Finishing is an important part of the laundry production. While the ironer is the core machine in the line, the way linen is introduced to the line and also how it is presented at the end affect the quality of result and the productivity.

Over the past decade the move to automate the whole finishing process has increased. The Jensen Group points out that the pressure to increase the productivity per operator hour through automation is driving sales of feeders and folders.

This trend does vary according to the market. Girbau’s product manager for its industrial division, Jordi Martinez says that in European countries laundries are looking for highly automated and sophisticated machines while the American markets focus particularly on high productivity. In less developed markets where labour is cheap laundries often rely on manual feeding although folders are becoming more common as handling the hot linen is more difficult for the operators.

Wim Opsomer at Laco Machinery in Belgium makes a similar point. The company, formerly a sister operation to Lapauw, is now an independent business, owned by Dominique Lapauw.

The company says that the cost of manpower is still the main reason for automating the feeding process and where costs are high, the return on investment is the deciding factor in the choice.

Generally it is the European market that is setting the pace in automation, while African and Asian countries are still much slower to automate. Opsomer says that automation can do much to help productivity. Even a single-roll chest ironer with integrated feeder will allow one operator to feed up to 180 pieces/hour and the integrated ironer feeder accounts for one in ten of the company’s ironer sales.

Girbau’s Martinez remarks that laundries are now handling a much wider range of linen categories – duvet covers, including “bottle neck” type and fitted sheets as well as the more traditional flatwork categories.

Expanding on this influence, the Jensen Group says that the fabrics being used for flatwork are also changing.

Rising cotton prices have led to a greater switch to polycotton blends. Laundries have to handle duvet covers, which are heavier, due both to the double thickness and to the materials being used.

So, says Jensen, manufacturers have developed machines that can handle these changes. The company’s Logic Plus feeder and its range of folders are good examples of such developments.

Looking more closely at the type of machines that customers are buying, Kannegiesser points out that laundries handling sheets and duvets want feeders that are simple to operate and can handle a wide range of fabrics and linen types. So it recommends the EMT/EMQ three-/four-station feeders. It also points out that the first generation of four-station feeders was introduced over 20 years ago so laundries are beginning to replace these now.

Customers that are looking for the best possible results in folding are advised to consider Kannegiesser’s RFM reverse-belt folder. The linen remains on the belt throughout the process and each item is measured before the first length-fold. The machine’s program adapts automatically for each piece.

The company has developed the CFM compact folder for customers requiring a simpler machine. The company has now improved both the controls and the belt-drive and the machine can run at up 60m/minute. On some applications it can handle up to 1,600 pieces/hour.

The Jensen Group says that in the main customers want to obtain the best possible results consistently while operating the line at a given speed. As the first step in the line, the feeder sets the standard for the end result and the folder must be capable of maintaining this standard both in terms of production and quality.

It is important therefore that laundries specify the feeder precisely. When investing for the first time, laundries will often choose a multi-purpose machine that will handle both large and small pieces, while those upgrading may decide to have dedicated lines, typically one for large-piece bedlinen and another for table-linen and small pieces.

Girbau reports that many companies start to consider investing in feeders or folders because they feel they need to automate to maintain productivity when handling pieces that could prove problematic otherwise – for example, the larger sheets that hotels are now using or duvet covers. So in the first instance they look for simpler machines.

Later, when they upgrade, they will already have trained staff to use these machines and have experience in servicing them so then they look for technical improvements and machines that will increase production.

Taking that first step to automation is important in increasing global sales and therefore Girbau has developed simpler machines to encourage sales in less advanced markets.

The Lite range of feeder, folder and stacker has been designed for easy operation, low maintenance and to sell at a low price.

The DRF Lite Feeder, the Fl Lite Folder and the AP Lite stacker will meet the main priorities of reliability, increased productivity and higher profitability.

Martinez says that first time investors in particular need to look carefully at what they require. The group has a worldwide network of subsidiaries and local distributors that will help customers to find the best equipment for their specific business. The company supports customers through its after-sales staff and can offer a maintenance contract to include preventative work. It also offers training and on-line advice with a section called Girbau Laundry Tips, which answers questions on any process.

The Jensen Group develops its machines by listening to customers and when doing so it concentrates on providing solutions for a particular situation.

This solution may be based on an established machine but if necessary it will develop a machine to meet specific requirements.

Given the link between feeding and folding processes, developing a solution for one process may also mean that Jensen needs to produce an answer for the other and it can do so if the customer wishes.

As an example of a Jensen installation the company quotes the Victor Vask laundry in Denmark which serves hotels and restaurants as well as the military and hospitals. The multi-purpose line includes the Jenfeed Logic Plus, which allows linen to be fed in one, two or four lanes, a gas-heated Jenroll EXPG mono-roll ironer and a Jenfold Universal M large-piece folder with Jenstack Max Twin stacker for sorting and stacking.

In this application the folder has a direct bypass which sends napkins, pillow cases and other small pieces to a combined small-piece folder and stacker which covers three lanes.

The small-piece system includes a centering device, which places these piece exactly in the centre of the lane before they are folded and stacked.

In the fourth lane, the laundry uses the Jenstack Concorde which provides top quality folding and stacking and includes the special folds required by restaurants.

The latest advance from Kannegiesser is the Clipmaster EMX cornerless feeder. This helps operators to increase their work rate as they no longer have to search for the linen’s leading edge and clip it in place to make sure that the piece is positioned correctly.

Instead the operator only needs to find one edge to clip and the machine will find the leading edge automatically and feed it into the machine.

The company has also developed the Central Program Control to link the components of the ironer line. This has the advantage of allowing quick changes from one class of linen to the next as these can be programmed in advance and the line will not run empty as the progress is tracked and the ironer speed and fold program will change as soon as the system senses the first item of the next class.

Laco Machinery believes in integrated solutions and its range includes the Comfort Evolution, which integrates the complete ironing line – feeder, chest ironer and folder.

The company also produces chest ironers with built-in feeders.

This built-in feeder includes a system to make sure that the linen is placed with the corners flat on the belt, a feature more usually found in the industrial sector whereas Laco specialises in the commercial sector.

It also uses a brush system that moves across the linen after it has been spread to ensure even spreading, especially on double -thicknesses. The brushes also ensure that pieces enter the chest ironer at the correct tension.

Other pieces include a bypass option for manual feeding of small pieces or round table cloths, an eject button for the fast release of pieces that have been incorrectly clamped and a short distance between clamp release and chest entry to produce high quality results.

The company’s range also includes Lacofold primary folders.

H J Weir has gained a reputation as a specialist in feeders and folders in the UK but has become increasingly international, exporting to Europe and beyond and having a marked presence at international shows, including Texcare Frankfurt in 2008.

It has been exporting to the USA through a partner since 1960 but this year changed its strategy by setting up a subsidiary, H J Weir USA, which is based in Virginia.

It is headed by Jason Gerling, previously sales director at Weir’s distributor in China.

This year’s Clean Show marked Weir’s exhibition debut with its US subsidiary and the main exhibits were the Autoprep linen separator and the Vacfeed Low Line.

This single-lane, multi-station feeder marks a further development of the Vacfeed range and takes its name from the ergonomic design which places the clamps and feeding stations at a safe and comfortable height for the operators. The clamps can also be raised to allow small pieces and shaped items, which would be awkward to clamp, to be fed directly.

The Vacfeed Low Line has several features to help speed production. The WISE (Weir Intelligent system electronics) touchscreen control includes 32 programs,

multi-language display, and diagnostic function. It monitors and records performance. It also includes pacing lamps to let each operator see instantly whether they are meeting targets: green = on or over target; yellow = between targets and red indicates the rate is below target.

The Low Line’s rapid clearance function is popular with customers as it helps to maintain high production rates and makes it easy to deal with large volumes.

Lapauw now operates under the ownership of Philippe D’Heygere as Lapauw International. Well known for its ironers, it complements these with a feeder and folder to complete the finishing line.

The Extra feeder is very easy to operate and maintain. Like its successful predecessor it uses a correction roll. It adopts a cornerless feeding system and apart from the correction roll and its associated clamp has no moving parts as it relies on a vacuum system to transfer the linen to the ironer. This makes it easy to maintain but it is also high capacity with two feeding stations.

The Unifold folder has been redesigned and is now described as a “true universal machine that can handle a full range of sizes and thicknesses at speeds of up to 50 – 55m/minute.