A few weeks ago we looked at planning the basics and the washhouse. This month we shall be looking at getting the best from finishing departments, marking and classification, packing out and collection/delivery. Last but by no means least we will cover fire safety. Whoever said that the modern laundry is a very simple operation!
Drying and finishing
Savings can be made by careful selection or equipment and processes in drying and finishing. This is where most energy is consumed and minimising this plays a major role in laundry profitability. Tumble drying uses fifteen times more energy (per litre of water removed) than mechanical extraction in the spin and up to three times more than ironing. This makes it essential to buy washers with the highest spin speed (to give an extract force around 400 times that of gravity for cotton towels, for example).
This results in towels entering the thermally inefficient tumble dryer with the minimum amount of moisture in them. It pays to buy a dryer with the maximum thermal efficiency – over 40% is usually achievable now, although there are claims approaching 50% for some designs. The very best can be fitted with automatic drying cycle terminators, which do not waste energy by over-drying.
The most cost-effective dryers are generally powered by gas, although this varies from region to region. Direct gas firing is generally significantly cheaper than using steam from a gas fired boiler and both steam and gas are cheaper than electric heating (because the cost per kWh of electricity is usually much higher than for gas). It is therefore important to get dryer purchase decisions right, or the higher operating costs of the wrong selection destroy profit margins permanently.
In stark contrast, ironer efficiencies usually approach or exceed 90%, so it makes sense to minimise the time in the tumbler and make the ironer do the bulk of the work of drying for sheets, pillowcases and table linen. Ironer sizing and the number of ironers needs to take account of this – you will need more ironing capacity and fewer tumblers for the most cost-effective operation.
Marking and classification
Although it is sometimes tempting to batch customers’ work so that it can be processed separately through the laundry, this is seldom the optimum for profitable operation and maximum productivity. Batching might remove the need for marking of each item, but it is usually not possible to fill every machine every time and the cost of underloading will rapidly erode slender margins. It also prevents maximum productivity, resulting in inefficient use of labour and unnecessary overtime.
The best operations will mark every item, either with a traditional adhesive laundry label or with a modern bar code or with the latest RFID chip. Adhesive labels and bar codes are increasingly regarded as yesterday’s technology and the future almost certainly lies in the latest RFID systems, able to read the contents of a bag of soiled laundry in just one second, without opening the bag. Once the initial cost of the reading equipment and the tags themselves has been absorbed, then work can be classified according to type of item, customers can be mixed to facilitate full loads (and hence minimum cost processing with maximum productivity). This is secure in the knowledge that the system will sort everything back, by customer, afterwards.
Packing out then starts with classifying the clean and finished work by customer, followed by computer-based generation of packing notes and invoices. This is the critical final step in realising the value of the RFID investment and it is essential that the system integrates with the accounts package (a point which is frequently overlooked).
Older systems of packing out rely on manual separation and racking of individual customers’ goods, which is generally more labour intensive. This is also more prone to error and subsequent complaints about ‘lost’ goods and who should pay.
Problems with the cost and recycling of plastic packaging mean that many organisations are now abandoning polythene wrapping, despite its undoubted attractions for cleanliness and hygiene, in favour of textile laundry bags which can be washed and recycled with every load. Larger customers are being served with purpose-designed plastic cages, which can be washed and sterilised every time.
Collection and delivery
The laundry is in the hands of the customer when it comes to care of goods on the customer’s premises, but it should be possible to influence the storage arrangements for clean goods delivered to the customer and for soiled textiles (which are often stored for several days awaiting collection). These need to be kept off the floor and protected from damp and vermin. Drips from refrigeration equipment frequently contain iron, which creates staining that needs a special recovery process – washing alone is no good.
Mildew grows quickly on work stored in damp, dark, cold conditions and creates stains which penetrate deeply into the cotton yarn and are very difficult to remove completely, (especially from coloured work), so it does pay to offer detailed advice to each customer and try to ensure that you are listened to!
If the same vehicle is used for collection and delivery, then provision should be made to avoid cross-contamination, especially from abattoir garments, kitchen and restaurant cloths and those from a food processor. A reputation for good hygiene can take years to be earned but can be lost in an instant with a single case of cross-infection, especially if it leads to fatalities.
Fire safety for staff, neighbours, premises and customers
Most laundry equipment suppliers make machines which comply with the European Union safety standards and are CE marked to certify this. The main (as yet unsolved) problem with safety in laundries of all sizes and configurations is fire. The unexpected outbreak of fierce conflagrations in apparently very well-run laundries causes several hundred laundry fires every year, with a few leading to total loss of premises, equipment and textile stock. Here's how you can prevent deadly laundry room fires.
The cause of laundry fires has been attributed to ‘spontaneous combustion’ of textiles which have already been laundered, when they are in either the tumble dryer, the garment tunnel finisher or the finished goods area! Current research points to the prime cause of spontaneous combustion as being poor removal of certain fats, oils and greases. If a poorly washed spa towel, for example, is stacked in a warm pile, then the unremoved spa oil tends to react (slowly at first) with the oxygen in the air and this oxidation reaction is exothermic, (that is it gives off heat), causing the pile to become warmer. This makes the reaction proceed faster, so that the pile becomes even warmer and eventually (after several hours) the textiles ignite spontaneously and explosively, hurling flaming textiles in every direction! Only one washer manufacturer has so far tackled this problem in basic design and that is Hydrofinity. The XOrbsTM which occupy part of the cage during the hot wash in this machine are designed to pull away from the textile far more of the oils and greases than can be removed by washing alone, thereby reducing dramatically the risk of fire.
If the laundry is on an industrial estate, then a ‘total loss’ fire might cost say £5m to £10m, assuming the fire breaks out during the night and the laundry is unoccupied and not fitted with sprinklers. However, if the laundry’s neighbours are domestic properties, then the cost could double and more importantly, involve neighbour fatalities.
Laundering is far from being a simple ‘just load the machine and push the button’ operation. The professional launderer who knows their trade can make an already smart hotel radiate quality and add that vital final touch to any leading restaurant. In order to do this, all that is needed is attention to detail. Superb quality need not cost more and the key to delivering this and the premium prices it commands is simply to get the details right and maintain these consistently. This is where the present gap in the market-place lies. The blogs this month and last have been designed to take you beyond first base in filling this! Good luck!
This article was written by Steve Anderton, Managing Director at LTC Worldwide.