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Understanding Material-handling System Needs for Selection (Part 1)

Healthcare/hospitality, hotel linen services transportation examined

CHICAGO — Paul Jewison, vice president of engineering for Healthcare Linen Services Group, parent company of Textile Care Services in Rochester, Minn., a provider of linen services to both the healthcare and hospitality industries, of which Jewison is general manager, describes the material-handling system in his plant this way: 

  • We utilize P 72 carts with all-swivel casters, as our customers have required. We utilize double cart dumpers onto to break up tables and then dump on to E-TECH incline conveyors to the people sorting the laundry.  
  • Then it’s on to overhead bags that feed the tunnel washers and washer-extractors.  
  • Once it’s through the press, it goes onto conveyors and onto shuttles, which feed the dryers. 
  • When the dryers unload, they go onto conveyors and onto incline conveyors into bags on the E-TECH system.  
  • Then it’s on to the finishing stations, whether it’s ironers or dry goods, and then on to conveyors that take it to a central packing area and back into the P 72 carts and onto the trucks.  

So, how did Textile Care Services decide on what in-plant transportation options to use and in what capacity?

“We’ve tried to utilize the square footage of our original design to increase the amount of overhead material handling systems,” shares Jewison. “Being a horseshoe-designed plant where our docks are on one side of the building, we must be very careful not to overcrowd the center of the building.  

“Our greatest challenge inside the building is workflow because we have multiple departments that get fed different types of product.”

Because it offers laundry/linen services to healthcare facilities, Textile Care Services totally separates the clean side on one side of the building from the other, so the destinations coming out of the washer-extractors are not always close to where goods are being processed. Jewison says that there is quite a bit of moving carts throughout the building to get it finished.

“If I was asked for my choice of carts, I would make sure that the frames are strong,” he points out. “We’ve had some challenges with the frames not being robust enough to handle the heavy-duty work required.  

“Our normal size of wheels are 6 inches, but some of our customers have larger wheels around 8 inches, which does sometimes give us challenges and bending of the frames. We look for carts that are tough and can handle the wildlife of linen supply.” 

In terms of rail systems, he says that laundry operations need to have a system that won’t “give you constant trouble after a few years.”  

“I would pay close attention to operating plants, when doing your research, that have been operating for five to 10 years,” Jewison recommends. “When you’re buying a rail system and see how good those systems are operating and see people pushing bags around with sticks and poles, I would not recommend that one.”  

The key to creating the optimal material-handling system in a plant is to work closely with the vendors that supply carts, rail systems and conveyors to the laundry operation, he shares. And that means all parties need to understand, completely, the operation the system is being created for.

“It’s important understand your mix, whether you’re rental or COG (customer-owned goods) or a combination,” says Jewison. “If you’re not able to move the carts efficiently, you will need more space. 

“Sometimes COG plants require that certain carts be returned to one client, and those certain carts have to be placed in certain places until that product is through the system. In other words, you need some floor space during those times.” 

HOTEL LAUNDRY SERVICE

Phil Jones, general manager of the Lakeland, Florida, facility for Hotelier Linen Services, says that his laundry currently doesn’t have a rail system from the dryers to the feeding stations, but “certainly we are looking at that in the long-term conversion plan.”

“I have been fortunate to be in on the ground floor of a laundry that was converting from a hospital to a hospitality laundry, and we faced challenges in how to move linen efficiently with multiple customers,” he shares. 

Jones says he started with one long conveyor that was attached to both the ironers and the towel folders. This created quite a bottleneck at the end of the conveyor with all the employees catching linens being bunched together and trying to separate more than one customer’s goods without mixing them up. 

There would be as many as 10 carts in the same area at one time, he says. While the employees were able to keep from mixing goods, the production was very slow as the catchers tried to keep up, and the conveyor was constantly stopping.

“We had a great deal of space, as this was a large laundry facility, so we moved the towel folders to a different location and took out all of the conveyors,” shares Jones. “Now it became much easier to move carts around based on the customer being serviced, and the bottleneck was eliminated.

“It is much easier to have one catcher for two machines and have only two carts in the catching area than with all products on one conveyor line. We used the same amount of catchers but in a much more efficient manner without their getting in each other’s way.”

Check back Thursday for a look at details of a hospital/military/hotel linen service transportation system, plus final advice.