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Portage, Ind., Home to Hilton´s Newest Centralized Laundry

PORTAGE, Ind. – Hilton Hotels Corp. has opened its third centralized laundry, Meritex Portage, which provides laundry services to Hilton-branded hotels in the Chicago area.
The new plant replaces the workhorse in-house centralized laundry that was located on the fifth floor of the Hilton Chicago, says Mark Lindbloom, Hilton Hotels’ corporate director of laundry operations. That laundry is perhaps best known as the setting for the climax of Harrison Ford’s 1993 film, The Fugitive.
After many years of laundry service at the Hilton Chicago, Hilton Hotels chose not to replace the aging equipment there. Instead, it was decided to relocate the centralized operation off-site – returning the much-needed space at the Hilton Chicago to hotel operations for revenue-generating meeting rooms – and pursue a building design with the space necessary to improve efficiencies as well as handle the new high-end linens the Hilton hotels utilize.'RECORD TIME'
The original Meritex located in Piscataway, N.J., and the Doubletree Central Laundry in Portland, Ore., are fully-owned subsidiaries of Hilton Hotels that provided Portage’s project managers with valuable models for establishing policies, procedures and design.
Hilton Hotels’ decision to create Meritex Portage is unique in itself, Lindbloom says, considering that the corporation has recently been selling off many of its fully owned properties. He designed the plant in Portage, which is roughly an hour’s drive southeast of downtown Chicago, depending on the amount of traffic.
Hilton green-lit the Indiana project in late 2004, and Lindbloom says solid communications and the assistance of laundry equipment vendor Jensen USA and building owner and construction firm Holladay Properties made it possible to open the plant in “record time.”
“From when the first floor support beam for the (Futurail) overhead monorail system was placed in the middle of May – a day after concrete was poured – to opening in September is incredible,” Lindbloom says. “We had all the union trades working along with the equipment vendor. It was not easy at times, as tempers sometimes got heated with everyone trying to do the job and trying to be on time with such a tight schedule.”
Lindbloom thanked the Hilton Supply Management Team for its help in facilitating supplier selection.
“Our job was to ensure that the supplier’s selection and implementation was conducted fairly and honestly,” explains Lance Hedges, purchasing and supply manager. “HSM is pleased to have been part of the project and is proud that its efforts helped bring this exciting project to fruition.”JENSEN IS PLANT'S SOLE-SOURCE VENDOR
Meritex Portage is equipped with some of the latest Jensen brand laundry equipment, including two 12-module, Universal-design, continuous-batch washers; 11 Senking dryers; two 450-pound L-Tron washer-extractors; five extra-working-width ironers (three sheet, one combination tablecloth/napkin/pillowcase/sheet and one small-piece; and six towel folders, all linked by the Futurail monorail.
The decision to select Jensen USA as the sole-source vendor was based on many factors, Lindbloom says, including price and design of its equipment, its ability to provide equipment on time and its ability to coordinate all companies working together.
Meritex Portage covers not quite 40,000 square feet of a 150,000-square-foot shared building and has first right of refusal on the adjoining space should there become a need to expand. Hilton sought specific building specifications of a 24-foot ceiling height, 2,000-amp electrical service, 8-inch effluent sewer line and 50 pounds of natural gas pressure (if needed).LINEN SERVICE FOR 2 MILLION
General Manager Jim Porrett brings more than 30 years of related laundry operation experience to Meritex Portage. “We selected Jim because of his proven track record and his experience starting up such an operation, as he had done in Rochester, Minn., for the Kahler Hotels and the Mayo Clinic,” says Lindbloom.
“It was a great opportunity to be selected for this position, to work for the Hilton Hotels Corp. and with the latest technology in laundry equipment,” Porrett says. “The startup has not been without its opportunities, but the Meritex team and the Jensen technicians have collaborated to make things work. Comments from the hotels have been extremely positive on the quality and quantities of the linen.”
The hotels that Meritex Portage services constitute a well-defined inventory of famous Chicagoland hotels: Hilton Chicago, Palmer House Hilton, Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport and the Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown-Lakefront. And this list will grow, as Meritex is processing laundry for slightly more than 4,500 rooms and taking on more business incrementally to adjust operations accordingly.
“On an annualized basis, we expect to process linen for 1.5 million to 2 million occupied rooms,” says Lindbloom, who marked his 15th year with Hilton Hotels Corp. in October 2005.
Meritex Portage is designed to process 25 million pounds of linen annually, operating with 10-hour shifts six days a week. It can process another 10 million pounds by increasing its hours of operation.
All told, Meritex will employ 70-80 team members in production, eight in maintenance and six in management.
Hours of operation are generally 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Soil sorting requiring less than a quarter of Meritex’s production staff starts at 6. Production on the finishing side starts at 7.
The plant’s mechanical workhorses are its two 350-hp Cleaver-Brooks boilers, two Ingersoll-Rand air compressors, a Thermal Engineering of Arizona heat reclamation system and two Culligan water softeners.
Ecolab’s Textile Care Division provides the plant’s chemicals. A bulk-loaded chemical system was installed with day tanks delivering product to the washing equipment, as the Tunnel Doctors provided their expertise.SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
Meritex works on a centralized pool of guest linen and food linen for its properties, Lindbloom says. There are 800 Meese Orbitron Dunne & Co. linen carts in use to transport the circulating inventory to and from the hotels.
“We do not have to separate one hotel’s linen from another,” he explains. “Shared, centralized items can be equally distributed and packaged. It’s less labor-intensive, and standards are maintained with the Hilton facilities.”
Allocations of all linens are evenly distributed via each hotel’s usage.
“The more you order, the more you’re going to get charged on your linen replacement costs,” Lindbloom says. “Linen requests are placed daily, and what they request is received on the same night. They’re never waiting to get back items they turned in.”
Meritex maintains 4  1/2 pars of guest linen in circulation, but a hotel can request no more than one par per day.
“We track the linen requests from the hotels,” Lindbloom explains. “We do not control the hotels in the way they use the linen, but Meritex management provides them with an analysis of what their usage per occupied room is.”
If linen is not available at the plant to launder, finish and ship, Meritex is sometimes left with no other option than to buy more. This is then billed back to the hotels based on usage.
A 16-camera surveillance system digitally records activity at all exits and in production areas in the spacious plant around the clock. “It gives the hotels a little added security to know their linen isn’t going out the door.”
Responsible for transporting linen along routes across the Indiana-Illinois border to Chicago, Meritex outsources delivery and collection to Connors Transportation Services.
“We’re in the laundry business and they’re in the transportation business,” Lindbloom explains. “We don’t have to deal with drivers, licensing, insurance, tractors or trailers.”
Meritex loads a trailer, generates a weigh bill for its accounting system and seals the trailer. All carts going out to the hotels are numbered, and a computerized label is generated at a hotel’s request.
In total, Meritex expects to ship between 70,000 and 80,000 pounds of clean linen daily, depending on its hotel customers’ occupancy levels.

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