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What Records Should We Keep, and Why? (Conclusion)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“To ensure that the laundry I manage is achieving top production on an ongoing basis, what records should I be keeping and why? Do you track anything that might be considered out of the ordinary?”

Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Turn-Key Industrial Engineering Services, Charlottesville, Va.

For laundry professionals, taking the vital signs of your business on a regular basis will yield the same benefits as a visit to your doctor, allowing you to see trends, identify potential problems and implement solutions, hopefully before they begin to negatively affect your bottom line.

While I am certain that every business tracks sales, revenue, profit and other financial measures on a regular basis, too often these are lagging indicators of an enterprise’s overall health.Tracking key productivity and performance metrics of your plant often will provide the leading indicators that you need to ensure the difference between the need to use red ink and the need to use black ink.

Labor is usually one of the largest recurring expenses for commercial and industrial laundries, and is therefore one of the most critical measures to track on a regular basis. In our industry, the metric we use to measure labor utilization and to benchmark against past performance is pounds per operator hour (PPOH). By adding up the total number of direct labor hours used in production, and dividing by the number of pounds produced, a good laundry manager can begin to understand the health of his or her plant. Make certain that indirect labor (management, sales, administration, logistics, etc.) is not included, so that you can get a true measure of the productivity of those who actually pull work through your plant.

david bernsteinMeasuring and tracking PPOH is a great macro tool for determining whether or not your plant is operating at the most efficient levels, but the only way to know whether or not each of your departments, and each department’s employees, are working at peak efficiency is to implement engineered production standards for each job and product category in the production area. Hiring a consultant to perform time and motion studies will result in the development of accurate and production standards that are specific to your facility. Once standards have been determined, implement a system for tracking employee productivity and enter the data into a production report each day so that you may compare expectations to achievements. Supervisors should praise (publicly) those who meet or exceed expectations and counsel (in private) those who fall below expected productivity. The results also should be posted on a daily and weekly summary to provide additional peer pressure to help drive performance in the positive direction.

Tracking overall and individual productivity is important, but too often managers neglect to discount what appears to be poor performance when maintenance and downtime are really to blame. As a result, you should track downtime on your equipment any time a piece of machinery is out of commission for five minutes or more. In this way, not only can you gauge the effectiveness of your engineering and maintenance teams, but you also can ensure that line employees aren’t penalized for events outside their control.

In addition to labor, utilities are also counted among some of the largest expenses laundries incur on a regular basis. Tracking your utility usage (gallons of water per pound, kWh of electricity per pound, and Btu of gas per pound) provides similar vital signs to indicate potential issues of concern. Assign someone responsible to start taking gas, electrical and water meter readings at the exact same time every day your plant is operating. Subtract yesterday’s readings from those you took down today to obtain your usage for the past 24 hours, and divide those amounts by the poundage produced during that same time period. Then track these numbers on a spreadsheet (and resulting bar graphs) just as you do your PPOH.

If you see increases in electrical usage, start looking for, among other things, air leaks, compressor problems, and motor and/or drive issues. Similarly, a jump in gallons of water per pound could indicate, for example, the need to check washer drains, inspect pipes for leaks, or ensure that your reuse or recycling system is working properly. When you start seeing your gas usage begin to climb, start looking at maintenance issues on dryers, ironers, boilers and hot-water heaters, in addition to getting maintenance personnel to start examining your steam traps, heat reclaimer and exhaust gas heat recovery devices.

Laundry managers should also track rewash as a percentage of overall poundage produced. Your customers pay you to wash their items and return them to their businesses clean, sorted, and properly finished, but they do not pay you for rewash. Every time you have to put items back through your plant, you are wasting time, labor, chemistry and utilities. When you start to see your rewash percentage go up, look at factors like your wash formulas, water softener operation, problems in the finishing department, etc.

Finally, it is tempting to try to compare your plant’s vital signs to those of your peers and colleagues. Bear in mind, however, that the vital signs of laundries vary based upon a wide variety of factors such as product mix, equipment vintage, levels of automation, quality of maintenance, etc. Different laundries have varying vital signs, and you should be cautious when trying to compare your plant’s pulse to the vitals of your peers’ facilities.

A good laundry manager will keep regular track of all of the above metrics on a regular basis, charting them, sharing them with the entire team, and constantly striving to learn from what they indicate, thereby improving the operation as a result. In order to more efficiently manage, you must measure as many aspects of your operation as possible. By monitoring these metrics, you will start to see trends that lead to cures for what may be ailing your operation.

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: Charles Loelius, The Pierre New York, New York, N.Y.

charles loelius“What gets measured is what gets done.” That frequently used quote, attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, is the mantra when discussing performance management. At Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, the catchphrase is “what gets measured is what gets improved.” The fact of the matter is, however, that what gets measured doesn’t always get done; what gets measured only sometimes get improved. What does get done and what does get improved are those areas that get measured, analyzed and acted upon.

Most laundries today have solid tracking systems in place to monitor and record production, chemical usage, rewash, etc. The differences between those laundries that run well and those that do not are the processes in place to interpret the data and, most importantly, the mindset to take the appropriate action to improve efficiencies.

At the hotel laundry, soil sorted and loads washed are tracked by the pound. Loads dried are tracked in the same manner. All finished goods are tracked by the piece. All areas are tracked hourly. These numbers are used to measure both the efficiencies of the operators and the equipment. The numbers are posted for all operators to see, along with the appropriate target (standard). Employees typically want to know where they stand relative to expectations, and each other. Since the employees have access to the same real-time information as I do, these postings serve as an excellent motivational tool.

In conjunction with daily production statistics, the number of occupied rooms and dining outlet covers also are tracked daily. This establishes both pieces-per-occupied-room and pieces-per-cover ratios that facilitate proper scheduling and budgeting of labor.

With a Five Diamond property, such as the one where I work, the most important measurements that are conducted are those related to quality, particularly the number of rejected and discarded pieces. This information is useful in determining effectiveness of both the laundering processes and the wash chemicals. Tracking discarded linen, as an adjunct to monthly inventories, also allows for a more accurate linen replacement program.

I always have found pieces produced to be a better indicator of performance than pounds produced. My philosophy has been “measure by pounds, manage by pieces.” Consequently, the focus is more on pieces per operator hour than the traditional pounds per operator hour.

Chemical inventories are conducted weekly. This data is used to calculate both the cost per hundredweight, to measure cost-effectiveness, as well as establishing daily chemical usage, which facilitates “just in time” ordering, significantly reducing chemical storage space.

The hotel laundry also operates a full-service drycleaning and guest laundry facility. The number of pieces washed, dry cleaned and pressed are tracked daily. Dry cleaning with perchloroethylene is heavily regulated in New York; consequently, it is necessary to maintain records on many things not typically associated with laundries. Some of the records that must be maintained are weekly leak inspections, weekly maintenance checklists, weekly emergency preparedness checklists, perchloroethylene usage and hazardous waste management logs.

One “out of the ordinary” measurement that I conduct is extrapolating clean-weight production from pieces produced. In this way, I can determine highly accurate soil factors and reject percentages, as well as verify the accuracy of the production records.

Equipment Manufacturing: Steve Hietpas, Maytag® Commercial Laundry, St. Joseph, Mich.

steve hietpasFrom a commercial laundry manufacturer’s perspective, meticulous equipment maintenance records are pertinent to ensuring product longevity. Although equipment upkeep isn’t a “one size fits all” operation, the following suggestions can be incorporated into a facility’s maintenance records.

Specific to multi-load washers, checking door-lock safety is simple to evaluate. Confirm the washer door can’t be opened when the machine is in operation by pulling on the door handle. If the door opens, stop using the equipment, and call for service. If the door does not open, continue using the equipment. Regardless, note the date of the test and outcome of pulling on the door in the facility’s maintenance file.

Depending on the model of the multi-load washer, another option is to rotate the door glass and gasket once or twice a year to even the wear and counteract any “set” that the gasket tends to take over time. When and if the glass is rotated, noting the date and rotation direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) ensures the next rotation is also in the correct direction.

If the facility has rigid-mount machines, records should indicate how frequently the hold-down bolts are inspected and tightened. Hold-down bolts must be kept tight to properly transfer unbalanced forces to the floor structure. This makes for quieter machines and helps preserve the life of the tub bearings.

Cleaning multi-load washers, including the detergent box, is imperative to product longevity and should be documented as well.

For multi-load dryers, regular cleaning of the inside of the dryer and ductwork is important, as is washing the lint screen. Fabric softener sheets may cause a residue on the screen that can reduce airflow and affect drying times. If dry times increase, having lint-screen cleaning documentation easily can help diagnose if cleaning the lint screen could be a possible solution.

Although not specific to equipment maintenance, it is also recommended that staff keep a daily log or notebook to note any noises, concerns or issues with commercial laundry equipment. This is extremely helpful if it becomes necessary to diagnose a future issue.

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