As competition heats up between laundry service providers and growing customer demands require more production flexibility and output, the laundry industry embraces the latest in process automation to keep pace.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the textile rental and industrial laundry segment, where companies often process large quantities of uniforms and textiles on extremely tight schedules.
Much has been written about the production capabilities of automated batch-washing systems over the years.
A tunnel offers high productivity for large-volume plants, according to Pellerin Milnor’s Mike Dineen. Its built-in water reuse saves water and the fuel needed to heat it, and the fully automated washing system saves labor.
The centerpiece of Paris Healthcare’s plant in Ravenna, Ohio, is a Milnor batch-washing system featuring a pair of 12-chamber tunnels, two extraction presses and a bank of nine dryers.
The facility, opened in late 2004, is one of a handful in the country that’s fully automated from soil to clean, according to David Stern, president and CEO of the Paris Companies. At full production, it can process nearly 40 million pounds of linen annually.
“We separated it so there’s no cross-contamination from the soiled laundry to the clean side,” Stern said at the laundry’s grand opening. “Once [the linen is] sorted, it’s not touched again until it needs to be either folded or ironed.”
Finished-linen output in virtually any laundry is frequently curtailed by the most labor-intensive area of the production process: feeding the ironer.
But flatwork ironers can be equipped with a variety of aids for boosting productivity and improving quality.
Spreader-feeders are available to assist operators in feeding large pieces, and cornerless feeding is the latest labor-saving feature found on advanced models. This ability increases operator output by eliminating time-consuming manual feeding, positioning and clipping of one or more corners of a sheet during machine loading.
The most advanced of these models are capable of electronically locating sheet corners for spreading, so an operator only has to toss any sheet edge onto the input conveyor without regard to orientation.
Material-handling systems are also an attractive option to keep goods moving rapidly through a plant. Alltex Uniform Rental, a Manchester, N.H.-based launderer of cleanroom garments, installed a modular conveyor from Dynamic Conveyor Corp. this year for just that purpose.
“We seal all of the freshly laundered garments and then send them to a different room to be sorted,” explains Michael Peterson, Alltex’s general manager. “Because we use ‘drop sealers,’ the folded and sealed garments come out at floor level, and then must be transported to another area – the sorting room – with a minimal delay and human effort.
“Even though the garments are not heavy, we don’t want people having to do a lot of repetitive bending and twisting, or [taking] unnecessary steps to toss them into carts and then wheeling the carts into the sorting room.”
AAA Uniform Services, Kansas City, Mo., was processing 15,000 garments per day, using a graduated hook system with slick rails for account- and man-sorting, when it contracted with Softrol Systems to install an autosortation system this year.
AAA wanted to reduce labor and use no more than the space already used for manual sorting. The resulting system fits in the limited area and will process at least 15,000 units per day with just two employees for sorting and shipping, Softrol says.
UniFirst’s industrial laundry operations remain the core of its business, so it has made many infrastructure investments over the past decade with operational efficiencies in mind.
Conveyors, diverters and movable staging racks combine with software drivers, microprocessors and flashing control panels to literally sweep clothes through the laundering process, UniFirst says in its most recent annual report.
As a result, customer apparel moves smoothly through its production facilities and any item can easily be found by an employee at any stage of the process. Custom control features that interpret data from bar codes and RFID chips allow the company to monitor systems on a real-time basis.
“Overall, the automated production processes we’ve introduced over the last 10 years have dramatically enhanced laundry operations ... and that’s meant improved customer service quality and more available capacity to handle the growth we’re experiencing.”