OMAHA, Neb. — Angie McGee, the owner and CEO of Spin Linen, recently realized her dream to upgrade and modernize the company’s processing facility. The manual and labor-intensive operation started in 1932 and purchased by her father and grandfather in 1979 is now a modern, efficient plant.
McGee recognized that for her business to compete in the ever-expanding healthcare market in the region, she would need to reinvest. Modern, more efficient wash room, finishing and material-handling equipment were all evaluated during the critical decision-making process.
FINDING THE ROOM
She enlisted the assistance of American Laundry Systems (ALS), and the project presented the commercial laundry design/mechanical contracting firm with some challenges.
First was to find room in an already crowded and cramped facility. The simple answer was to build an expansion and make that area the starting place for the retrofit, but ALS quickly concluded that it wasn’t financially feasible (with building/expansion costs in the $75-$100 per square foot range), and that dealing with the City of Omaha could be difficult, especially considering Spin Linen’s proximity to a nearby bridge. Having to add parking spaces to bring the facility up to code, along with the building expansion issues, led ALS to look at other alternatives.
By adding/expanding to a more modern sorting deck with additional overhead storage for customer bags and sorted soil classifications, ALS was able to find the room to expand the wash room. The firm’s design changes would allow Spin Linen to use the “cube” (height as well as length and depth), and so ALS went to bid with material-handling vendors for additional monorail storage and superstructure. With the help of Bobco Systems, ALS completed that part of the design so that it could start reorienting the various pieces of equipment in the plant.
ADDING A TUNNEL
A local on-premise laundry in a nearby hospital had closed its doors just prior to the project/design phase, and its equipment became available for purchase. With ALS’ help, McGee negotiated a deal with hospital administrators. ALS “de-rigged” the facility and placed the equipment into warehouse storage. Part of the equipment package was a Milnor CBW® system with hydraulic press, shuttle and batch dryers. Only one existing conventional washer was removed and replaced with the high-production tunnel system.
Adding a tunnel washer to a conventional plant brings different challenges. Smooth workflow to and from the tunnel is needed to avoid bottlenecks that could hamper its performance. ALS accomplished this by repositioning the entire finishing department. Turning the ironers and small-piece folders, along with using a common takeaway conveyor, helped bring work to a common/central area for cart makeup.
Turning the ironers 90 degrees created enough space between them and the tunnel dryers to efficiently stage work behind the feeders. This also reduced cart pushing and associated labor.
Adding a tunnel washer meant that the plant’s wash capacity per hour would be increased. It had to be balanced on the finishing side with either equipment upgrades or additions so bottlenecks could be avoided. A small ironer was replaced with a larger machine and high-production feeders were added to keep up with the extra work coming from the wash room.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
When utility consumption was analyzed, it was determined that the plant’s steam, air and water demands had all increased. The existing steam boiler was replaced with a new, efficient boiler. Spin purchased a new air compressor, and the existing compressor was re-tasked as a backup or for use during high demand. The water softener was upgraded to ensure water quality would not be compromised by the added workload.
At the time of the retrofit, the process water system was already taxed by the earlier addition of larger conventional washers for which it was not designed. The plant would need bigger water and sewer lines to keep up with the added workload, resulting in huge project costs due to impact fees and other charges. This challenge was answered by using bigger buffer tanks for process water and better controls to keep the water demand balanced during the work cycle.
Spin Linen purchased a refurbished TEA process water tanks and pump set to project costs down. With TEA’s help, and some new parts, the system was as good as new.
After reviewing the existing Kemco wastewater system, it was decided to keep the hardware (wastewater pump, heat exchanger, four-way valves, etc.) but upgrade controls. The new Kemco controls ensured the tanks didn’t overflow, and the heat exchanger and energy reclamation system worked properly to extract useful Btu out of wastewater to keep the system in a steady state.
The synergy of the TEA-Kemco process water system worked well, ALS says. The larger pumps and larger process water lines to the wash room reduced fill time at the washers and improved equipment efficiency. All new utility headers (water, steam, steam return, and air) were engineered and installed by ALS to meet the new demand as well as future growth.
CART WASHER CHALLENGE
Another challenge in converting the linen plant to do healthcare work was to add a cart washer. Why? Because the same building footprint that has added a new tunnel washer, shuttle, hydraulic press, four batch dryers, larger control panel, larger ironer, a feeder, process tanks, water softener and an air compressor would have to accommodate it without an addition/expansion.
The ALS design team was able to find a location where the cart washer would complement the overall plant workflow process and make sense. After consulting with Spin Linen’s management team, the ALS installation crew built a custom cart washer that cost 50% less than a conventional cart washer. The only downtime, less than 48 hours, was required to cure the concrete before the water was turned on, according to the company.
Overall, ALS designed and engineered the plant retrofit; assisted Spin Linen in equipment selection and negotiating equipment contracts; demolished and disconnected old/existing equipment; installed new equipment and relocated existing equipment; installed new mechanical infrastructure, new process water equipment, new boiler system and new tunnel washer system; and designed/built a new cart washer. The company provided complete project management and supervisory services, as well as coordinated all subcontractor activities and equipment deliveries.
Before the project, Spin Linen was processing 85,000 pounds of mixed linen per 40 hours at a rate of 2,125 pounds per hour (85-90 pounds per operator hour), ALS says. There was no room to grow or expand without adding work hours or a second shift.
Today, Spin Linen has a production capacity of 3,600-4,000 pounds per hour. Proper workflow design and better use of material-handling equipment has improved pounds-per-operator-hour performance. Energy efficiency is better thanks to the tunnel washer system, boiler and process system controls. And Spin Linen can now process mixed linen and healthcare linen under the same roof.
The entire retrofit project was completed for less than $1.2 million and without shutting down the plant.