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What Records Should We Keep, and Why? (Part 1)

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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?”

Commercial Laundry: Richard Warren, Linen King, Conway, Ark. 

Records are basically dead information. They tell you what you already have done, but give virtually no clues about how to fix the process. Determine how many productive hours were used for a period of time, and how many clean pounds were produced in that same time. Divide the pounds by the production hours, and you have pounds per hour produced. That gives you information, but doesn’t give you any higher production.

richard warrenRecords and measurements are not worthy substitutes for effective management. It is possible to detect some weak areas if you have enough reports from enough areas of your production floor. But I assume you already know about those weak areas, and the records won’t tell you how to fix them.

Production is improved by managing the process, not by checking on each individual, each hour. Sometimes managers will try to make sure all the machines are running at top speed, and yet don’t have a single worker that can work at that pace. Blankets, towels, sheets or pillowcases each have several different sizes in the same category. Some can be processed faster than others, and if one person gets all the tough ones, that person may be perceived as slower, when that may not necessarily be the case. The more records you have, the more interpretations you will have.

Production is a product of management and not a product of the worker. If workers don’t know how to do the job better, they won’t learn the better way until they are taught. And they won’t be taught until the manager arranges for that teaching. The average person has average speed, and you won’t be able to significantly increase that. The key to production is to limit the time they spend NOT doing laundry. I have lived by that rule for years, and it works.

Tracking trips to the rest room or water fountain will not make your production soar. Reprimanding a worker for trips to the water fountain will make that worker begin to resent the supervisor, and that makes an unhappy worker, which in turn makes production worse.

When a worker comes to the end of a segment of work, a “natural break” such as an empty cart, completing a customer order or a jammed machine, they will go get a refreshment at that time. A manager needs to manage the process to ensure there are no “natural breaks” during the day. Don’t worry about correcting bad practices; instead, put your skill and knowledge into developing good practices for the production staff, and let the distasteful habits just die off. In the same vein, don’t spend undue effort forcing a worker to do something that person just can’t do. Have someone else perform that task. Assign the worker who is having difficulty to a different task.

I once had a man who took an inordinate amount of time struggling to fold a stack of knitted fitted sheets. When he finished the results were rather comical, and I knew better than to try that again. As it turned out, he could run sheets and blankets on a folder, sort soiled, and wash and dry. He became a very valuable employee. We catered to how he could help us, and didn’t spend any more time trying to force him to do something he just couldn’t do. I believe in cross-training, but it is not necessary for all employees to be expert in all phases of the operation.

Consider this example of two laundry plants. Plant A is a good producer and Plant B produces rather poorly. Now swap the working crews. Plant A is still a good producer, and Plant B still produces rather poorly. The people are the same but they are working with existing processes. The workers didn’t design the process in each plant, management did. And it will take management to change the process.

You can keep all kinds of records and at the end of the day your file cabinet will be full. But if your production has improved, it will be the result of your improving the process.

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Bill Bell, Steiner-Atlantic Corp., Miami, Fla.

bill bellLaundry is a numbers game. We typically process linen in pounds or pieces—usually both. It’s very important to understand your cost per pound, and ultimately your pounds per operator hour. If data isn’t collected, then it is impossible to calculate the true cost. The first thing every laundry needs to understand is how many hours it takes to process all of its linen. Once this is established, then laundry sizing and processing standards can be put in place to achieve production goals.

The laundry process is usually broken into two categories: soiled linen and clean linen. I like to look at what we can wash in one hour. For example, if you can wash 3,500 pounds per hour, then you had better be able to sort, dry and fold 3,500 pounds per hour unless you have some overhead storage capacity. In larger CBW plants, we like to have two hours of soil and clean storage to keep the laundry running at a high efficiency. I highly recommend weighing each load processed. This practice will give you accurate data of pounds processed per load. Too many times, employees will load a washer and try to guess how many pounds they have just washed. Purchase a floor or basket scale when using washer-extractors. CBW loading conveyors or overhead rail systems also can weigh each load. Every pound counts. Just think about it: If loads are off by 100 pounds per hour, based on 365 days, assuming an 8-hour shift, that’s an astonishing 292,000 pounds per year. It all adds up.

On the finishing side of the plant, it is extremely important to set standards and track the operator’s pieces per hour. Using the above example of 3,500 pounds per hour, of which 70% is full dry, then we would need to process approximately 1,050 pounds through the ironer. This would tell us how many ironers we need or how fast we need to run the ironer to meet the production goals. On a one-ironer plant, we typically want to finish all of the large pieces in half the shift, leaving the other half of the shift to process the pillowcases and napkins. That would also mean we would need to fold 2,500 pounds per hour. If you didn’t know these numbers, then you would be at risk of running overtime or even having to add an entire shift.

Keeping data daily, weekly and monthly will allow your operation to budget for necessary equipment, labor, linen, parts, and services. If you are not tracking your current production, then start today. This is the only way to get your laundry process headed in the right direction.

Healthcare Laundry: Judy Murphy, RN, BSN, CLLM, RLLD, North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC), Tupelo, Miss.

judy murphyEvery manager should remain abreast of vital information as to the efficiency of his/her operation. Not only is employee production (how well an employee meets the standards set) important, but a wide variety of data is needed to measure and therefore promote optimal performance.

Information regarding inventory costs/control (including supplies, linen, chemicals, etc.), utility costs/savings opportunities, equipment operating efficiencies/asset utilization, pounds per operator hour, plant layout/workflow, route efficiencies, maintenance costs (including downtime), process controls, equipment/building depreciation, and more are just a few of the calculations that one must track and compare. All of this combined will provide a true picture of the operational cost of doing business, vital information for measuring success.

In looking at employee productivity, one of the best measures of efficiency for comparison purposes is a three-day-best calculation. This data helps determine peak sustainable production rates and will provide a more accurate standard for performance based on best practice.

Benchmarking and performance indicators can be utilized to make comparisons between your facility and others like it. It may also help with identifying bottlenecks, therefore helping with uptime improvement in the operation.

The key to the success of any production/performance-based facility involves the ongoing training of the employee. The expected results must be discussed with each individual, and developing operator care/ownership will encourage buy-in. Accountability of performance must be rewarded or addressed immediately, and must reflect consistent and fair practices.

Performance indicators must be realistic, but should be developed to challenge the employee to do his/her best. Following existing standards and procedures as far as “status quo” does not lend itself to the promotion of sustainable success. Continuously challenging yourself and your employees will help “sharpen the saw” and promote performance improvement.

Textile/Uniform Rental: Tom Peplinski, Golden West, Oakland, Calif. 

tom peplinskiWhen I first started as a production manager, I tracked daily nearly every measurable element of production. My reasoning was that the more I understood these elements of production, the more I would be able to adjust for optimum performance in the future. Daily tracking of each utility, pounds of soil, pounds of clean, number of loads and weight compared to washer capacity, number of loads and weight per capacity of dryer, amount of each chemical per formula used, hours of peak utilities, and the man-hours required to fold, feed and load all were analyzed daily for possible improvements. I became obsessed with these numbers, and each improvement provided me with an unnatural sense of excited accomplishment. As a “numbers-driven” person, this was a perfect career position.

As time progressed, the rather anal scrutiny of daily records became more of a burden and less effective when considering time management. Improvements in efficiencies had been achieved, and were now routine procedures. Adjusting the quality of products was, and still is, easily achieved by tweaking formulas. We understand how changes impact our profit.

The challenge we now face is retaining the trained personnel who understand the improved processes. The loss of any employee who participated in playing a part toward these improvements will have a negative effect on routine procedures and profit. New employees lack the knowledge and experience on how weights, loads, formulas, etc., impact the financials. We continue to find ways to track and measure daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal trends, along with taking the pulse of individual employee satisfaction.

We still track and focus on those production elements I mentioned earlier. However, our main tracking element for optimum plant performance has proven to be our employees’ years of service.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!

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