CHICAGO — Halifax Linen Service Inc. provides laundry services for major medical facilities and large corporations, as well as small businesses, throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and surrounding areas.
That’s a lot of linen to take in, process and get back to the customers, and Preston McElheney, president of Halifax Linen, says the company is committed to supplying the products necessary to meet or exceed the industry standards expected in today’s professional business environments.
With so much linen being processed, how can the company stay on top of it all, make sure that production is on track and performed properly, and the goods get to the appropriate places? Real-time reporting.
“With real-time technology, we have access to what is needed, at all times, in a manner using the least amount of labor and manual intervention to pull data,” says McElheney.
“In a non-real-time world, the consequences of inefficiency or the unexpected are noticed when they impact the customer or laundry, or the next day after the costs or pain have been felt,” says Simon J. Allen, senior vice president at Spindle, a software management company. “Not to mention the inaccuracies of manually recorded, historical data.”
Simply put, real-time reporting technology is a flexible, simple solution that identifies and solves real-world problems, and the savings are real and can be large, says Bill Brooks, North American sales manager for UniMac.
“I’ve been in laundry for 27 years. I can go into a laundry and almost instantly find inefficiencies, (and) this system helps to identify them,” he says. “It helps the operator measure to correct—identify and correct inefficiencies is really what it’s about. If you can measure process, you can improve it.”
Joe Gudenburr, president of G.A. Braun Inc., says that real-time technology affords operations and management personnel the ability to capture a “real-time” and accurate snapshot of performance.
“This allows floor operators and management the ability to know how they are doing ‘live’ and make timely business decisions that positively impact the financial bottom line,” he says. “It also affords the ability to query information within critical reporting periods so that the facility can perpetually ensure they are meeting or exceeding their defined performance objectives.”
Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology, puts it this way: “Real time is allowing the management team access to data points they determine are critical to running their laundry operation. Whether it’s immediate production results or billing volume, it is available at the push of a button or visualized on screens or handheld devices or a printed report. Automating the process allows the operator to focus on key measurement, not data collection.”
Real-time technology provides actionable information that a worker within that system can use to modify their work to improve the system while in progress, according to Eli Cryderman, director of technical services for Gurtler Industries Inc.
“Thus, real-time technology allows for proactive process monitoring, control and adaptation where the process can be improved ‘on-the-fly,’ without having to wait for the process to be completed, which delays the improvement of the process,” he says.
Brad Thomas, systems architecture and programming with Textile Technologies, a software company that provides systems for textile rental operators, says that from the software developer standpoint, real-time technology is the integration of data across a laundry operation with carefully designed presentation focused on helping users make informed decisions on-demand.
“A perfect example of a recent software system we’ve written that utilizes real-time updates between the production floor, service department and office is our new OrderManager online order-filling system,” Thomas says. “This product can operate on traditional computers, tablets and smartphones to maximize flexibility and portability.”
He says the system draws on a common set of data but presents the information in different ways based on whether it is being used by a production worker, production management, route operators or office staff. It is real-time reporting that is intended to have carefully thought-out information presentation.
David Rinella, product manager of soil room systems at Colmac Industries Inc., says that real-time reporting is a time-critical display or collection of data in a predetermined amount of time that reflects the current operation of the device in which the software is integrated.
“Colmac’s products mainly display piece counts, productivity and error-condition messages,” he says. “Sometimes the data is further transmitted over a network in real time for access on managers’ PCs and for creating reports.”
At the machine level, says Gudenburr, this information is captured within the programmable logic controller (PLC). At the systems level, this information can be captured, stored and used via a data reporting system.
“Lavatec utilizes our OS-Air product that is built directly into our equipment’s control systems and software,” Ware says. “It is an optional package that the end-user determines what they want to control, observe and track. It is also web-based to allow it to be viewed from any iPhone, Android phone, iPad or tablet. This lets the manager or owner to be able to view their plant’s latest results from anywhere in the world they have Internet access.”
Allen says his company has a variety of methods that enable data to be extracted from state-of-the-art equipment to very old equipment, from any manufacturer.
“We start by looking to see if there is a data share that can be set up between the equipment or other software monitoring the equipment; this may include radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, bar codes, etc. If not available, we next try connecting to a PLC, then the equipment’s existing sensors, then via relay or connection to a mechanical piece of the equipment (e.g., air pulse or mechanical movement). Finally, we can recommend and install after-market sensors to get the information.”
He says that all of the information is integrated with the data collected via employee interaction with direct labor login stations. These stations track who is working where, on what and for how long, and relate that to task standards, performance percentages and a multitude of other data.
In terms of the software, Thomas says that the majority of the systems his company develops are “equipment-agnostic,” but the company works with equipment manufacturers to pass data back and forth as needed.
Laundry operations need to define what the critical metrics are that they want to measure and report on, both on a real-time basis and from a performance basis, according to Gudenburr. This will then dictate what equipment data needs to be captured and how it is to be presented to equipment operators and management staff.
“Data and timely access to it is very important if used wisely, and aligned with the key performance measures that drive the business,” he says.
Ware says that almost any piece of equipment can be set up, if the device has the ability to provide data through input-outputs on the software, or a manufacturer installs data collection pieces onto the equipment to provide information.
Check back Tuesday for Part 2, on efficiency and action.