My institution has asked me to submit a plan to redesign our on-premise laundry to produce a more efficient workflow. Our end users are primarily healthcare in nature. What elements of our physical space and equipment must I take into account in developing this plan? What layout pitfalls should I avoid?EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURING: Ed Kirejczyk III is the president of EDRO Corp., East Berlin, Conn. He’s been employed in various sales and marketing positions there since 1990 and been involved in designing EDRO’s shipboard washer-extractors, water reuse systems and washer control technology.
First, you need to focus on the actual processing of the laundry (i.e., washing, drying and finishing). Then, address support items including soiled- and clean-linen storage, utilities, and expansion or reassignment of available space.
The first rule of thumb to produce a more efficient workflow is to determine the processing capacity requirement for the laundry facility. Most likely, the facility and equipment to be upgraded were originally designed to support a different laundering requirement. Equipment life span and changes in facility laundering needs most likely have skewed the efficiency of the existing process.
For instance, we’ve worked with facilities where the laundry was installed prior to additions and expansions, or the facility has taken on or lost outside work, thereby making the equipment and workflow process inadequate.
Institutional healthcare guidelines suggest a daily laundering requirement of up to 15 pounds per bed, which can be influenced by the amount of disposables used and the patient care levels.
Using this criteria, a 150-bed nursing home would require processing capacity of up to 2,250 pounds of laundry per day. Washers and dryers should be sized accordingly. Typical equipment matching is 1.5 times dryer capacity per washer, meaning that a 50-pound washer would require a 75-pound dryer.
Traditional washing programs are generally 45 minutes (including loading and unloading), or 1.3 loads per hour. Depending on the goods, the drying time is generally 35 minutes. Based on this, we’d suggest washing capacity of approximately 180 pounds per load and drying capacity of 270 pounds. This should be in a machinery mix designed to process bulk loads as well as personals, smaller loads and rework.
When planning for better efficiency, consider the laundry’s overall operating costs. As labor is the biggest cost factor, sizing equipment to process laundry in a single shift or, at most, a shift and a half would have the biggest return on investment and afford the opportunity to investigate potential outsourcing as a possible revenue stream. Not planning to process as such would be a pitfall to avoid.
The capital expenditure for ample equipment capacity in order to maximize the labor factor would have a significant impact on the investment return.
Regarding support services, here’s a quick five-point facility checklist for planning a laundry operation:
1. What’s the available space for the laundry, including ceiling heights and door entryways?
2. What’s the floor type? Thickness of the concrete? Floor condition?
3. Where’s the laundry located: above ground, basement or ground level? What’s the available storage for soiled and finished goods?
4. Is there access to bring in new equipment, including such items as a loading dock, steps and length of run? Is rigging required? This can add significant costs to the project.
5. Is there sufficient infrastructure support from utility services?
- Electrical service, including voltage, phase and available amperage.
- Gas service, including capacity to support new equipment or expansion.
- Water service, including size of incoming line, hot-water capacity, and hardness.
- Sewer service, including size, gravity or sump pump, and distance from washers.
- Steam service, including available pressure.
- Ventilation for dryers, including number and size of vents, access and makeup air requirements.
Lastly, regarding equipment layout and production flow, available space and processing guidelines will determine the most efficient workflow. While most facilities prefer open-pocket, front-loading washers, there are alternatives to allow for soiled and clean linen to be physically separated. These barrier-type, or pass-through, machines are ideal to prevent cross-contamination. But there’s an additional cost involved with the construction and installation.CONSULTING: Chip Malboeuf is vice president of operations for Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va. It provides facility planning and process improvement services for companies in the laundry industry. His experience includes process engineering and plant design.
The success of any facility renovation, big or small, depends on the planning. A well-planned project will not only reap the benefits of a more efficient operation, but the implementation will be less painful and costly. Almost all project cost overruns are the result of poor planning.
Before beginning the design phase, it’s critical to define the scope of the project. What are the key indicators that will measure success? How is “more efficient” workflow defined? Do you need to increase capacity? If so, by how much? Will your facility diversify its product mix? What’s the budget for your project? All are questions that need answers before you begin.
You also need to have a clear understanding of where your facility is today. What are your current production benchmarks? What are your production volume and mix? Defining where you are is a critical step in determining what you need to do to achieve your goals.
After defining where you are and where you need to go, you must then begin your master plan for allocating space to each of your processes. The goals of your master planning or space allocation are to:
- Employee safety
- Production efficiency
- Flexibility for growth
- Total square footage used
- Travel distances between departments.
- Unused or poorly used space.
There are some key fundamentals to think about when determining space allocation for your new design:
- Each department should be adjacent to its downstream and upstream processes to reduce travel distances and material- handling costs. The most efficient designs are ones where co-dependent departments are adjacent to each other. Increased distance between these departments increases material-handling labor and/or costs.
A simple tool to use when allocating space for departments is to use block diagrams. Laying out blocks for each department is a quick way to ensure adjacency of co-dependent departments and to get an overall picture of the product flow.
Ensure each production process (soil sort, washroom, finishing, etc.) is balanced from soil to clean. Having an automated wash room capable of processing 10,000 pounds per hour is “cool” but not a good idea if the soil sort and soil material-handing storage systems are only capable of supplying 7,000 pounds per hour or your finishing departments are only capable of producing 8,000 pounds per hour.
In each of these scenarios, you’ve created bottlenecks that will rob your facility of efficiency and increase work-in-process storage requirements. An unbalanced facility results in additional capital costs and recurring costs.
Design the processes to pull product through the facility, not push it through. Along the lines of ensuring a balanced flow, start with the end in mind. Know your daily load-out requirements and size your departments to meet that daily demand. Just because the product comes in the soil door doesn’t mean you need to have it finished and on the clean dock today.
- Don’t have flow that doubles back on itself or crisscrosses. If it looks complicated on paper, it’ll be complicated in real life.
- Provide adequate space around equipment for proper maintenance and operator access. Minimizing space requirements is important but not at the expense of safety and maintenance. If the design is too tight, maintaining and operating equipment becomes difficult and a potential safety hazard.
- Provide adequate space for soil and clean staging/storage. Too many facilities use all the available building space for process equipment and forget about allocating space for soil receiving and clean storage. If your facility needs to produce 1 million pounds per week, you have to plan for 1 million pounds to hit your soil dock and exit your clean dock each week.
Space allocation will also be dependent upon delivery schedules to and from your facility. Can you stage soil on trucks until it’s time to process? Can you immediately move clean/finished product onto delivery trucks and minimize the building space allocated to clean storage?
Sweat the details. Be sure to include personnel, carts, control panels, building columns, aisles for personnel and forklifts, etc., in your design.
- Develop a step-by-step implementation plan. Designing the facility on paper is one thing, but making it a reality is another. A renovation may look great on paper but you also have to consider how you’ll make these changes while still servicing your customers.
Do you have shutdown opportunities for big changes? If you plan to move an existing mechanical room or an entire wash room in one weekend, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Early planning and coordination are critical for any facility renovation. Involve your entire team, from service to plant employee, in the planning process. This will eliminate surprises and provide additional insight on how to make a complex part of your implementation plan less painful.
There are also some pitfalls that you must avoid:
“I need this additional equipment just in case.” Too much equipment is just as bad as not enough. Planning for a balanced flow coupled with a good maintenance program eliminates the need to have equipment “just in case.”
- Rule of thumb. Many people design a facility based on “rule of thumb” or “This worked in X’s facility, then it’ll work in mine.” Using this method of design isn’t always successful due to diversification of product mix, varying levels of automation and clear height availability.
- “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Following this train of thought may be what’s gotten you into your current situation. Don’t be afraid to call in outside expertise in the form of industry consultants and equipment suppliers. Use the resources that are available to you to explore new technologies and opportunities.
Designing and implementing your renovation plan are only part of the project. Remember why you went through this exercise. The only way to measure the success of your project is to continuously monitor gains in production and utility efficiencies. Continue to look for opportunities to improve flow through improved scheduling and work methods. Continuous improvement is the key to success for any project and business.