In August 2007, we almost doubled the number of pounds that we process by taking on two extremely large customers.
Both customers use a larger-than-normal amount of washcloths, bath blankets and thermal blankets. Our challenge has been to find a way to speed up the process of inspecting, stacking and counting washcloths into stacks of 50.
This had never been a great concern of ours, because we were blessed with an elderly lady who proficiently produced washcloths at an unbelievable rate.
The additional business took us from a five-day-a-week operation to a two-shift operation running five days per week, with partial day shifts on Saturday and Sunday. We now need washcloth stackers on afternoon shifts as well as on the weekends.
I’ve paid close attention to the process we use at the washcloths work station. An extra light source was added to this area to ensure that the light, yellow stains that sometimes get on washcloths would be readily apparent to our workers.
Manually counting washcloths to 50 is often a slow process. We’ve tried measuring sticks, but our customers want to ensure they receive precisely 50 washcloths per bundle without exception. We employ a number of recent immigrants from various parts of the world. Cultural values don’t always support exactness in counting. Some workers consider “close” and “exact” to be the same thing, and they have no problem being plus or minus five washcloths per stack.
We track production by employee and track the number of pieces produced each hour. We use hand counters to record the number of bundles produced and then multiply by 50. An employee could easily click the counter several extra times.
We know we lose production by having to stop to count the washcloths into bundles. So, we set out to find a machine that would stack washcloths, keep an accurate count and produce bundles of 50 that are ready to be sent to cart makeup.
We started by investigating what our major equipment vendor might have to meet this need. We use sheet pickers, sheet feeders, an ironer, sheet folders, a 4 lane folder/stacker, small-piece folders, blanket folders and 2 contour sheet folders from this company.
They had several to choose from, but I was surprised that they really didn’t recommend them. Apparently they found that it wasn’t a major labor-saver in most laundries.
I was confident after reviewing the equipment that I could run washcloths, bar towels, housekeeping towels and blue O.R. towels through the equipment and thereby automate a hand-fold section of my laundry.
We’ve established the goal of processing as many washcloths per hour as our current best performer. The washcloths, once stacked, will be placed on a clean-linen belt by the same person who currently handles the output from the two contour sheet folders.
The lead worker in the area will monitor the counter. The automatic counter will provide more reliable data across both shifts as to the number of pieces being processed.
As I write this, we have a washcloth stacker on order for delivery around Sept. 1. We expect to have a definite answer to this challenge by Oct. 1 and will publish our results when the project is complete.
I’m confident that the results of this investigation will have practical applications in a number of laundries.