Best of the batches29 April 2019
Tunnel washers, the backbone of modern commercial businesses, are constantly improving in cost and time efficiencies. Tony Vince reports on developments ahead of Clean 2019
Developments in tunnel technology have opened up new opportunities for tunnel washer manufacturers.
Girbau in Spain believes most recent developments in tunnels, or continuous batch washers (CBW), have been oriented towards improved efficiency and ease of use. “The days are long gone when laundries needed to have a certain level of technology and organisation which was a barrier to medium-sized laundries accessing the advantages of tunnel washing,” says Daniel Arcarons. “Today, manufacturers can easily adapt their tunnel washing solutions to the specific circumstances of most customers and this has expanded the market for tunnel solutions. Because of this, medium-sized laundry customers can benefit from the major advantages of tunnel washing: high productivity with little labour and very low operating costs (energy, chemicals and water) so that they can rapidly recoup their investment even with lower output.”
Gerda Jank of the Jensen Group agrees that the trend has been towards efficiencies and ease of use, saying: “This is certainly the case, especially with new technologies in the field of graphic user interface (GUI) enable to improve the customer experience. (GUI allows users to interact via screens/displays with electronic devices through icons and visual indicators rather than text.) When we launched our new tunnel washer at the Jensen Performance Days last year, our customers were excited to see the new modern, user-friendly panel. The customer experience is also enhanced with new video monitoring on the loading and the unloading side. ErgoVision includes a visualisation on the HMI.”
Kannegeisser of Germany says that markets are changing and consequently textile service providers have to meet new challenges. Today a laundry is confronted with challenges resulting from social developments of globalisation, customer individualization, demographic changes and shortage of natural resources.
Global business trends show that hygiene and diversity in particular will become the main tasks for textile service providers in future. The removal of dirt stains is regarded to be the primary task of the washing process. But when we talk about professional laundering, it is also about the kind of dirt that is invisible to the human eye. Diversity is the second challenge and offers a chance to differentiate from the competition. New textiles and the individual of articles and colors will have an impact on the whole process and will require machines to cope with these elements.
The PowerTrans Vario serves exactly the demands of the daily laundry business now and in future. The PowerTrans is precisely designed for extreme soiling on the one hand and highly challenging hygienic applications on the other. This implies the avoidance, by design, of ‘unused space’ in the inner and outer drums, tanks and piping, where soiling and microorganisms can permanently settle. All process components and parts that touch the product are made of stainless steel. Robot welding guarantees the highest manufacturing quality. Separate batch washing ensures precise process control of each single batch without any liquor mixing between neighboring batches. This allows for an individual treatment that has so far only been possible with washer extractors.
Steven Renders at Lapauw in Belgium comments that robustness is a key factor and that the latest Lapauw-Transferon tunnel washers have been developed according to the same high standards. “This translates into the lowest cost of ownership for our customers and furthermore into highly efficient and reliable machines that easily withstand the test of time,” he says. Life expectancies over 30 years and more are proof of this excellent quality.
“It’s not only the rugged design that optimises the total cost of ownership. The Lapauw tunnel washer has a 4-point drive system and drums that are double welded, on the inside and outside. However, we now have better knowledge of the optimisation of the water flow and more important the seamless integration of this in the process of washing, extraction and drying which is now fully automated and configurable. In the end, this is what separates an efficient laundry from its competitors.
One recent state-of-the-art Lapauw-Transferon installation in Asia is a perfect practical example of this. The customer only has to define what linen to group and what sequence to follow. The processing itself is fully automated with little or no human interaction. Cycle times, temperatures, detergent quantity (heavy soiled or lightly soiled) and drying times can be adjusted down to the smallest detail.
Keith Ware, VP of Sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology says that tunnels are now capable of handling all types of product mixes, from linens and uniforms to mats and colours. “Having the ability to control water flow volume has led to maintaining wash integrity with standing bath machines, utilising chemical and water flow consumption to accurately reflect the product being washed,” he says. “While the basic tunnel design has not changed, how the design is controlled and operates has improved.”
Milnor queries the phrase ‘new opportunities for tunnel washers’ because: “Milnor tunnel washers are found in just about every kind of laundry application around the world. So, to say that there are new opportunities for our CBW washer is almost misleading as it relates to the various laundry markets. New opportunities continually arise as laundries outgrow their current capacity in terms of their current equipment mix and processes. At some point, a batch washer system offering automation and increased production to help laundries achieve their goals becomes worth considering. This can happen in any laundry market,” comments Milnor’s Darrell Redler, marketing director - systems.
According to Vega Systems in the Netherlands, new textiles, new chemical processes and new market demands mean today’s tunnel needs set higher standards than ever before. Vega Systems is pioneering several innovations to make sure washing action, heating and rinsing performance will meet hygienic demand today and in the future.
“Whether it is a healthcare installation where traceability and proof of process is critical, or a hospitality application where sustainability and efficiency is important, innovations inside the SmartLine like the circulating steam injection and minimised dead space in the outer drum guarantees accurate control of temperature. The same circulating action ensures good mixing of chemicals and lifts dirt and soiling to the top of the bath. Efficient counter-flow rinsing and the LintTransfer feature ensure the maximum amount of soiling removal and the most hygienic results,” says Steve Childs of Vega Systems UK.
Software and touchscreen capabilities
“Technology has broken down barriers to entry, allowing many users to have highly sophisticated functions. This state-of-the-art technology means that machinery has to offer advanced features that are easy to use. In the case of tunnel washers, operators want versatile machines that can adapt to different types of process and can be programmed easily, quickly and intuitively. In this context, touch screens and the usability features that manufacturers have developed allow this easy, quick and intuitive programming of advanced features,” according to Girbau.
For Jensen, software and visualisation aspects are key to enhance the customer experience. “The automatic monitoring of process values offering a higher quality assurance, and consequently a higher customer satisfaction cannot be achieved without software. Recent improvements to the construction of the tunnel washer itself have also added to the productivity of the washroom section. Notably, for Jensen, the introduction of QuickSoak, a very efficient extra shower in the first compartment that improves the mixing of water and chemicals that is an example of a small mechanical adjustment with a great effect,” says Jank.
Lapauw’s Renders points out that the laundry sector is constantly evolving around ever-changing technical evolutions. “For instance, we see a great attention towards water control where the standard solution is a shift to electronics. This development has also led to an increased interest in advanced sensor technologies and an ongoing automation in the domain of user experience for laundry machinery. The most significant changes are not visible in the control software as such but in the remote accessibility and data analytics. In a society ruled by smartphones and tablets, customers want to have their performance figures always near at hand and even see their production performances live.”
Meanwhile, Lavatec’s take on the subject is that software will be the future of laundry operations and management for years to come. “Touchscreen controls have become more accurate, durable. and capable of surviving in the laundry environment. While touchscreens are a user interface, it is the software of our systems that has improved the operator’s ability to manage the process. Remote access is also improving the capability to troubleshoot these systems with off-site management and technical support. Specialists can now view what the operator is seeing and quickly identify issues that a less experienced person may not be able to; in the past, they had to describe it to someone over the phone.
“Lavatec enables our technicians to see the input/outputs of a PLC live from a remote location, or if on-site, without entering a high voltage cabinet. As the software improves, we look for AI to help predict issues before they arise with equipment and breakdowns, etc. And as software and systems continue to improve, the potential for feedback and control could be limitless.”
According to Darrell Redler, Milnor batch washer software is under continuous development, an example of which would be recent improvements in the user interface of its batch washer controls. “However, the biggest improvements over the years with tunnels has been in reducing water usage per kilo of linen processed. In every case of a technological advance giving rise to better water consumption performance, there have been software improvements necessary to effect these innovations. The software changes themselves are not the improvements so much as the mechanical innovations which they enable.”
Vega’s SmartLine finds a place in many specialist hygienic and heathcare applications because the machine can be configured specifically for that application. Vega can supply a number of options which cater for the special needs of hygienic operators such built in sterilisation systems, self-cleaning tanks, special software to provide traceability and proof of process.
Girbau reasons that geographically, each company’s view of the market also depends on its presence and share in each specific market. “In general, we have found the economic recovery has been consolidated in some markets. We have noticed this in both consolidated markets (Europe and the USA) and emerging ones. In our particular case, we are seeing that Asia will grow as a percentage of our sales, reaching a level more in accordance with its proportion of the world population. As regards sectors, we are seeing that the recovery has moderated the high concentration that occurred in the worst years of the crisis. Medium-sized laundries are currently taking advantage of growth to invest in tunnel systems to boost their efficiency and cut costs.”
Gerda Jank says that Jensen is satisfied with the global market for tunnel washers and cannot select one or two particularly strong markets. “We do realise that certain regions are very fragmented, with laundries looking for high-tech solutions with a myriad of options on the one hand, and others looking for simple machines that can get the job done. Thanks to our new second brand Apha by Jensen, we can fulfil the requirements of both.”
Lapauw-Transferon has taken a significant piece of the cake in the growing market for continuous batch washing systems and more than 150 systems have been installed over the past few years. “One of the main explanations for this growth is the emerging middle class in developing markets. This leads to an increase in travels and derivatives like hotel stays and restaurant visits. Furthermore, there is an ongoing evolution in healthcare leading to a higher number of hospital beds worldwide. These evolutions mainly affect our sales in Asia and Latin America,” says Renders.
“However, that doesn’t mean that there is a saturation in the more mature markets where sales are mainly driven by replacements. In Europe and the US there is a tendency towards efficiency as regards to lower energy and water consumption. Consequently, many laundries replace their older washer-extractors with tunnel washers. This means that these full-grown markets remain solid places to do business, especially because the standards are so very high the improvements realised in those regions can easily be applied in the developing markets.”
For Lavatec, Keith Ware reports: “Healthcare continued strong growth due to many smaller plants consolidating and some large projects coming online. Healthcare does not appear to be impacted by economic conditions as much as other industries. The workwear business has been very strong, with only a slight slowdown as the pending trade issues have hit some industries with tariffs and higher costs. This market continues to grow, but with the recent automobile industry and manufacturing slowdown, it may impact growth in 2019 and beyond.”
For Milnor, 2018 was a very good year across all industry categories and market segments, primarily driven by the strong US economy.
Water and energy consumption
For Girbau, water and energy conservation are at the top of many of its customers’ wish lists. “Most of our customers are in tourist areas which provide poor services, especially water and energy. Elsewhere, energy and water are becoming more and more expensive and sometimes limited. There is also an ecological point that pushed Girbau going deeper in those aspects.
“Girbau is are strongly working on developing more efficient equipment as well as energy recovering systems to reduce the energy bill as well as becoming more eco-friendly.” One of the other fields Girbau is focused on is developing new water recovery systems to reduce the amount of water consumed, by recovering the waste water from the laundry to introduce again into the washing process. New business models are expected to be developed soon at Girbau around water and energy.
For Jensen there is no either/or trade–off…”It’s not capacity OR reducing consumption – it’s AND. Laundries are looking at increasing the efficiency and productivity of their laundries and at the same time, reduce the consumption of primary resources. It’s about getting more out of it, with less. That’s the basic belief of the Jensen CleanTech solutions, an approach that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The demand to reduce the consumption of primary resources remains the focus. For instance, the Jensen Universal BlueEdition tunnel washer consumes only 1.6 l of fresh water/kg of linen. The BlueEdition technology results in the lowest water consumption possible, thanks to the patented rinse process and outstanding water recovery concept.
Money is also saved on the reduced need for chemicals and allows a quicker rinse time, protecting linen, and saving time.”
She explains that the BlueEdition has an extra tank with filter that takes the water from the second bath exchange back into the pre-wash instead of using reclaimed press water. This reduces the total water consumption as more press water can be reused in the rinse zone, so less fresh water needs to be added. In addition, the machine has two LintEx filters to improve the quality of the water to be reclaimed and to take the higher reclamation rate into account. By increasing the filtration by two filters, the dirt removal is higher and thus less chemicals need to be supplied. This allows a shorter rinse flow as less chemicals need to be rinsed out.
Lapauw’s Renders says the laundries it deals with are interested in good solutions that generate profits. “What we see emerging is an increased demand for the tunnel to be flexible. Tunnel washers in the past were work horses only used to mass process limited types of linen. Today the expectations of what these machines can achieve are more ambitious as laundries want to process higher capacities and more varied types of linen.”
The Lapauw tunnel washer is fully equipped for such tasks, he says and, furthermore, there is a long list of convenient options – like double drums capable of rinsing in a standing bath or counter flow – to further improve the capacity and quality of the processed garments. “Our standard model is already equipped with six double drums but this number can be expanded indefinitely. Each double drum has connections for the draining of water, chemicals and steam. Next to the highly flexible design, the tunnel is constructed to assure maximal quality, which is important to process different kinds of linen. Even the 40 and 50 kg tunnel washers have a large drum diameter up to 1,807mm and steam heating that is very gentle to all sorts of garments.” He warns that the biggest pitfall tends to be the under-investment during the lifetime of washing equipment. This leads to higher risks of standstills, potential increase in consumption and decreased washing quality. Lapauw’s most important recommendation would be preventive maintenance well to avoid stressful emergencies and keep production efficiency optimal. Ingrained in Lapauw-Transferon’s philosophy is to follow an open spare parts policy, offering a much lower maintenance cost.
Lavatec, too, prides itself on its efforts to reduce utilities use saying: “While this is always a focus, most tunnel manufacturers have been able to significantly reduce water and energy consumption with their equipment. Lavatec has some locations with as low as .3/gallons per pound of linen processed, and going lower will be difficult without impacting the wash quality. When water consumption is lowered, it is the increase in total dissolved solids in the water that will impact the wash quality. Most chemical vendors want to see total TDS below 500 in a system. By drastically lowering the water consumption, TDS can climb to 2,000-plus, which will impact both water and wash quality.
“The two solutions for this TDS issue is by diluting the water, which increases water consumption or filtering. It is only successful with total suspended solids or by removing TDS where you utilise microfiltration or reverse osmosis and can become very expensive. Lavatec has improved energy consumption with more efficient motors, improved controls and inverter drives. We are preparing to install a new dryer system in Germany, Cascade Dryer, which has shown in testing a 30-40 per cent reduction in energy use.”
Milnor says, ultra-practically: “Water and utilities savings, not to mention labour savings, are always on the mind of the customer. Data reporting is important as well, not just to track consumption, but to help optimise throughput and realise production goals throughout the plant.”
As for Vega, Childs tells LCNi: “The standard SmartLine tunnel is already a frugal machine in terms of utility consumption, but this can be pushed even further with energy saving options. Adding inductive flowmeters tells the SmartLine how much water is being used in every part of the process allowing the machine to decide how much to recycle. Water storage tanks with intelligent level controls will maximise the use of recovered water and we can incorporate active heat recovery into the SmartLine’s waterflow.”
Chemical solutions for tunnel washers are becoming ever more efficient at low temperatures and with minimal water use. Christeyns recently launched a new standard wash concept for flat linen, PureSan. PureSan, according to the company, “assures a consistent cleanliness and fresh smell of the linen, thanks to the combination of an innovative detergent with selected surfactants and a pleasant fragrance, a highly performant PAA-based bleaching agent and an optimised wash process”.
Ecolab, meanwhile, has invested in the development of digital technology in the form of its enVision platform that allows laundries to remotely monitor and manage all major washing parameters and group data over multiple sites taking the chemical supplier remit far beyond the supply of chemicals and dosing systems. This means KPIs can be monitored and adjusted either individually or in like-for-like site blocks.
Kreussler dosing systems for commercial laundries include the Easy T for Tunnel system, which ensures the exact dosage of up to 12 products in a continuous batch washer. In addition to three high performance pumps, a fourth pump is used for high-volume dosing such as starch or finish. Up to 99 freely programmable washing programs mean just about every need is covered.