Based on the continuous need to lower operational costs and improve customer service, interest grows in the area of autosortation technology. However, discussions with uniform rental operators reveal a number of misconceptions about the costs, implementation and operation of this technology.
This article examines misconceptions 1 through 3 and identifies how new affordable and scalable solutions have changed the way industrial uniform rental operators can apply the technology to improve customer service and remain competitive.
Independent uniform rental operators are facing new challenges every day. As technology enhancements are introduced, it often becomes difficult to evaluate their applicability in a specific application. Such is the case for autosortation technology and the industrial laundry industry.
Autosortation was initially targeted to larger operations requiring a sizable solution and a sizable investment. Based on the experience of designing and implementing these larger systems, the industry has learned to design systems for much smaller operations without sacrificing reliability, flexibility and return on investment.
It’s the position of the author that there exist a number of common misconceptions surrounding autosortation technology, based on its introduction targeting larger industrial laundries and offering little opportunity for the average size operation.
By designing solutions that are more flexible and scalable, suppliers can now provide solutions for practically every uniform rental facility – independent of current size or future expansion requirements.
This collection of common misconceptions about autosortation technology is a result of many discussions with operators across the country. These misconceptions identify a kind of “information gap” that exists concerning the feasibility of applying autosortation technology to any size operation. This gap also includes misconceptions about the many benefits that can be realized to help operators differentiate themselves and keep themselves competitive.
Misconception No. 1: Autosortation systems typically cost $1 million or more and therefore only deliver value to large uniform rental plants processing at least 20,000 garments per day.
New modular technology offers scalable systems that can meet the requirements of any size facility for a much more manageable investment. With today’s technology, an entry-level system that saves labor, offers primary sorting and final sorting, and produces useful management reports can be purchased for as little as $100,000 for a laundry with daily sorting volume of 2,000-6,000 garments. By including additional automation components, a startup system for a plant processing 6,000-15,000 garments per day may be installed for as little as $250,000.
Regardless of size, uniform rental operations that employ manual garment sortation face many of the same operating problems of human errors, employee absence and fatigue, and high costs. Autosortation systems can now be scaled to any size operation in order to minimize these operating problems.
Misconception No. 2: The payback for an autosortation investment is more than five years.
Payback depends upon the dollar investment that is made in new equipment compared to the amount of savings realized from that investment. In the mid-1990s, the most viable option was a large system that could cost $1 million or more. Even by removing seven or eight operators from the sorting process, the payback was more than five years. Today there are many more options available that can greatly reduce the cost of an autosortation system and thereby reduce the payback period.
For example, there are entry-level, semi-automatic autosortation systems that cost as little as $100,000 that can be operated by two or three employees. These systems may be suitable for plants that have daily uniform volume of 2,000-6,000 garments. With the associated reduction of labor cost for the sorting process, such a system can have a payback of less than two years.
For larger plants, there have been other design advances that lower the initial investment and further improve payback. Such systems may utilize slick rails in some areas or dual-purpose sorters and conveyors to drive down the cost of investment.
In some cases, by utilizing portions of an operator’s existing manual sorting equipment, the startup cost may be recovered with a much quicker payback.
Misconception No. 3: Autosortation systems are extremely large and require too much space to be installed in an operating facility.
Due to recent advances in modular autosortation technologies, any plant utilizing space for a manual garment sorting process is a viable candidate for converting to an autosortation process.
This has been brought about by adapting many of the technologies originally developed for larger and totally mechanized autosortation systems to most existing manual sorters. This is particularly applicable to slick-rail primary sorting and storage. Manual primary sorters can be automated, thus preserving the current space and installed cost of the existing equipment. In the same space that’s being used for second- and third-break manual sorters, a final autosorter can be deployed.
These advancements now bring all of the power and advantages of autosortation to any operation, even those cramped for space.