At the Camborne site, Cornish Linen Services (CLS) focuses on its Cornish and West Devon customer-base. The company operates two other laundries, one at Torquay in South Devon and the other at Penryn, Cornwall, forming a tight knit group of successful laundries.

Guest houses

The group’s head office is at Camborne and the site processes mainly linen rental from the hospitality sector. The hospitality trade is its core business and the laundry services nearly a thousand restaurants, hotels and guest houses, most of which are family run. These, Colin Rowe says, are more unforgiving than the larger commercial clients. They have a higher expectation of quality and service and will only pay an average price for it. Business, he says, has levelled out as there are only so many people who holiday in Cornwall and, the world, in terms of travel and tourism, has become more accessible and affordable.

Although CLS has a strong market share, if it is to grow it has to look for new opportunities. It has for many years had a small garment rental and industrial services business and is currently developing a new facility to expand this market. It will also help to meet the demands of tighter legislation, particularly for the food trade.

Holiday business

However, Devon and Cornwall are still two of the favourite holiday destinations in Britain and the laundry volumes reflect the seasonality of the region in that the volume trebles from the winter low to the summer peak. Employing seasonal staff is therefore a necessity.

“ We are competing with the holiday industry and the retail sector, particularly the supermarkets, and attracting quality staff is becoming increasingly difficult. We are very lucky to have a low turnover of our core people. There are about 100

of these but we need to increase that by 50% in the holiday season,” explains Colin Rowe.

The CLS solution to this problem is to automate the laundry as much as possible. The company has a rolling programme over its three sites and Colin points out both the benefits and dangers.

“Productivity must not be gained by sacrificing quality. Also when the Torquay laundry was upgraded a surplus finishing line was installed at Camborne for emergency cover only.

“What happened was that when production fell behind schedule and there was access to a spare calender, it was used. We were then operating our “emergency” calender through out the peak periods and employing a team of people to operate it.

“We operate in a competitive market place and feel the same price pressures as anyone. The wages we pay are above the minimum rates, we have always tried to better those, but we have seen an increasing amount of legislation, work directives, holiday pay and maternity provisions, and the impositions have been quite severe and costly. Our turnover at Camborne went up by 6% last year while staff costs went up by double that.”

Spare capacity

Flatwork production at Camborne is based on a 5-year-old 12 x 60kg Lavatec tunnel washer and six tumblers. The most recent tumbler installed takes double-batches and is steam heated. The laundry is on an interruptible gas supply contract so the steam tumbler provides insurance should the gas supply to the other tumblers become unavailable.

“It was about 6 years ago when we decided to replace our existing equipment and put in the Lavatec batch washer and four tumblers. It then gave us at least 35% spare capacity but today, even with the extra tumblers, we are at full stretch at peak times. We gained a significant contract through the ALS group and can find production levels up 320,000 pieces in a 5 day week.”

The solution was more automation. Thomas Broadbents who supplied the washing system, and H J Weir, who had an AutoPrep on site, were asked to look at the installation of a cake-transfer conveyor and a cake-breaking unit. The cake transfer system was up and running first. Cakes of sheets are automatically transferred from the continuous batch washer by the shuttle conveyor to a by-pass station feeding an overhead conveyor system that accumulates the cakes. These cakes are no longer processed through the tumblers, nor are they transferred into barrows. Therefore the need for people to lift and strain and move barrows around has been eliminated.

Cake breaking

From the overhead conveyor the cakes arrive at the Weir ‘Cakebuster’. Dropped into a large hopper then passing through two slowly revolving star-shaped cylinders, they are squeezed and broken up. The sheets drop into a shuttle truck which transfers them to the Weir AutoPrep where they are picked and dropped onto a carousel conveyor feeding the ironer.

“ We can store up to 18 cakes on the overhead conveyor and control the sequence at which they arrive at the Cakebuster. We have had the AutoPrep picking-unit for some 18 months. It was originally picking from a barrow, brought from the tumblers, and separating out the sheets back into barrows for the girls to feed from. We now pick direct onto the conveyor system.

The system has the added benefit of freeing more tumbler drying capacity and gives a minimum of 6 extra loads of

towels per hour through the system. CLS has also reduced the seasonal workforce compliment by eight, freed up floor space, improved both productivity and quality, and removed some of the more strenuous and repetitive tasks within the laundry process. The system should achieve a production rate of 850 sheets per hour, from a mixture of singles, doubles and king-size, with three operators.


The cake transfer and sheet preparation systems have cost £70,000 and the payback time is estimated to be two years. Inspection cameras have also been installed on the sheet folder controlling the finished quality. They scan for stains, holes and edge creases and are proving to be reliable. CLS is evaluating the system with a view to introducing a similar system for table linen, however the camera’s sensitivity to patterns and colours could prove to be a problem.

“ It is easy to speed up production if you are prepared to sacrifice quality but getting the right balance for your market is the challenge.”

Colin Rowe says his company has invested much time and money in system engineering and trying to get the balance right. The Camborne plant now has three ironer lines, each with different feeding machines.

“ We currently have a Weir feeder and folding system for sheets, a Kannegiesser feeder and folder for tablelinen and a Jensen feeder with a Weir folding system for smalls. When we researched the market they were the best machines for those applications at the time.”

The rolling investment programme means transferring good practice from one laundry to another with the workforce being asked to make adjustments to new technology and work practices. “ Once people see the benefits they are willing to embrace the new ideas” says Colin.

CLS is making constant upgrades and revisions to its process lines but the biggest recent improvement has come from installing the cake transfer system with new machinery supplied by trusted engineering companies.

“ I have been privileged to work with John Weir” says Colin, “and we have shared a lot of information and experiences with the company. We are one of the “Weir-friendly” laundries. I believe that we have both gained much from the relationship.”