Plant Design: Getting Back to Basics (Part 1)


The extensive monorail system in the Zischka Textile plant near Frankfurt, Germany, demonstrates an excellent use of material handling. The plant has a primary focus on healthcare and hotel work. (Photo: Laundry Design Group)


Good design requires the involvement of many specialties. Chemical suppliers should be on board to confirm appropriate location, square footage and utility requirements for dispensing equipment. (Photo:


The E-Tech soil sort system at Hospital Laundry Services features a new section that uses the latest load-on-rail technology to sort the high-volume soil products. (Photo: ARCO/Murray)

Mike Schwanz |

Identifying key personnel; analyzing average design process

CHICAGO — Sooner or later, many American Laundry News 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.

Identify the key personnel who should be involved in the plant design process.

Ed Kwasnick, director of business development, ARCO/Murray National Construction Co.: The management team needs to be involved in the initial planning phase. These are the end-users—the folks managing the production process, loading and unloading delivery vehicles, performing route check-in, answering customer calls. This is the team that will be working in the new plant. With their input and feedback, the plant design can be customized to meet their needs.

Then, you need somebody who can guide the team down the proper design path and facilitate the design process. This design facilitator can be a preferred equipment provider, a design/build contractor with laundry expertise or a laundry consultant. Regardless, facilitators need to have in-house design expertise, extensive design experience and a track record of success. They need to develop an efficient design that is cost-effective from both an operations and capital investment perspective. However, they also need to “keep the ball rolling” during the design phase to ensure the design is done in a timely manner.

David Chadsey, managing director, Everyone involved in the supply, implementation and operation of the laundry should be involved in the design process. Every project needs a leader, someone to keep the train on the rails. But too often, laundries are designed by a vendor, consultant or manager without the benefit of insight from all parties.

Although a qualified in-house or independent consultant might be the best coordinator, at some point the project should be reviewed by finance, senior laundry management, plant engineering, laundry supervisors, the chemical representative, equipment vendors and construction.

Going forward with a project without input from a wide range of specialists can result in poor design or a gold-plated plant that gets chopped by finance at the 11th hour.

Bob Corfield, president, Laundry Design Group: The plant owners or key stakeholders should agree and be present for the design goals and long-term vision of what the plant needs to accomplish in both output and financial performance. They should sign off on the project budget, timelines and projected operating profile to accomplish a viable return. They should set the tone for the expectations for the project for their team.

Plant operations (COO, GM, and production managers) need to be front and center for a critical discussion on what elements the plant will possess to meet the operating and performance goals. Their input in workflow, automation tolerances, packaging and benchmarking will be invaluable.

Engineering and maintenance needs a full buy-in on their ability to support the design and systems being considered. They also need to advise their service requirements, space and access needed to perform service and input into technologies being considered.

Meeraj Mehta, project engineer, American Laundry Systems: Besides the owner, a high-ranking person from the operations department should be involved; that person usually oversees both the production and maintenance departments. His input will be critical since they will be running the plant and living with the design for the lifetime of the plant. The key to a successful design is excellent workflow between every department, which minimizes the product handling, and good access to equipment for schedule and preventive maintenance. Once the design is finalized, people from the safety and human resources departments should be involved; they will help with proper egress plans, ensuring there are enough bathrooms and water fountains spread throughout the plant, better access to PPE and other safety equipment in case of emergency.

If the question is key personnel involvement on the vendor/supplier side, there is a long list of people from equipment supplier to chemical vendors to industrial engineers.

David Bernstein, senior vice president, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services: When it comes time to design a new facility or to renovate an existing one, you’ll be hiring and relying upon a gaggle of experts—including laundry consultants, architects, design-build firms, structural engineers, civil engineers, etc.—whose input is very important, but it is equally important that you involve as many potential internal stakeholders as possible in order to ensure that the resulting plant meets the needs of your entire operation, not just production.

Common sense dictates that this includes the owner, general manager, and plant operations personnel, but there are a number of other departments and personnel to consider. We would argue that every department in your organization should be included in the plant design process in order to build in as many improvements in process as possible.

For example, the service department is not always consulted on the design of a new plant, but as the customer-facing side of your operation, its input can be critical. Not only will it want to have input on such key considerations as the location and configuration of truck docks, service department offices, and truck maintenance shop, it also has important insight on specific customer requirements and needs that need to be fulfilled by the new facility. Your customer service managers are attuned to certain common customer requests that they may have been unable to fulfill due to constraints of your existing location, but that can be accommodated with some creative thinking and problem solving in your facility-design process.

Involve your entire staff in the plant design processes and ask them their opinions on designs, solutions, equipment, etc. Just as your experience can aid the professionals you’ve brought in to assist in the technical details, the experience and opinions of ground-level team members oftentimes result in some of the most innovative solutions.

Describe the average design process, from start to finish.

Chadsey: The best place to start is with an eye on where you want to finish. What is the goal for the area of production or plant as a whole? Many designs are driven by production volumes that need to be met. Others are utility-oriented, with water or energy consumption as primary goals. Labor criteria also can be a core component of the final product.

With a project’s goals identified, specifications are developed to meet target criteria. Space constraints, budget and timelines can be as significant to a project design as production and efficiency. At each step in the design process, everyone involved should sign off on the progress to date.

Corfield: The following steps should be completed:

  • Functional assessment of the project needs and requirements.
  • Determine the design goals.
  • Development of different options for consideration with a high-level budget and possible ROI analysis (retrofit existing operations, build new facility from existing building, build from greenfield site new construction, etc.).
  • Choose an option and refine your budget and project costing based on that decision. Create two to four scenarios (level of expected automation, phased approach or full-build models, etc.).
  • Get financing approval for the project based on option selected.

Assuming that a site is selected for your project, approvals for utilities are in place, building permits are completely understood and any zoning issues are resolved, then: 1) make a working design within the constraints of the financing; 2) develop the production equipment lists; 3) develop the mechanical and process support equipment lists; 4) develop general construction scope of work for plant build; and 5) send the project out for competitive bid for all elements or use negotiated proposal for short vendor lists.

Mehta: Design process starts with a project feasibility study, to make sure the proposed project will satisfy the owner’s objective in a timely manner and is financially feasible. It also takes into account the long- and short-term goals of the project and its impact on existing condition.

The next step is to go ahead with actual design of the laundry, which can start by selecting the right building (for plant retrofit project), or selecting a good piece of property/land where a new building will be built. Many factors are considered in selecting the right building or property, such as current and future plant processing volume, budget, long-term plans, availability of all the utilities (water, sewer, electric and natural gas), availability of manpower, accessibility to right marketplace for short-term and long-term growth, logistics (access to major highways, etc.), type of laundry that will be processed, type of equipment that will be housed, etc.

Once the building/property is selected, create a detailed equipment layout and workflow design. Make sure all the equipment is in the right place, the laundry is moving efficiently between different departments and the people working have a safe, productive work environment. The process now moves from design to RFP process, where equipment and construction vendors are selected based on variable factors; contracts are negotiated and the budget is finalized. The next step involves actual construction or retrofit of the building, equipment installation, mechanical/electrical infrastructure setup and final utility connection. The final step is equipment start-up, commissioning, people training and follow-up visits during the warranty period to ensure performance guarantees are met and designed plant is meeting or exceeding everyone’s expectation.

Bernstein: Our design philosophy is driven by our background in industrial engineering, our training in Lean Six Sigma, our experience in working with hundreds of clients to build, renovate and improve their facilities, and our desire to build the safest, most efficient plants possible for our clients. This translates into a design process that begins with an on-site kickoff meeting during which we explore the client’s unique and specific vision for the new facility. We meet with the members of the project team at the client’s location to define the current product mix and future production requirements, identify the team’s vision for the new laundry, and define the project goals and budget.

We also tour the existing facility, looking for bottlenecks in production and learning about existing challenges that can be engineered out of the new facility. We also develop highly detailed “Value Stream Maps” of the current and desired process flows. These “Value Stream Maps,” along with “Affinity Diagrams” developed during group brainstorming exercises, are referred to frequently throughout the entire process to ensure that the team stays focused on the most important goals of the facility planning process.

We then embark on an intense data-crunching effort in order to develop a detailed production model for the new facility. These models tell us, in great detail, the number of employees, quantity and type of equipment, and utility consumption that will be required, not only on the day the plant opens, but for many years to come. Once the production model has been created, we develop multiple schematic layouts (plant designs), which, through an iterative and collaborative process with our clients, results in a final design that meets the current and future needs of the specific project at hand.

With the final design chosen, we provide our clients with a detailed opinion of probable cost, showing them an approximation of costs for such things as the new building; production, utility and process mechanical equipment; and installation and commissioning. The final design is then used to develop requests for proposal to be sent to contractors, design-build firms and equipment manufacturers.

Kwasnick: The process starts with a kickoff meeting to define the design criteria—plant capacity, product mix, equipment preferences, level of automation, site constraints, etc. Then, develop a preliminary design based on the information collected and reviewed during the kickoff meeting, reviewing the preliminary design with the team to solicit feedback. Then you develop a final design based on the team’s feedback and desired changes. The final design is reviewed with the team, and final revisions are made based on the team’s comments. During each phase you are honing the design, making it more efficient, more effective and more customized for the end-users’ needs. Once complete, provide that information to the project architects and engineers so they can develop permit drawings. These drawings are then submitted to the local building department for review and final approval.

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!

About the author

Mike Schwanz

American Trade Magazines


Mike Schwanz is a contributor to American Laundry News.


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