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Sharpen Those Specs: Recipe for a New Flatwork Ironing System

Ken Tyler |

CHICAGO — Flatwork ironing systems have become the workhorse for healthcare and hospitality laundries around the world. When soliciting a new system, the following represents the basic requirements to keep in mind:

1. What space—height, width, length, etc.—do you have to accommodate a flatwork ironing system?

Such a system could feed goods to employees, plus include a feeder, the ironer, a folder/cross-folder for sheets, possibly a drape stack system for small pieces, a stacker for large pieces (sheets), and possibly a transverse conveyor that takes stacked goods from the stacker and places them on another conveyor (this device historically named The Gilmore could be the topic of a future column).

2. What are your existing energy components, and do you plan to use them?

What is your steam pressure at the ironer? Usually, 120 psi is the minimum expected. What about the steam temperature at the ironer? What are your electrical requirements, and what is your air pressure situation? Your specifications need to address all of these issues. Have you considered using other means for heating the ironer, such as thermal oil? If so, then you need to explore the cost benefits, space savings and production benefits these systems can offer.

3. What are the actual sizes and fabric mixes and weights of the items that you are processing?

This, along with the performance expectations you require of each, is one of the most important requirements. Don’t just say you want to process sheets and pillowcases; be explicit about their makeup. Do you wish to feed, fold and stack fitted sheets? When laundering, will the items be preconditioned in some fashion? If so, what amount of moisture will be removed, and will the goods come directly to the flatwork feeding area from washing and extraction?

4. Examine the state-of-the-art system controls.

These not only monitor production, steam and energy usage, but also can monitor all facets of the system operation (maintenance needs, etc.).

5. Examine new methods of exhausting and recovering heat from the ironer, as well as cleaning techniques that will permit the system to last for many years.

6. When you compute production needs, explore the various benefits of feeding.

How many FTEs (or full-time-equivalent workers) do you plan to use to meet your performance expectations? For example, could your feeding systems take two, three or four FTE to achieve the same production? Examine the ergonomic conditions that will face your employees during the act of feeding.

Finally, take a common-sense look at the feeding picture. Do sheets come in contact with the floor? Could an employee trip when feeding a sheet or any other item? If so, what other requirements can you insert in your specification to eliminate such possibilities?

While there is no scientific evidence available, the general concept of a sheet dragging on the floor before being fed into an ironer just doesn’t look good, and there have been situations in which OSHA and JCAHO have cited facilities for such conditions. Suppliers can provide remedies to eliminate this.

Once you have entertained each of these points, your specification should look like this (assuming you are purchasing one ironing system that will be used only for sheets):

1 flatwork ironing system that includes a system that feeds goods to the flatwork feeders (optional) consisting of _____ FTE; these FTEs will be able to feed 1,000 sheets per hour or 500 each. The system will be able to dry textiles 100% dry (with some small deviation) and to fold, cross-fold and stack these items in true dimension, 20 each, and convey these items to the linen accumulator.

After you conclude the FTE requirement, answer items 1-6 and address your specific expectations as they apply. Then add these provisions:

  • Use manufacturers’ representatives for installation.
  • Insist on a designated warranty.
  • Determine installation provisions and times available. Closely examine the need to roll away certain items for maintenance, i.e. feeders, stackers and folders. If required, have the manufacturer supply a method of achievement.
  • Require that you have on-call emergency service available from trained representatives within a specific time, i.e. no longer than 48 hours.
  • Make sure the company you are working with has training programs for operators and maintenance personnel.
  • Develop an inspection program.
  • Establish a payment program, such as paying 90% on delivery and the remainder once the system purchased is tested and meets your expectations.
  • Check past performance on all systems you plan to purchase.

About the author

Ken Tyler

Encompass LLC

Vice President of Government Operations, Encompass LLC

Tyler is the vice president of government operations for Georgia-based Encompass LLC, a manufacturer and marketer of woven and nonwoven products for the healthcare and hospitality industries.
But he may be best known for having managed the entire textile and laundry operations for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for 23 years. Earlier, he was the director of textile and uniform operations for the Department of the Navy, where he was responsible for all fleet and base laundry operations. He retired from the VA in 2000, ending 35 years of government service.
A decorated combat veteran, Tyler also retired from the U.S. Marine Corps with 27 years of total service.
Tyler planned and managed the design and construction of some 57 VA laundries and consolidated operations that resulted in cost benefits reaching $250 million. He established quality standards for laundry system inspections. He received numerous awards, including special recognitions from U.S. presidents.
Today, he remains active through his role with Encompass, and serves on the Government and Healthcare committees of the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) and an industry liaison group for the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES). He's also an industry adviser to the General Services Administration, a member of The Joint Commission's Environment of Care Industry Task Group and an advisory subcommittee member to the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC).

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