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.”
This improvement is achieved, according to Joe Gudenburr, president of G.A. Braun Inc., because the reports help maintain pace in a plant and challenge operators to constantly improve.
“It helps define variances immediately so that action can be taken, and it affords decision-makers critical data that influences important business decisions,” says Gudenburr. “Without it, you are always reacting, and often reacting with bad information. Both result in a negative impact to the financial performance of the business.”
David Rinella, product manager of soil room systems at Colmac Industries Inc., says that management is able to react quickly and make faster decisions about critical production and downtime issues. Also, managers can make sure plant operations are operating normally at the present time.
“Charts and graphs are useful for summarizing data in a more understandable way to make quick reactions,” he says.
The obvious benefit, according to Brad Thomas, systems architecture and programming with Textile Technologies, a software company that provides systems for textile rental operators, is giving visibility to the current state of the laundry operation.
“What is not as obvious, however, is real-time reporting in the hands of a skilled manager allows them to spot trends that are important to improving operations and, in some cases, predict what is about to happen and stay one step ahead,” he says.
“Since integrating our plant with real-time systems, we were able to build a new system where production requirements daily are compared to our supermarket inventories by all stock-keeping units (SKUs),” McElheney says. “A SKU is then assigned critical minimum levels they are not allowed to fall below. We measure this threshold daily and place orders to our vendors based on this data rather than someone manually deciding what we may need.”
Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology, adds that by knowing production, products and customer data instantly, the laundry manager can react to the needs and demands of the operation.
“If you gather production data at the end of the shift, you cannot affect the efficiency or performance of that day’s operation, you can only react to the data the next day,” he says.
He also says that sometimes the performance of a plant is not related to employee performance, but the actual machine’s performance.
“If your real-time measurements display an anomaly, you can send engineering out to observe the machine and determine why it has not produced,” Ware says.
As an example, he relates an instance when a laundry was having problems with washdeck throughput and could not seem to improve the turnaround times. Formulas were checked and employee load/unload time was measured, but the amount of volume was not meeting the capacity of the washdeck. There was a software program that measured formulas, wash times and other key factors.
“It was not until they evaluated total time the washer was waiting for water that they discovered the issue,” says Ware. “When new equipment was added, the plant never enlarged the capacity for the water lines. When the measurements showed the washers were waiting on water and slowing the wash times by 15-25 minutes, that’s when they realized the problem was not operational but mechanical.”
New, larger water lines were installed and the washdeck began to meet its capacity goals. The information was in the real-time tracking system, but no one was looking at the correct information.
“Once they saw the data, it became a simple fix,” he says.
However, Ware notes that production tracking can be used for more than tracking “non-performance.” A real-time system can also help laundry managers recognize quiet performers who are exceeding goals.
“Most systems within our production operations are set up with real-time capabilities,” says McElheney. “At all times, production staff knows what requirements are needed to fulfill orders. Given the ever-changing dynamics of our business model, with last-minute orders, cancelled orders, etc., we are able to work quickly and efficiently as data determines what processes are required at any given time and not human, manual decisions.”
REPORT IN HAND, TAKE ACTION
But before managers can use the information to deal with machine issues or improve employee performance, they have to get their hands on the reports. How many measurements can real-time technology report on in a laundry operation?
Brooks says that his company’s program, TotalVue, can report more than 100 different measures in the laundry process. The issue is a matter of how the information is communicated and which one of those measures or what combination of those measures are important to laundry personnel.
Thomas says that with his company’s product, a laundry manager is able to pull up a single screen that shows orders that are running late, orders in the process of being filled and orders that are still in queue. Each order can be “drilled down” when the manager needs to see specifics on the processing of the order.
“The key concept is to provide an overview in a way that the manager can quickly determine if production is falling behind or keeping up at any moment during fulfillment,” he says.
“Information is key to the entire team, with the level of information for the specific job,” says Ware. “I had a system that showed the workers in real time on ironer production. If you were making production, your workstation was green, falling behind and your workstation was yellow. Poor performers were shown in red. The entire department could see this monitoring station. Those that were falling behind often picked up their pace to not be identified as not performing.”
Systems such as the one Ware mentioned have levels of access based on responsibility. But the more information you provide your team, he says, the better understanding they have of your company’s success and their role in that success.
Gudenburr says that access to reports is something that needs to be established by the management of the facility. He says that data and information can always add value, but it is important that the data and focus is on information that impacts the business.
“Simply supplying lots of data/information without any link to key performance measures has no impact on the business, and supplying the wrong information to the wrong groups only acts as a distraction from the priorities of the business,” he says.
Rinella says that about 20% of employees should have access to the information, which usually represents owners, managers, production supervisors and lead operators.
Thomas has a different view and says his company believes everyone in a laundry operation should have access to real-time information, whether it is in the front office, route operators or on the production floor.
“We believe this is critical at all levels of production,” McElheney says. “We display on large flatscreen displays critical load requirements, which updates every minute.”
Brooks says that his company’s program can provide different reports that can be assigned to
“Basically, we want the report to provide everyday solutions,” he says. “Let’s say you’re at the property level, then you’re responsible for just the operations of that property of the laundry process—a laundry manager at a hotel, for instance. We would give you reports that show how much production gets done and how much time and labor it takes to get that done. Quality reports that make sure that the temperatures are being met, the water fills are being met, the cycles are completed correctly.”
The goal, he says, is to provide simple snapshot reports so the operator in charge of the property’s laundry can get a quick vision and make sure everything is performing as it should.
“What we do is we assign the report, which can either be viewed online or just be e-mailed at a period of time, we assign a report to a user,” Brooks says. “We try not to have one user seeing all of those reports because that would be information overload. We’re trying to keep the vision only on what’s important to that customer.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on avoiding information overload and dealing with malfunctions.
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