The finishing process can have a significant impact on linen quality, and industry vendors work diligently to constantly improve their machinery designs so that operators can iron, fold and package a laundry’s clean linens with little or no fuss.
FEEDING THE IRONER
Finished-linen output is almost always 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.
These components can be added in front of or behind the ironer to automate the different tasks of feeding, ironing/drying and folding based on the mix of goods being processed, the available plant space and configuration, and the laundry’s specific production requirements.
One piece of equipment that’s rapidly gaining in popularity is the automated linen separator, which breaks up, detangles and delivers wet linen to operators feeding a flatwork ironer or folder. This machine greatly reduces operator exposure to ergonomic injury.
These separators typically use one or two separating heads to pull apart extracted or caked goods that are cart-loaded.
Single-head units typically use a mechanism to automatically move the cart back and forth to ensure that the separating head picks the majority of goods in the cart. Dual-head units are used in systems that don’t move the cart.
Air suction devices are available for installation on the “feed” end of an ironer to assist the feeders in smoothing the piece before it enters the first roll of the ironers.
As the leading end of a piece being fed enters the ironer and is secured, the trailing portion is actually sucked down into a chamber by vacuum and caused to flutter and flap until it’s drawn out of the chamber and into the first roll of the ironer.
Spreader-feeders are available to assist operators in feeding large pieces.
They contain up to four feeding stations and may be used with one to four operators who work independently of one another.
A properly sized spreader-feeder will keep a flatwork ironer covered with goods with little or no gaps between pieces.
Cornerless feeding is the latest labor-saving feature found on advanced spreader-feeders. 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.
Some units automatically detect twisted linen and drop the pieces onto a return conveyor. This results in fewer jams.
Operators can load more pieces per hour, which could enable a manager to reduce staffing at this station by one or more FTEs.
More basic feeder models require clipping corners of the large linen piece into clamps before the machine automatically centers, spreads and feeds the piece into the ironer.
Microprocessor controls on certain ironers adjust the ironing speed based on variables such as moisture content and fabric type to ensure consistent, high-quality finishing.
Many integrated systems use productivity measuring controls to accumulate data and manage change for improved plant and operator performance.
IN THE FOLD
Folder-crossfolders typically are placed at the delivery end of the ironer in an ironing line, but some are used as freestanding units in plants that do not have ironers.
Folding machines are typically manufactured in one-, two-, three- or four-lane configuration for primary folding of various types of goods. Some larger goods also get crossfolded.
Machines are now available that do just about any item in practically any combination, offering plant operators the choice of a variety of folds (single or double primary fold, one or two crossfolds, etc.), or stacking small items like napkins.
In fact, if there is a way in which an item can be folded by hand, there is probably a machine that can duplicate it.
There are folders that have the capability to sort sizes and simultaneously handle multiple lanes.
The market includes folders that are designed for specific linen pieces, including aprons, blankets, napkins and towels.
Managers can choose return-to-feeder models or rear-discharge models, depending on their needs.
HOW DO THEY STACK UP?
Linen items are folded and stacked according to management’s wishes to assure customer satisfaction. This involves uniform appearance, easier handling and easier storage.
Items can be delivered flat and stacked on stackers at the back of the ironer or they can be folded, stacked and delivered at either side of the folders.
There are also machines on the market that automatically receive and accumulate flat items on rods or bars.
Some plants install takeaway conveyors for the clean goods directly behind the stacker conveyor on each ironing line.
These conveyors automatically transport stacked goods along the belt to the conveyor end where an operator loads each stack into a transport cart.
Once the goods have been collected, strapping, tying or stretch-wrapping machines can make packaging the stacks a snap. Heavy-duty straps can double as handles for linen delivery personnel.
Labor costs eat up half of every laundry dollar, so there’s money to be saved if a manager can reduce by even minutes the number of man-hours it takes his operation to process linen.
The savvy laundry manager takes advantage of technology to reduce the burden on his labor-intensive finishing department.