What issue or issues most greatly affected your operation and, more generally, your specific industry segment during 2005? What are the primary issues that your operation and your industry segment will face this year?TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Jim Mitchell, principle technical support specialist for Ecolab, Eagan, Minn., is a 25-year company veteran. He's currently its OPL lead in providing technical support to field associates. He edits Ecolab's Institutional Technical Digest, a monthly publication reaching 2.800 employees.
Ecolab’s Corporate Technical Service provides technical service assistance to the company’s sales and service associates. Whether the laundry operation our associate is servicing is large or small, one of the fastest growing issues over the last six to eight months has been how to control and/or reduce the rising costs of energy, and rightly so.
According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (www.eia.doe.gov), the average cost of natural gas per therm (1,000 cubic feet) rose nationally from $0.9094 on Jan. 1, 2005, to $1.461 on Jan. 1, 2006. During the same time span, the cost of electricity has gone from $.0739 to $.0864 per kilowatt-hour.
The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina have only accelerated these costs. So, the question asked in increasing frequency by laundry managers is, “What can we do?” Several energy-saving systems are available on the market today for laundry operations, with more emerging on an annual basis:Ozone – Significant energy savings with ozone gas generating systems can be achieved, since most ozone wash formulas use cold water only. The cost of heating hundreds of thousands of gallons of water annually is virtually eliminated. However, the success of an ozone system is often determined by a number of factors, including cost of the system vs. payback; cooperation between the ozone company, the chemical company and the customer on setting proper wash formulas; maintaining the required level of ozone gas; and meeting any wash temperature restrictions set by state and/or municipal regulations.Water filtration and recycling systems – Laundry water filtration and/or recycling systems are rapidly increasing in popularity, particularly with larger operations. These filter/recycle systems range in size from small units that process water from a single, small OPL washer, to large systems that process millions of gallons of water annually.
The amount of water recycled varies from system to system. Some recycle only the rinse water from a wash formula. Others recycle nearly all of the water. Because some of these systems continually recycle filtered water, their success is often determined by controlling
a number of variables:
Detergent pH and/or other residual chemicals. The carry-over of chemicals can slowly result in an elevated water pH, as well as other chemical levels (surfactants). These increasing chemical levels can create “result issues.” Some companies recommend low-pH detergents and other specialty chemicals to help control these levels.
- Residual soil, or total dissolved solids (TDS). Elevated levels can slowly build up in the recycled water. Some systems incorporate the use of a TDS meter, or other ways of measuring this accumulation. When residual soil reaches a certain level, all of the recycled water is dumped to drain and replenished with fresh water.
- Odor of recycled water. Washing a single load of grossly soiled, greasy kitchen rags or similar items can cause “odor contamination” with succeeding loads. Wash water from some of these loads may have to be dumped to drain.
- Bacteria in recycled water. Some systems offer ozone injection and/or ultraviolet light for bacteria control. Others inject chlorine into the recycled water.
Low-temperature laundry chemicals – Unique chemical formulations have created products that perform well in low water temperatures, some even in cold water. Lowering wash temperatures from 160 F to 120 F or lower can save a substantial amount of money in operating costs.Success with these systems can be influenced by:
Wash temperature restrictions set forth by state and/or municipal regulations.
- The costs to use these low-temperature products possibly exceeding the promised energy savings.
- Soil and/or water condition limitations, dependent on the market being served (healthcare vs. hospitality, for example).
- Bacteria/pathogen control. Follow state and/or municipal health department guidelines.
- Reduced effects of bleaching. Oxygen bleaches are poor performers in low temperatures. Chlorine bleach can be far more effective, providing the proper pH is maintained in the bath.
Modifying current dryer operations, wash formulas and/or employee procedures – This is by far the most overlooked way for many laundry operations to save energy costs.
Overdrying linens not only is costly in terms of energy costs, it’s one of the primary causes of rough feeling in terry cloths. Also, the excessive mechanical action can cause premature linen degradation as well as pilling.
Dryer time and temperature settings in most areas of the country are seasonal. During the summer months, dryer times and temperatures are typically set near maximum. However, as humidity levels drop dramatically in winter months, linens dry rapidly. Dryer settings have to be adjusted to match the season. Modern dryers with “humidistat” controls help to reduce this waste of energy.
- Most laundry employees have no idea how much water an average laundry machine consumes per cycle. If two 75-pound washers each run an average of 10 loads daily on a formula of three high-level flushes, a low-level suds cycle, a low-level bleach cycle, three high-level rinse cycles and a low-level sour/soft cycle, they will consume about 1.84 million gallons of water annually! If two of the flushes could be eliminated on both machine formulas without compromising results, this account would save about 500,000 gallons of water per year.
- Underloading washers leads to unnecessary loads washed per day, creating excessive costs in energy, sewer and water, chemicals, labor and depreciation. Overloading can result in poor rinsing, flushing and chemical action, causing high reject rates and costly rewashes and/or linen replacement costs.
Improper presorting and pre-treatment of stains cause unneeded and costly rewashes. Healthcare employees who improperly preflush badly soiled pads and/or diapers force chemical reps to add unnecessary and costly preflushes to laundry machine formulas.Upgrading laundry equipment – Antiquated laundry equipment, particularly dryers, can cost operators thousands of dollars annually in unnecessary energy costs:
“Fixed timer” laundry machines force operators to use formulas that are often overkill for the fabric or soil classification, or that are inadequate for “heavy soil” and/or specialty items, creating large volumes of rejects and rewashes. Upgrading to a programmable microprocessor machine can allow programming of specific short cycles for certain classifications and longer formulas for heavier soil.
- Fixed timers often feature a low-rpm final extract, which results in a high moisture content in linens. This requires longer drying times and temperatures. A new high-speed extract washer reduces drying times significantly.
- Old, inefficient dryers are costly to operate. Burners on gas dryers can deteriorate over the years, unnecessarily consuming gas and resulting in poor combustion. This is also one of the primary causes of graying of fabrics, which in most cases is permanent. Purchasing a new, high-efficiency model can pay for itself in a relatively short period of time.
- An old, inefficient hot-water heating system can drain money from your bottom line. Your local gas and electric company, as well as a local heating and air conditioning company, can analyze your present system’s level of efficiency.
Maybe it’s time to have an energy audit in your laundry. The following specialists can aid you:
Your municipal water works department. An understanding of your sewer and water charges can prove to be very valuable.
- Your local gas and electric company. It should be able to provide an efficiency report of your laundry dryers. You should have the burners on your gas dryers inspected periodically.
- Professional consultants.
- Manufacturers of washers and dryers.
Your chemical company representative.