LAS VEGAS — A washer that doesn’t use water. Dispensing systems that pump laundry chemicals in powdered form. A device that utilizes heat and vibration in spot-cleaning fabrics.
These are just a sampling of the new technologies that Doug Story, global business development manager for JohnsonDiversey, described in his Clean ’07 educational session appropriately titled New Technology in the Laundry Industry.
Having worked 30 years in the laundry industry, he believes that it lags far behind other industries in developing and implementing new technology. There are literally hundreds of thousands of new pharmaceutical patents submitted annually, for example, while those specific to laundering number from only a few dozen to maybe a few hundred a year, Story says.
So, what kinds of revolutionary changes related to laundering are being introduced, and how are they taking hold?
Researchers in the Far East are developing a washer that doesn’t require water, Story says. “Air washing” blasts dirty clothes contained in a cabinet with jets of air primed with negative ions. These ions are molecules without electric charge, and they can be used on fabrics that are unsuitable for conventional washing. The ions gather up dust, deactivate bacteria and neutralize odors. No dryers are needed, and the clothes come out clean with minimal to no wrinkles.
“Would that change the way you do things in your plant?” he asked rhetorically. “Can you imagine processing linen without using water whatsoever?”
Story noted that the equipment is being designed and marketed for the consumer market. The fact that Electrolux is funding research and development adds legitimacy to the equipment’s future standing, he says.
The Canadian, European and Asian Pacific markets are testing a dispensing system that pumps powders as well as liquids. Story said each of the modules (the model he displayed featured five) weighs a maximum of 10 pounds and contains the equivalent of three 5-gallon pails or containers, which drew some exclamations from the attendees.
“I just heard a ‘Wow’ up here, so what does that tell you about the technology?” Story says. “Would anybody miss having their employees rolling 50-pound pails around the plant?”
The technology of variable-speed extraction is becoming more common in today’s generation of washer-extractors. Many machines are now using “out-of-balance” algorithm extraction concepts with lower extract speeds under unbalanced conditions. This allows manufacturers to promote higher-G-force machines, even though they don’t always reach those high extracts, Story says.
“These variable-speed concepts with these washers are the things of the future,” he adds. “It’s going to allow you to compensate your washing procedures to the types of fabrics that your customers have.”
This greater flexibility encourages launderers to seek out new markets, such as the hotels that are increasingly offering high-end bedding packages in their guest rooms.
As the costs of purchasing and treating water have grown, recycling systems have gained in popularity. It’s a technology that’s been around a long time, Story says, but it’s growing more efficient and more flexible in size.
“It used to be everybody thought that the only people who could use water recycling systems are your huge, giant plants,” Story says. “If you’ve got two 125-pound washers producing just a couple thousand pounds a day, they’ve got recycling systems that are in your economics.”
Enzymatic washing is the next big thing in laundry formulas, Story says, with chemicals that not only effectively clean linens but also lower the pH level of the waste water. “They can customize these enzymatic components to go after specific types of dirt,” he adds.
Integrated computer controls are becoming more commonplace in the laundry industry and offer managers the ability to better control their operations, but only if the information they collect and compile is put to good use.
“The more communication, the more data that you have, the better that it will be, as long as you don’t find yourself flooded with the data,” Story says. “You don’t want a War and Peace scenario,” he adds, referencing the Leo Tolstoy novel of 1,500 pages. “The scenario you want as a manager is a single page with about 10 bullet points that you decide are important to you.”
New technologies are exciting and wonderful, Story says, but it takes the human element to truly separate your operation from the competition.
“People and culture will be the cutting edge of businesses in the future,” he explains. “If you have a piece of equipment that can put it out real fast, guess what, your competition will have a piece of equipment. If you have good marketing, competition will have the marketing. Somebody’s going to match it up, but it’s hard to match Ted or Michael.
“Innovation should be tied to your people.”