The tunnel washer market has seen two specific trends over the past four or five years.

First, the need to save energy and water to cut operational costs has been ever present and has led to the development of machines that represent radical changes in design.

Second, manufacturers have recognised the need to broaden the market and have introduced compact versions that represent a more attractive proposition for small- and medium-sized companies that may have felt their work volumes did not justify the investment in the larger machines.

As with other sectors, tunnel washer sales were held back by the global recession but last year saw a more positive mood.

Gerda Jank, head of marketing at the Jensen Group, says that there was a significant increase in investment last year compared with that seen in 2009.

Sales to Eastern European markets in particular began to pick up and the company was also pleased with tunnel washer sales to Japan. She attributes this success with Japanese customers to the company’s ability to meet high demands for hygiene in its tunnel washers.

Jank expects this upswing in sales to continue in 2011 but also believes that customers’ expectations will become higher and they will want more comprehensive guidance and support from their suppliers.

Karl Schubert at Milnor confirms that 2010 saw a comeback in sales. He explains that this was the first year following the recession that markets began to act “normally.” A backlog of pending orders from 2009 became sales in 2010. The water-saving PulseFlow technology was introduced to Milnor CBW tunnel washers in 2009 and in the more positive mood of 2010 it was accepted with enthusiasm.

More than 30 PulseFlow machines have already been installed in the USA and the rest of the world and these plus the regular CBWs that are still being sold made 2010 very successful.

Asked how European markets compare with developing markets, Schubert replies that European markets are mature and most sales are replacements. Mature markets have higher expectations and are receptive to innovation such as PulseFlow and the company has been organising seminars to explain the system. The award of the Hohenstein Certificate for Innovative Washing Technology, after extensive testing in Europe and the USA, should encourage sales still further.

However, developing markets are reluctant to invest in tunnel washers, laundries that do install them generally want straightforward machines for washing sheets, towels and pillowcases in short, simple classifications.

Kannegiesser says that its family of PowerTrans tunnel washers continues to be a market leader in both performance and energy saving equipment. The company has recently installed machines in Australia, Dubai and Qatar.

One company that confirms the benefits of the PowerTrans models is the Afonwen Group, a leader in the UK market.

Managing director Mark Woolfenden says the company has three PowerTrans tunnel washers, each handling 50kg batches.

Two of these are at the company’s state-of-the-art Cardiff plant which opened in 2008 and a third has been in place at the North Wales head quarters since 2001. All three process a mixture of flatwork and at Cardiff the two tunnels process all work. Woolfenden says that the company has repeatedly chosen the PowerTrans as it has found this family of machines to be one of the most consistently reliable and efficient tunnel washers on the market.

The tunnel washer is one of the most important investments any laundry can make and Afonwen has run the two PowerTrans tunnel washers at its Cardiff plant for two and half years with almost no downtime and a resilient wash process, Woolfenden adds.

Last year saw the return of the Lavatec brand under the ownership of a new company. Lavatec Laundry Technology purchased the production and administrative buildings at Heilbronn and employed some of the former workers but has no relationship with the old Lavatec company.

The new owner has gradually built a network of distributors.

In general terms, the company believes that last year there was still reluctance to invest, underlined by the banks’ cautiousness over financing fresh projects. France was an exception as there were many government backed investments so the market did not reduce so much.

However, Lavatec Laundry Technology expects to see considerable increase in demand this year especially in countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland where economic activity is starting again.

Two particular product trends have dominated the tunnel washer market and indeed the whole laundry sector for some time.

Investment to cut costs has been a constant theme and manufacturers have introduced some innovative designs.

A fresh approach

Kannegiesser’s Jet technology is a good example. Here the company has adapted the washer-extractor principle of integrated washing and rinsing, with the extraction process taking place in the body of the machine rather than at the end of the line and with a pre-extraction phase before the rinse stages begin.

By introducing a pre-extraction phase to remove both free water and the wash liquor absorbed by the load, the system makes the rinse process more efficient.

The linen enters the wash in a compressed state and absorbs the rinse water more easily.

As much of the wash liquor has already been removed, less fresh water is needed to dilute the remaining liquor and the rinse cycle is much shorter. So the system saves water and energy and also helps to increase productivity. The PowerTrans Jet concept is available in two versions, one with centrifugal extraction the other with press extraction.

Figures for water consumption vary according to the application and the chemistry used, but under optimum conditions, water use can be as little as 2liktre/kg.

The Jet machines extend the PowerTrans principle and complement the traditional designs which continue to form an important part of the market.

Fresh water reduction

Milnor’s PulseFlow technology allows the company to meet requirements both for water saving and for machines that occupy a smaller footprint and are suitable for small- to medium-size operations.

The system uses an intermittent counterflow combined with “true top transfer. Karl Schubert says this can reduce fresh water consumption to 2.5 – 3litre/kg for light to medium soiled linen and to 3.5 – 4litre/kg for more heavily soiled loads.

Whereas conventional tunnel design has a series of wash modules followed by the rinse modules, PulseFlow tunnels carry out both washing and rinsing in each module with a high velocity counterflow introduced during the last quarter of each module’s cycle.

This design allows fewer modules to be used, thus saving space while achieving the same capacity.

Future developments are under wraps for the present but the company does say that it will be introducing advances in control systems during Clean 2011 in June.

Gerda Jank at Jensen says that laundry customers have three main requirements: Further savings of resources such as energy and water, hygiene and machines with higher outputs to raise productivity. Jensen takes all these requirements into account in its product development programmes and it continues to focus on the further optimisation of energy efficiency.

This strategy has produced the Senking CompactLine tunnel washer. This is available with five to seven modules, each taking 50kg, which allows for variations in loading and applications.

The design follows the principle of complete batch separation to minimise water and energy consumption. Fresh water consumption of below 2.9litre/kg is achievable. The CompactLine is available either with conventional steam heating or, following the CleanTech concept, with built-in decentralised gas heating.

The company has also developed the MaxiLine tunnel, which can take batch sizes up to 120kg. While this was originally introduced with the USA market in mind, the company is now seeing increased demand for this high volume machine in Europe.

Dedicated division

Although the Girbau Group has been involved in the tunnel washer market for several years, the launch of a dedicated heavy-duty equipment division has brought its tunnel washer series into sharper focus.

The TBS50 is designed for laundries that handle high volumes and an process up to 1,500 kg per hour while minimising labour requirements and also reducing energy, water and chemicals use. In some applications water use can be reduced to 2litre/kg.

This high capacity tunnel is well established but more recently the company has introduced the EcoTunnel for small- to medium-sized businesses handling volumes of 250 – 500kg/hour. The EcoTunnel provides energy, water and chemical saving benefits similar to those to its larger companion but in a more compact, five compartment machine. Six and seven compartment variants are available for laundries handling over 500kg/hour.

A Medi-Spec variant is also offered for laundries with a large customer base in the healthcare sector. The company says that if a laundry replaces six to eight high capacity washer-extractors with an EcoTunnel it could cut energy use by up to 80% and water use by 75% with corresponding savings in chemicals. An EcoTunnel installation could also help to reduce labour costs as a tunnel washer automates many tasks previously carried out manually.

Lavatec Laundry Technology offers machines in batch sizes from 25 –100kg and with up to 20 compartments. Machines are individually built to customer specifications. Programs can include high temperature, disinfection and low temperature processes and the use of counterflow or standing bath as required. There is also a choice of bottom transfer or central transfer, which can suit some applications. The construction uses a continuous double drum and drum rotation is strictly controlled to prevent tangling the linen. Processes can be controlled within each compartment as required. Progress can be monitored on a touchscreen with text in a choice of languages.