a soil monorail system with limited bag pairing, can impair plant productivity and efficiency. Fixing this issue after startup is very expensive.
Meeraj Mehta, project engineer, American Laundry Systems: One of the most common design mistakes made is in the area of future growth capacity of the new plant. An inexperienced laundry designer, or even many operators, cannot foresee how much growth and how much flexibility should be planned in the plant design. The future growth has to be calculated and designed for every area of the plant. For example, just by keeping space for a future tunnel washer system in a plant is not going to take care of future growth. Associated finishing equipment such as ironers, small-piece folders or garment finishers also must be accounted for, or else the workflow will not be balanced. The material handling system such as monorail or sort system also must be sized to handle additional volume. The mechanical infrastructure should be sized to ensure there is enough water, steam, air, gas available to support future equipment, and also to make them work efficiently. Process water pumps, steam boilers, wastewater treatment system, utility pipe header sizing all must be properly designed to ensure it will support future equipment addition.
Another example is related to flexibility of the future plant. Take, for example, healthcare laundry. The future of healthcare is moving from bulk healthcare accounts to what we call “medical retail” business. The days of shipping a semitrailer full of laundry products to a big brick-and-mortar building are steadily diminishing. There is a big difference in how the bulk healthcare laundry products are processed and delivered to the customer, compared to the new medical retail clients. A new laundry plant design must account for these changes and must have flexibility to make the switch/change based on a changing marketplace or customer requirements.
David Bernstein, senior vice president, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services: More recent developments in 3-D design tools have made it much easier, more accessible, and less expensive to visualize the entire plant in 3-D space, allowing designers to consider clear heights, interactions of various systems, as well as optimized routing of utilities such as plumbing and electrical. We now have the ability to take a virtual tour of an entire facility in full color and three dimensions, inside and out, before a single shovel is turned, in order to make certain that every aspect of the plant has been considered and to ensure against costly change orders during the construction process.
Another area of concern, especially in today’s smaller footprint facilities and on-premises designs, is to consider how equipment will be changed out when the time comes to do so. Consider rigging paths, ingress and egress locations, utility connections and disconnections, and all aspects of equipment replacement. Doing this now, instead of when the time comes for your new equipment to reach the end of its useful life, will save considerable time, money and gastrointestinal distress.
Ed Kwasnick, director of business development, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co.: One of the most common mistakes I see is leaving inadequate space for soil receiving and clean shipping. Carts, soil bags and slings require space – whether on the floor or in the air. The inability to store soil products in an efficient, effective manner at the beginning of the production process causes bottlenecks that slow down the entire plant. Inadequate space in clean storage at the end of the process can cause its own set of problems, including inefficient packout, prolonged vehicle load times and even loading errors. Other design errors include insufficient space around equipment for proper maintenance access, not providing designated aisles (for employees to easily and safely access break rooms, rest rooms, equipment, and exits), providing inadequate space and planning for future growth.
David Chadsey, managing director, Laundry-Consulting.com: In my nearly 30 years in the industry, the most significant design mistake I see is in compatibility between machines within the plant. It is not uncommon to see dryers paired with washloads that are not compatible. Although you can process 200 pounds of goods in a 400-pound dryer, there is a better way.
Incompatible machines increase the cost of labor and utilities and result in reduced production throughput.
The components in a flatwork line also should be production-compatible. It doesn’t matter how fast an ironer can process if you can’t get the goods fed in at the same rate.
What are the differences between original plant design and an existing plant design?
Mehta: This is a classic example of a below-par designed plant and poor prediction of future needs. The original plant design is what the plant was supposed to do when running at full capacity. It had a certain amount of equipment, certain workflow and certain performance requirements that were factored in at the time of design. The existing plant design is the plant that is changed to meet today’s needs. The workflow is nonexistent, the performance criteria are thrown out the window and equipment has been added, removed, relocated and altered to meet current needs. It’s a bandage that will keep the plant operating and meeting customer needs for the time being. It’s a reaction to changing needs rather than a well-thought-out solution.
Bernstein: Planning for an entirely new facility allows the new operation to be designed from the inside-out, ensuring the most efficient use of space and layout of equipment. By understanding and formulating the processes that will be involved in the operation of the new facility, and understanding the current and future equipment, staffing and infrastructure needs, we can then design the entire building around these elements. In this way, we are able to minimize the amount of wasted space (“using the cube”), while ensuring that we’ve designed a safe, productive, efficient and sustainable operation.
The renovation of an existing facility, on the other hand, can be fraught with its own particular challenges, especially in maintaining productivity, efficiency and safety during the renovation process. In these cases, operators need to be sure to include careful pre-planning of construction, utility upgrades, equipment arrival, rigging, installation, and start-up schedules in order to have as limited an impact as possible on the existing operation.
In some cases, operations are able to continue without interruption through the installation of parallel systems while existing systems continue to operate. In other cases, it is possible to remove equipment on a Friday night, for instance, and have the new machinery in place and ready for operation first thing on Monday morning. When you’re under that kind of time pressure, taking the time to plan in advance provides a welcome measure of solace and comfort.
Kwasnick: The biggest difference is a new plant design can be customized to meet the exact needs of the end-user, while converting an existing building into a new laundry always requires some level of compromise. An existing building may have ceilings that are lower than desired, delivery vehicle access on only one side, or the column spacing is narrow in one or both directions. You must modify the design to accommodate these existing conditions, which may impact the efficiency, productivity and capital cost of the project. A build-to-suit plant design does not begin with any pre-existing building conditions. It’s a blank page that can be molded to meet the exact needs of the customer. Offices can be located on the ground floor, on a second floor or both. Main utilities can be designed to enter the building at any point that is deemed best. Production flow can be U-shaped, L-shaped or straight line, depending on the wants, needs and preferences of the end-user.
Chadsey: Existing plant design for large projects can have hidden problems. This is where a team of laundry experts really can help in identifying all of the contingencies before going forward.
New plants can be more difficult to visualize for some clients. It is easier to show in an existing plant that a certain production area is going to be 50% larger. In a new plant design, understanding what 40,000 square feet looks like and why it is so important to have open staging space within the design is difficult for some to comprehend, especially those not involved in day-to-day laundry operations.
Corfield: Original concept vs. as-built-and-operating occurs when designs are modified after the plant is running a short period. When I have seen this, it has been the result an underperforming system or very poor functional assessment phase of the design process.
Years ago, a healthcare plant was built with a cart wash system designed for 250 carts per day, but in reality the system could not reliably achieve that demand week in and out. No other vendors would agree to the production standard. The vendor chosen could not meet the demand specified. Therefore, the system was taken out and replaced with a manual system, thus impacting labor, workflow and costs. The cart system was crippling the plant’s ability to meet daily demand.
What are the key budget factors that often are underestimated?
Bernstein: With proper planning and the guidance of someone experienced with planning and building a new facility, it should be possible to take costly budget surprises and expensive change orders out of the picture. Too often, however, we see owners who manage the entire process from start to finish on their own. In their attempt to save money, they often fail to consider some of the most costly “gotchas” that can crop up in any project.
It is rare for us to encounter an owner or general manager who hasn’t thoroughly investigated the capabilities and costs of laundry processing equipment, mechanical and process water systems, and the other common elements of a laundry. Too often, however, operators are so focused on equipment and processing systems that they don’t take into consideration other important issues that can dramatically affect project cost. Some of these costly surprises include fluctuations in steel costs (e.g. in the costs for steel buildings, steel support structures, floor-supported monorail systems, etc.), the expense involved in cutting floor trenches and pits, plumbing and electrical costs, or even local requirements for landscaping and drainage. All of these can result in expensive surprises with the capability to cripple a project.
Kwasnick: Here’s my list of items that are very often underestimated or missed completely:
- Utility impact fees.
- Architecture and engineering design.
- Interior and exterior building work not directly related to the laundry process (i.e. roof repairs, fire sprinkler system, outdoor signage, landscaping, paving repairs, painting, carpet, drop ceiling, lighting, etc.).
- Making an existing building ADA-compliant. Includes retrofitting building access and rest rooms.
- Process piping and electrical work related to the equipment (i.e. steam, compressed air, water, natural gas, etc.).
- Control wiring – Today’s automated laundry equipment requires more control wiring between systems as well as runs to central computers in the office.
- Production floor coating or diamond polishing.
- Carts – They are more expensive than people think.
- Man lift – Most new plants need a man lift to access rail systems, overhead piping, lint fans, etc.
Chadsey: A well-planned facility is one that takes into account all of the key budget figures. This ties back to the question of who should be involved. Construction will know their numbers, equipment professionals will know theirs, and operations people will understand what outsourcing may be required. Having a deep team and not relying too heavily on one source will minimize the bad surprises that can result from underestimated budget factors.
The period of time between start-up and full production sometimes seems to take longer than anticipated. Vendors should be given the required time to meet their scope requirements, then held accountable to meet the schedule. If additional outsourcing becomes necessary, this could end up being a big number.
Corfield: Whether you are building a new plant or retrofitting an existing plant or building, construction costs and utility timelines and fees are grossly underestimated. When poor budgeting occurs, two things are affected:
- If the project proceeds and no further funding is allocated for the newly discovered project costs. Therefore, compromises are made in construction and equipment selection to accommodate the loss in funding. This can have a dramatic impact on plant financial performance.
- Confidence in the management team that made the mistake is often unrecoverable. I have seen key managers depart projects following the discovery of such planning and budgeting mistakes.