Plant Design Primer (Part 1 of 2)


Turn-Key Industrial Engineering
(Photo: Turn-Key Industrial Engineering)

Bruce Beggs |

Experts Assess Basic Laundry Project Characteristics, Reveal Latest Design Trends

CHICAGO — Your company is weighing its laundry services options, and pursuing a new plant is a possibility. So what should the average laundry manager know about plant design?

American Laundry News recently invited several engineering, construction and consulting firms with laundry services expertise to respond to some questions about this issue.

ALN: Is there a basic design template that will work for virtually any institutional, industrial or commercial laundry, or is each and every plant’s design unique?


All institutional, industrial and commercial laundries share certain common design elements (e.g. the need for washers, dryers, finishing equipment, etc.), but outside of those common elements, every laundry design is unique.

Laundry design is dictated by a wide variety of factors, including safety of production employees, the current and future product mix, throughput requirements, local regulatory constraints, and, of course, the budget.

There are certain situations in which a basic design template can be used successfully. Operators who have multiple plants processing essentially the same product mix have for years been successful at duplicating the basic design of a plant in other locations. In these situations, the engineering and design teams simply calculate the current and future production needs of the new facility, and scale the quantity of equipment and the associated building size to meet those needs.


If all the business conditions are the same or similar, yes, there can be a general template for design. Large national companies work hard to achieve this by staying highly focused on certain markets. But as the mix of work, type of customers, physical space and growth requirements or restrictions are considered, each plant takes on its own personality.


From 30,000 feet, the production flow and departmental functions for all laundry facilities are similar. They each receive soiled goods, sort the goods by classification, wash, dry, finish, store the goods for delivery, load the clean goods on vehicles, and deliver them to the customer. But that is where the similarities end.

Each laundry must be custom-designed to meet its unique needs based on these issues: type of goods (healthcare linen, hospitality linen, food and beverage linen, industrial garments, mats); rental vs. COG; manual vs. automated systems; single-shift vs. multiple-shift operation; high quality vs. high output; and project budget.

All of these factors must be carefully considered when developing a plant design, and the design must be customized to meet the needs of the operator and their customers.


No, there is not a basic design template that will work for all. Every plant is unique and has different needs. The design will be based on the work load, type of work to be processed, space available, processing needs, future growth, hours of operation, available utilities, local codes/restrictions and, of course, available budget.


Phillips and Associates follows a step-by-step flow diagram for laundry design projects: 1) develop the total annual processing load by pieces and pounds, 2) determine the number of operating hours per week, 3) determine the hourly production requirements, 4) determine space requirements, 5) develop equipment needs, 6) develop labor staffing requirements, 7) develop space cost, 8) develop equipment costs, 9) develop labor costs, and 10) develop a complete financial package: total capital costs, total operating costs, and two years of cash flow.

ALN: What factors dictate just how much square footage a laundry requires?


Again, it depends on the type of plant and whether or not it serves one customer (an in-house hotel or hospital) or outside customers, and is rental/pool linen or COG processing. If healthcare, do the end-users do bulk delivery, exchange cart, or a combination?

For healthcare, the best formula I have used successfully is 350-500 pounds per square foot, per single shift. So, a 14 million pound hospital plant would be about 38,000 square feet for production plus another 12-18% for employee spaces and offices (estimate 44,000 square feet). Space is also added for other processing types, such as operating room linen. You can project growth either through added processing (equipment) or more hours. Then adjust your building size requirements accordingly. Keep in mind that the best way to expand a building during design is sometimes up and not out to manage cost constraints for land or construction.


They include the level of automation, type of equipment, the number of shifts per day, operating days per week, clear height inside the building (low height means you are forced to use carts to work in process and move items from department to department; carts require space for staging and travel), and type of laundry (healthcare vs. industrial vs. hospitality vs. mixed).


Type of work to be processed, amount of growth that is estimated, hours of operation, and type of equipment that will be installed. The level of automation that any plant considers will also greatly influence the square footage needed. We at ALS believe in using the “cube” of any building. This cuts down drastically on the square footage needed to carry out the process.


Anyone who is involved with planning a laundry, whether it be in-house or a remote stand-alone facility, has to enter into the discovery process about all sorts of things. Among those discussion points are each of the items mentioned in my answer to the first question. Developing the total annual processing load and determining the operating hours per week and hourly production requirements must be done before attempting to determine space requirements. The driver to/of the entire process is development of the hourly production requirement. Once that number has been determined, everything beyond that point becomes self-evident.


Unless a client already has an existing building in mind for their new facility, we believe that the right way to design a new laundry is from the inside out. In other words, understand and formulate the processes that will be involved in the operation of the new facility; understand the current and future equipment, staffing and infrastructure needs; and then design the building around these elements. In this way, we are able to minimize the amount of wasted space, while ensuring that we’ve designed a safe, productive, efficient and sustainable operation.

ALN: If an institution or business designing a laundry is eager to take advantage of the latest laborsaving and resource-conserving technologies, what might some of them be?


Tunnel washer technology; high-speed thermal ironer systems with high-production feeders, folders and stackers; soil and clean monorail system (automated or hybrid systems); and smart conveyors will be some of them. The “steamless” concept is also one that should be closely looked at. Having been a big proponent for many years and having now built four steamless or “less-steam” plants, we feel that is a huge resource/energy conservation idea. The advent of wide presses has also had a large impact on the energy conservation ideas in our industry.


Here’s a list of old tried-and-true technologies that continue to prove their worth: heat reclaimer, stack economizer, water reuse system, and water recycle system.

And here some of the newer technologies to consider: high-efficiency modular boilers, self-contained thermal ironers, wide ironers, new tunnel washer technology that uses less water (aka Milnor’s PulseFlow), RFID technology, production tracking systems, press-to-dryer rail system (provides additional buffer storage between the tunnel press and dryers, and allows you to use fewer dryers), automated bagging machines, and automated wrapping machines.


Without going into a lengthy, drawn-out discussion, some of the thoughts our firm delve into are:

1. What type of productivity does the owner want to achieve?

2. What is the owner’s desire in designing a new plant? Stated another way, what is the “hot button” desired by the owner?

3. If it is a reduction in linen losses, then discuss RFID. If it is a reduction in utilities, then discuss 80% water reduction. If it is to reduce the number of accidents, then discuss material-handling systems. Just about every conceivable idea becomes a discussion point and something to serve as a goal.

4. In this time of LEED, then discuss with the owners the power of conserving energy via the building envelope.


Some of the most significant innovations in equipment over the past decade or so have come from Europe, where the cost of labor continues to skyrocket. Examples of laborsaving technologies include highly automated wash rooms, garment auto-sortation systems, load-on-rail soil sortation, RFID technology, and remote ironer feeding/queuing. As might be expected, an added benefit of using these technologies is an increase in employee health and safety, as well as increases in quality, accuracy and productivity.

Among gas-saving technologies are high-efficiency boilers, modular boiler systems, direct-fired hot water heaters, better extraction technologies to reduce the number of dryers and dry times, and the wide variety of heat reclamation technologies, including those that reuse heat from wastewater.

Another such technology, so-called “steamless” plants, is one that has gained a lot of attention over the past couple of years. The idea is to eliminate the need for steam, and therefore boilers, to heat water, ironers and other finishing equipment. When properly applied under the right circumstances, the energy savings can be striking.

Every wash room should be planned with an eye toward water reuse; this goes for conventional and tunnel washers. And don’t forget the fleet. There are a wide variety of energy-efficient vehicle technologies that should be considered, including EV, hybrid-electric, hydraulic-hybrid, diesel hybrid, and natural gas power plants, and composite or plastic bodied vehicles.

We should note one important caveat. Every situation is unique, and before a technology is applied or specified, we strongly recommend the performance of a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that there is a return for every investment. There is a wide range of technologies available, each with its own “gee whiz” and “coolness” factors, but what works in one operation may not necessarily meet the needs, requirements or vision of another.


This would include any machine or system that reduces the number of “touches” required in packaging, finishing or transporting product. So, conveyors (belt or rail), pickers, auto strapping/wrapping, auto sorting, and stack transport systems are all high-value considerations.

Resource conservation should be a goal, but should not compromise production or quality. Wastewater heat recovery is essential, new high-efficiency dryers can use half the energy of old dryers, and if you have a tunnel, then upgrading your press is a great decision.

ALN: What effect does the type of goods that a laundry processes, or is going to process, have on the plant’s design?


It has a tremendous effect on laundry design because it affects the type, size and location of equipment. Traditional linen products (e.g. tablecloths, napkins, sheets, pillowcases, etc.) are handled differently than industrial goods (e.g. uniforms, mats, shop towels, etc.). Soil processing for linen requires dedicated soil-count and soil-sort systems that are highly efficient at separating and counting linen pieces. This is typically not the case for industrial goods.

Linen plants can use tunnel washer technology with an extraction press, where industrial or mixed facilities with tunnel washers will typically use centrifugal extractors. Garments require steam tunnels and presses for finishing. However, linen is finished on an ironer or folded after drying. Flat goods are folded and placed in carts for storage and delivery. Garments are placed on hangers and placed on rails or trolleys for storage and delivery.

Large linen plants with tunnel washers and steam ironers require large boilers and mechanical rooms for those boiler systems. Plants that process only mats require hot water for washing, but no steam. Therefore, they don’t need boilers or traditional boiler rooms.

Healthcare plants also need to comply with new guidelines for soil/clean separation, airflow requirements, PPE requirements and other issues that non-healthcare plants do not need to address in their plant design.

Rental plants can process large batch sizes due to consolidation of like goods, while COG plants must process in smaller batches as they strive to keep customer products separated. Large vs. smaller batch sizes will determine the type and size of washroom equipment as well as flow through the finishing department.

As you can see, all of these issues have an impact on space, production flow, and plant design. And these examples barely scratch the surface.


The type of goods being processed is an extremely important factor in determining the design and requirements of every new plant. Prior to putting pen to paper (or mouse to AutoCAD, as it were), there needs to be a detailed analysis of the products and associated volumes to be processed at start-up and at a future point in time. Every single classification, no matter how small the volume, needs to be included in this data-collection phase so that a laundry capacity analysis can be created and used to determine the new facility’s requirements for equipment, space, staffing and infrastructure.


Healthcare plant vs. hotel plant design can be somewhat similar, with healthcare having 5-15 times more classifications to process. But healthcare is considerably more complex.

General linen (F&B, kitchen), industrial uniform, medical retail, and dust control all have elements that make their designs unique. All have a scale of volume for certain classes of linen or uniforms that makes sense for certain types of automation, washing or waste treatment. Each will also have specific compliance and regulatory issues that can impact design as well.


Type of goods that a laundry process has everything to do with plant design. It dictates what kind of equipment is required, type of work flow, overall building height, amount of space required at the soil and clean sides, physical separation requirements, etc. For example, an F&B/mixed plant will need a lot more soil-sort classification compared to a hospitality/linen plant. A healthcare plant will need soil/clean separation while a linen or F&B plant will not.


Essentially that is one of the very first questions that must be discussed and resolved. If an end point cannot be reconciled on that point, then all other discussion points comes to a halt.

Tomorrow in Part 2: Renovation vs. building new; the biggest challenges; latest trends; and some final nuggets of wisdom

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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