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Tunnel or Washer-Extractors: What's the Proper Choice? (Part 1)

Bruce Beggs |

AGOURA HILLS, Calif. – It was a little like speed dating, only with laundry equipment.
Attendees at this spring’s Textile Rental Services Association’s (TRSA) Tech/Plant Summit had the opportunity to listen to five of the industry’s top equipment manufacturers – Ellis Corp., G.A. Braun, Jensen USA, Kannegiesser USA and Pellerin Milnor Corp. – compare and contrast their washer-extractors and tunnel washers.
Groups rotated among the vendors’ representatives, who had 30 minutes with each group to discuss the pros and cons of the equipment, or, as was more often the case, the pros.PELLERIN MILNOR CORP.
While some facilities and their managers will always adhere to one technology over the other, Mike Dineen, Milnor vice president, is of the opinion that the two can be meshed.
"I don’t believe you can really look at tunnels vs. washer-extractors,” he says. “I believe it’s more tunnels and washer-extractors.”
Each system – the wash aisle laundry, the tunnel laundry and the “hybrid” laundry – has its pros and cons, according to Dineen.
The wash aisle laundry features automated or semiautomated functions that streamline loading and unloading. It’s a highly flexible system that can process a variety of soils, especially industrial soil. And its built-in redundancy ensures washroom production.
On the other side of the ledger, they are systems with multiple washers that have multiple parts and maintenance schedules. Their water use is high, typically requiring additional reuse systems. And their labor costs can be higher when compared to tunnels.
A tunnel offers high productivity for large-volume plants, Dineen says. Its built-in water reuse saves water and the fuel needed to heat it, and the fully automated washing system saves labor. But tunnels aren’t as effective when laundering dissimilar goods in sequence. Maintenance is critical to eliminating downtime. And, if improperly used, a tunnel can consume as much water as a washer-extractor.
The hybrid laundry utilizes both a tunnel system and stand-alone washer-extractors. “Today, most laundries really are a mix, where you’ll have the majority of your work in a tunnel system, but at end of lots or if you’re doing COG [customer-owned goods], you can run them over on the other side.”
Such hybrids are capable of handling anything that needs laundering and are ideally suited to compensate for washroom downtime. Monitoring and management are vital to ensuring the goods are processed in the appropriate systems, and the broad range of necessary machinery requires more floor space.
There are several factors that can affect equipment choice, Dineen says.
• Volume – Smaller production volumes, such as less than 800 pounds per hour, make washer-extractors a better choice.
• Future growth – Wash-aisle systems and some tunnels can be easily grown to handle larger volumes, while some tunnels are more difficult to expand.
• Goods mix – Laundries with large volumes of like goods are ideal candidates for tunnels.
• Trends in mix.
• Labor availability – High labor costs demand automated solutions.
• Availability of tax/energy credits – Such programs can assist in buying by shortening return on investment on capital equipment.
In conclusion, Dineen says costs are similar between washer-extractor systems and tunnel systems, but installation costs, consumables and maintenance are less for tunnel systems.ELLIS CORP.
Robert Fesmire Jr., vice president and chief operating officer, spoke primarily about Ellis’ 360 Sequential Tunnel Washing System, which is new to the U.S. market but has been available some 20 years in Europe from Carbonell. “We feel it’s got some unique benefits that kind of combine the best of both worlds.”
Design benefits of a washer-extractor are better mechanical action and a controlled environment for the wash process, Fesmire says, while benefits of the typical tunnel washer are reduced operating labor and utilities. The benefits of each system contributed to development of the opposing system, he adds.
Tunnels made washer-extractor manufacturers focus on the tunnel’s strength and incorporate those benefits into their designs, Fesmire says. Washer-extractor systems prompted tunnel manufacturers to refocus on mechanical action and wash quality.
Mechanical action is the least costly piece of the “detergency pie” – which also includes time, temperature and detergent – to provide, Fesmire says.
Ellis claims the 360 has greater mechanical action than any other system on the market, due to the continuous rotation of its 79-inch-diameter cylinder. The internal scoop lifts, drains and drops the goods without tangling.
“The uniqueness of the machine is that each chamber is an individual washer,” Fesmire says. “There’s no counterflow whatsoever. You’ve got separate chemicals, separate steam, separate water lines for every single cylinder. You can control any cylinder that you want. … It’s like a bunch of 130-pound pony washers.”
No trenching is required for the 360, which uses two stainless-steel pipes running parallel to the washer for water recovery and a single connection to drain. Its water usage has been tracked consistently at about a half-gallon per pound processed.
Another unique feature is its ease of access, Fesmire says. “When a tunnel jams, because every single one is going to jam, you have four bolts to undo. You press a button, an air cylinder opens and they [the chambers] separate 32 to 34 inches so you can pull out the goods.”
Besides the 360 system, Ellis also offers a broad range of open-pocket and side-loading washer-extractors.— See Part 2 for the summaries of Jensen USA, Kannegiesser USA and G.A. Braun presentations
 

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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