Sorting, Arranging for Better Efficiency (Conclusion)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“Every minute counts when working to produce clean linens in a timely fashion. How can simple sorting or arranging of items throughout production help to make the process more efficient?”

Healthcare Laundry: Michael Kirsch, CLLM, HCSC Laundry, Allentown, Pa.: 

michael kirschIn the commercial healthcare linen business, not all items are created equal, especially during the laundering process.

Soiled healthcare linens come in two basic wash categories: heavy soil and light soil. From the start of the laundering process to final finishing, all healthcare linen items require separation.

Wash formulas are based on the anticipated soil deposited on those linen items. Heavily soiled items such as operating room linens and incontinent care products require heavier wash formulas and laundering durations. Separation starts with the sorting and washing of items by not only category but by the specific items. Proper separation ensures that the wash process successfully removes soil and creates the products we serve our clients and their patients—hygienically clean linens.

From the wash chemistry and laundering process to the drying segment, specific formulas, durations, dryer temperatures and drying times are closely monitored by laundry managers on an ongoing basis to ensure that proper laundering occurs.

Textile composition is a key factor in this entire process. The move toward higher-polyester blends, and in some cases 100% polyester, has had a huge impact on separation and the wash process. In the healthcare linen business, there are basically 10 bed- or patient-linen items that make up the bulk of the items used by hospitals and outpatient clinics. While in reality there may be hundreds of items served, these basic patient-linen items are generally sorted, laundered, processed, counted and packed separately from most other linen menu items.

During the production and management process, a “needs” list is often used to help manage the internal movement of linens from washing through to the final stages of each individual account’s packing process. Again, it’s important that separation of linen by item carries on. Separation actually carries on well beyond the laundry plant’s walls and delivery carts, eventually coming to an end once again where it all began—with the patient. 

Commercial Laundry: Richard Warren, Linen King, Conway, Ark.: 

richard warrenThere is nothing more important to production than making sure no worker runs out of work. It’s more important than individual speed, IQ, arm length or worker flexibility and endurance. 

Anytime workers run out of work, they have the opportunity to run errands of a personal nature, or to come up with a theory about why the work stopped flowing, or may have to go check with a supervisor about what to do next. This may seem very minor, but it’s disruptive, and therefore not minor at all.  

Managers need to develop a system where no one has to go looking for something to do—ever. Supervisors need to implement that system and tweak it when necessary. When production workers are doing anything else, their production comes to a halt. There is nothing worse for the process.   

With all of that said, sorting is simple but important. If possible, wash only full loads. If there isn’t enough linen of one category for a full load, then mix it. 

Keep in mind that even a “mis-sort” is distracting. Someone is going to have to sort it at some point. It isn’t productive to have your gown folder pull the scrubs and the baby blankets from the gowns, or the washcloths from the towels, or the draw sheets from the full sheets. Post-sorting went out years ago, and for good reason.  

Clean work going to the folders needs to be ready for the folding staff, so there is no need for them to slow down or go get it. If there is a cart or a sling that needs to be moved, assign that task to someone who is not running a folder. If you use bags, ties, covers, tacky wrap, etc., those items need to be where the staff doesn’t have to swim upstream to get to them. 

Do you have a position or two in your plant that isn’t dedicated to a sole machine—a dryer operator, perhaps? Is it possible to use that position for moving things around that need to be relocated?  

The same principle applies to the soil-sort room. The drivers or the personnel bringing the soiled linen down can put the carts in the order you need, so the soiled-room staff does not need to rearrange the work or hunt for specific items or equipment. They must be able to work on what is in front. 

Workers on the wash aisle need some dependable order in their storage area. Usually their work is positioned by others, but however it’s done, it must be consistent. These workers are usually creative and can find what they need under adverse circumstances, but why not ensure they can work more productively?

All decisions should be made by management ahead of time. Workers should never have to make a judgment or decision, and shouldn’t have to wait on management to make up its mind. Management should anticipate possible situations and preemptively determine what should be done.  

If you’ve made it through a crisis with less-than-stellar results, find out what happened and why it went so badly. Decide how it will be handled in the future. We all know it will happen again. If we are prepared, we can keep the production workers producing and not waiting for us to figure it out once more.

When the shipping department workers prepare the finished work for distribution, they should organize it in the most advantageous order for the next handlers. If that works, you’ll be surprised at how cooperative you will find the staff bringing the soiled back to you. Everyone has a vendor, and everyone has a customer. If that fact is a driving principle, your life becomes much simpler.

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Scott Delin, Fashion Seal Healthcare, a Brand of Superior Uniform Group, Seminole, Fla.: 

scott delinIsn’t it funny how the lessons our parents taught us as children were silly then, but today have a totally different meaning and value?  

A lesson my parents drilled into me on a daily basis was if you are going to do something, do it right the first time. They taught me that by working through the thought process first, I could eliminate the need to repeat the task due to sloppy work and avoid the possibility of damaging something along the way.  

In my younger years, this advice hadn’t resonated with me quite yet. I remember one time I decided to help out at home by doing the laundry. Being young and always in a rush, I figured I’d just throw it all in the wash, add some detergent and bam—clean clothes. 

Unfortunately for me, since I did not take the time to do it right from the start, the wash didn’t come out as pristine as I had anticipated. 

Instead of the whites being whiter, it was more like the whites being pinker due to those few red T-shirts I never took the time to separate prior to loading the washer.    

The lesson I learned holds true in our industry today. Starting in the soil room with soil sort, it is imperative that the proper sortation of items takes place in order to eliminate redeposition of soil or colors onto other items. Otherwise, an entire wash load of product can get ruined and result in the need to inject new product into the system.  

With proper sortation of products, laundries can also save on energy and chemicals, as different products may require different wash formulas and time needed to process.    

After being washed and extracted, it is very important that items stay separated as they move throughout the facilities to enable a smooth, timely and efficient workflow. Whether the items are hand-folded, bundled, wrapped and put onto carts for delivery or hung onto hangers, put through steam tunnels and then sorted by item, it all begins with proper sorting from the initial point of contact.  

Without proper sortation of items, we risk the chance of items not being cleaned properly, soil redeposition onto other items, injection of new product into the system and the addition of many unforeseen minutes to our processing time to correct those errors, whether it be in washing, drying, pressing and/or garment sortation prior to route make-up.  

The bottom line here is that if we take the time to do it right from the start, the production flow in our laundries will be more efficient.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE

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