It’s been challenging for many of us to find repair parts for Lavatec or Washex equipment. Vendors have asked me if I would be in a hurry to replace the Lavatec tunnel, press and dryers that we purchased in 1991 if Lavatec officially closed its doors.
My normal answer has been that I’m using two American Laundry Machinery ironers and that company has been out of business for approximately 30 years.
I faced some challenges with one of our two tunnel washer systems, a Lavatec model. I discovered that the company no longer supported the original computer controls and that spare components were extremely hard to find. The system’s limitations (possible number of item codes and number of customers) no longer matched what I needed.
Two experts who separately inspected the washer, extractor and dryers agreed that if we were to keep using the system, we would need to replace the computer controls, the shuttle and the dryers.
The entire system had run multiple shifts daily, more than five days a week, since it had been installed. Dryer wear-and-tear had become excessive, with obvious signs of metal fatigue. Even before Lavatec parts availability had become a problem, we were unable to keep all the dryers operational at the same time.
There was no shortage of vendors wishing to help me replace my tunnel system with a brand-new one. We had completely rebuilt the Lavatec press the year before. The easy choice would have been to replace the entire system and reap the benefits from having the latest technology at our fingertips.
The economic climate dictated that the easy approach may not be the one that my boss favored most, so we looked for alternatives. We were able to find a former Lavatec employee who had started his own business a number of years prior to the manufacturer’s decline, and he proposed handling the upgrade for us.
New computer controls would make it easier to interface with a vendor other than Lavatec if we wanted to replace the shuttle and dryers separately. Full replacement would cost an estimated $1.2 million. Upgrading the computer controls and replacing the shuttle and dryers were estimated to cost $600,000.
The question became one of how willing was I to trust a tunnel washer made in 1991. The discussion reached a critical point in October 2009 when we lost a dryer in a lint fire and couldn’t find parts to fix it. My boss was convinced it was time to move forward.
Our slowest time of the year — Thanksgiving to Christmas — was on the not-too-distant horizon. We wondered if any company could get the dryers to us and do the installation then, while we operated the other tunnel washer around the clock.
One company was able to commit to this extremely aggressive timeline for the shuttle and dryers. Our independent contractor said it was also a “go” on the controls. So, we decided to move forward with the least expensive of the two options.
The installation and upgrades went as smoothly as most I’ve experienced over my nearly 40 years in the business. We experienced some unexpected challenges and were surprised by how well other items fit. On Dec. 23, the Lavatec tunnel system came back on line and has worked well during the past few months.
I don’t know yet if upgrading the controls and replacing the shuttle and dryers was a good decision. We’ll be able to more accurately determine that in a few years. At the moment, the Carilion Clinic is extremely happy. We now have an improved, more dependable operation with the lowest required capital cost.