The drycleaning industry has not been immune from the effects of the recession and customers remain careful with any capital investment. In response, manufacturers and suppliers are providing a generation of finishing equipment that delivers energy savings and other cost benefits as well as consistent results. While there are signs of renewed economic recovery in the UK, the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in August 2013 that the level of GDP is not expected to regain its pre-crisis peak until a year from now adding that "This remains the slowest recovery in output on record".
There is still a general perception that the banks are reluctant to lend and the Forum of Private Business reports that while confidence is returning to the SME sector, many businesses are using alternative sources of funding.
Sheila Higgs at Dane Realstar says that although the UK’s economy has still to return to its pre-recession levels, there are encouraging signs that the industry is beginning to recover. "We are all more cost conscious and this is reflected in current purchases," she says. The drycleaning and laundry machines have many cost saving devices but there are other factors that the drycleaner must consider when purchasing finishing equipment.
"A customer looking for a piece of equipment will sometimes be driven by the sale price but should remember the importance of the back-up from the supplier," says Higgs.
Jason Alexander, managing director of Renzacci UK, says that the sluggish recovery means that UK’s textile care professionals are still finding funds for investment, equipment renewal and expansion very hard to come by. Although there are more positive signs for the future, he expects that conditions in 2014 will still be challenging still and cost driven. He advises drycleaning businesses to examine their cost base and focus on efficiency.
"Do not put off a purchase when new equipment will reduce your cost base," says Alexander. "It is usually more cost effective to lease new equipment than to struggle on with old, inefficient machinery."
Labour remains one of the biggest overheads. "Any advance in technology that can reduce labour costs has got to be seriously evaluated," says Alexander. He points out that machines now offer a multitude of options and while some are just niceties, others are designed to reduce running costs, increase the machinery’s capabilities and ultimately improve customer satisfaction. He would always advise looking carefully at a machine’s specification in the light of future requirements. Alexander believes that provided the automation has a point and is not just "bells and whistles", then continued technological advances will help drycleaners and launderers to reduce their cost base.
The degree of automation required will depend on the individual outlet.
As an example he says that while small volumes of trousers can be pressed on an ironing table, a busy shop would find the Pony Formplus and Pony Pantamaster automatic trouser presses a boon.
At Parrisianne Drycleaning Solutions managing director James Holt says that achieving a good quality finish is becoming harder.
He blames this on several factors – a decline in traditional craft skills, a lack of operator training and increasingly complex garment design.
To overcome these problems, Holt says that companies are turning to alternative forms of finishing. He says that many businesses are now relying on machines to do the main finishing work, allowing staff to concentrate on the final touch-up and quality control checks. "This allows for a greater number of unskilled staff, which in turn reduces the labour cost for the owners," says Holt.
Men’s jackets and trousers still form a large part of the cleaner’s workload and equipment suppliers have different views on how these should be approached. Parrisianne is the sole UK supplier of the Sankosha range of finishing equipment and Holt says that the Sankosha DF100E rotary body former is a popular choice.
Because the unit combines the traditional steam and blowing system with garment tensioning, a semi-skilled operator can complete up to 90% of the finishing and this allows more skilled staff to add a final touch-up finish and to check more garments.
Holt adds that recent developments in the textile care industry, such as
wetcleaning, have increased interest in the DF-740E trouser topper from Sankosha. The machine features an inverter option to provide the correct program for each type of fabric, a more powerful blowing system for faster finishing, an easy garment setting for greater productivity and a manually controlled pre-steam function to eliminate wrinkling.
Parrisianne also supplies the Ghidini range of finishing equipment for use in businesses handling lower volumes. Ghidini`s most popular ironing table is the Tornado. The machine is height adjustable and standard features include buck steam, blowing and vacuum, vacuum heated sleeve form and pedals on both sides.
Ghidini offer several different styles of finishing table including options for vacuum, bottom steam and blow and also various board sizes. In addition, the company produces manual and air-operated utility presses. These can be supplied with an 18kW integrated boiler or they can be connected to a central steam supply. The company’s rotary steam finishing cabinet range also offers a choice of steam source.
At Dane Realstar, which distributes equipment by Sidi and Fimas, Sheila Higgs says that of the many types of finishing equipment available, the tried and tested combination of rotor cabinet and ironing table remains the most popular choice. She adds that the two units can be linked so they operate from the same boiler and this saves on fuel costs.
However, although the rotor cabinet is recommended for jackets, coats and trousers, Higgs says that some businesses prefer a form finisher with a powerful blowing fan and steam function to assist in removing creases.
Options range from the basic model Sidi M780 that comes with a nine or
20 litre boiler to the advanced Sidi M502, which will finish wet garments and can handle jackets, coats, raincoats and dresses. If there is space, the former can be paired with a trouser topper. There is also the option of an automatic or manual press both of which can be supplied with a built-in boiler or in a version for connection to a central steam supply. The machines are available with 10/12/15/18kW boilers if required.
Higgs says that all Sidi and Fimas equipment is available in various boiler sizes and if the business is not using the equipment at the maximum demand, then the element rating can be allocated accordingly.
For shirt finishing, the Fimas pressed shirt unit, in combination with its collar and cuff press, can process around 45 shirts per operator/hour. A 36kW boiler is capable of processing sufficient steam for both machines.
For businesses with a more limited budget, Dane Realstar offers the Sidi Easyform range of blown shirt units. The Easyform 2000 (manual stretching) and Easyform 3000 (pneumatic stretching) steam shirt finishers can process garments from a wet or dry state and can be used for shirts, jackets, coats and overalls. Both types can be connected to a central steam source.
Renzacci UK has distributed finishing equipment manufactured by Pony of Italy for over 40 years. Alexander at Renzacci UK says that there have been considerable advances in the equipment for finishing jackets and coats. The Pony Formplus range of jacket and coat formers uses super-heated steam to improve the end result. The Pony tensioning former Formplus-S will adjust automatically for both height and width. Pony’s Cosmos rotary finishing cabinet can be used for trousers and jackets in combination with an ironing table for touch-up. The Italian manufacturer also produces steam irons and toppers with built-in boiler, single-buck shirt presses and double leg presses for trouser finishing.
Alexander says that the question of whether to use a single machine or a combination of equipment types largely depends on work volumes. "You could do smaller amounts of work on a manual board but you cannot handle significant volumes that way."
The trend towards central processing means that automation becomes more and more important, he says. "It is in this area that the advanced automated equipment available from Pony can help to achieve targets for speed and, crucially, consistent quality.
"With regard to price, our advice is twofold: Buy the best you can afford and trust the advice of an established distributor. They know what works and what does not."
He adds that distributors want to form long lasting relationships with customers so they will always return when they want to upgrade equipment.
Pony’s latest development is the Pony Eagle, which builds on the success of the Pony Angel shirt finisher. The Eagle features heated shoulder pressing and Teflon shoulder pads and a blown finish for the shirt body rather than the pressed finish achieved by the Angel. Importantly it includes a patented built-in heat recovery system, which is said to save 30% on energy costs. The Eagle can handle a wide variety of shirt sizes with a throughput in excess of 40 shirts per hour.
Alexander says that maximising efficiency is not just a matter of equipment. "The advice we give on operational matters alone will save businesses considerable sums."
It is important to maintain equipment so that it operates at maximum efficiency.
"For example, steam traps need to be inspected regularly but many operators forget to do this," he adds.
As well as being the sole UK agent for Hoffman equipment, Unit Steam Garment Care Systems distributes finishing equipment by Veit of Germany.
Unit Steam’s Andy Newman sees the introduction of energy-efficient systems as one the main advances of recent years. He says that dedicated machines such as Veit’s multiform and topper are an ideal choice.
Multiform finishers can process jackets, coats up to 1.5m long and even polo shirts and knitwear.
The two latest models in Veit’s 8363 Multiform series were especially developed for use in wetcleaning.
They will finish men’s jackets, blousons, anoraks and other outerwear. Both versions are also available with integrated steam generators.
The Multiform finisher allows garments to be adjusted or smoothed during the cycle.
It can finish garments that have been washed as well as drycleaned garments and the automatic cycle ensures repeatable consistent results without the need for highly skilled operators as the machines do most of the work.
An electric belt drives the machine’s height adjustment and allows precise control of the re-stretch function to prevent overstretching of stretch fabrics.
A strong blower motor offers enough power even for thick garments and can be electronically reduced to adapt to light garments.
Heat transfer and finish results are improved by a larger heat-exchanger. Veit’s 8326 shirt finisher has been redesigned and now features an easy-to-operate touchscreen control with three storable programs. The latest version of the high performance shirt finisher now features Veit’s eMotion moisture control, which measures the dryness of the shirt and automatically stops when the shirt is dry. This can shorten cycle times, leading to energy savings and higher productivity.