A switch from manual to automated sorting has allowed Johnsons Stalbridge Linen Services to improve the efficiency of its Sturminster Newton laundry and has saved around £27,000 in staff costs.

Geoff Milverton, the plant’s general manager explains that it is important to sort correctly and efficiently at the start of the laundry process. He says that while in theory an assorted load of white sheets can be washed together, they will then need to be sorted into sizes later so sorting by product type and colour at the start avoids double-sorting and ultimately improves the plant’s stock control.

The laundry knows exactly the type and classification of linen in production at any one time so if, for example, a customer requests 300 round, black tablecloths at short notice, the laundry can respond quickly and efficiently.

The automated conveyor system delivers linen in batches to the sorters quickly and efficiently. It was installed as part of a two year, £1.3m investment package designed to update equipment, improve efficiency, cut operating costs and improve the plant’s carbon footprint.

Milverton says the conveyor system has paid for itself in little over a year by increasing productivity and reducing costs. Under the old manual system the laundry often had to take on agency staff to cope with seasonal peaks.

The Sturminster Newton laundry, one of four UK sites operated by Stalbridge Linen, handles an average of 180,000 pieces per week. Flatwork (table linen, napkins) accounts for around half the workload with bedlinen, towels duvets and chef’s wear making up the rest.

Sorting by product type, colour, fabric and size makes an important contribution to maintaining the highest standards of quality control. Most of the work is pool stock and does not need to be individually chipped or barcoded but chefs’ wear is given an alpha-numeric code to ensure each piece is returned to a specific wearer.

According to Milverton, automation has brought many benefits including reducing the need for manual handling at the sorting stage.

He says that the conveyor system has allowed the plant to raise productivity as the conveyor continually delivers the linen to the next stage of the laundry process. The laundry can now handle more loads per hour.

“The way in which the conveyor system is set out provides a much more efficient method of sorting, which in turn has a follow on benefit throughout the whole system.

“For example, if the all the single sheets are separated out at the start of the line the ironers can be programmed to finish two single sheets in one go so the laundry is working more efficiently.”

Milverton sums up: “Automation of the process has not only given us an immediate cost saving in terms of agency staff costs but it has enabled us to be flexible and respond well to an increase in demand at short notice.” He adds that during the major events’ season the plant often receives unexpected and urgent requests for stock at the last minute.

The automated sorting system is just one part of the company’s investment package which included replacement and additional equipment and more automated systems such as the rail system to transport clean work around

the plant.

The investment at Sturminster has not only resulted in a direct and ongoing cost saving but also improved customer service and put the laundry in the best position to handle additional volumes.