On premises laundries can take advantage of sophisticated equipment offering precise control from washing through to finishing. However, a successful OPL needs all the right ingredients—not just the right equipment, but correct procedures and proper staff training.

As the washer is at the heart of the OPL, developments with it will influence both drying and finishing. Electronic control is providing more precise wash results by allowing a wider range of options and more customisation. This is being matched in drying. High washer extract speeds are also impacting on both drying and finishing.

The OPL market is growing as an increasing number of establishments in both commercial and institutional sectors take laundry in house to gain direct control of costs and standards.

The common factor in this customer base is that the core business lies elsewhere. Site managers are not necessarily laundry experts. So suppliers stress that the added-value they offer with advice and project planning is crucial in building a successful and cost-effective operation.


An established supplier to this market, JLA, represents a range of equipment companies—Ipso, Maytag, ADC and Silc—but offers a full service. Marketing manager Dick Cardis endorses the role of all three ingredients—equipment, procedures and training—but puts particular emphasis on training. Currently there is a gap in NVQ accreditation in this area which JLA is hoping to fill.

At Electrolux Laundry Systems, a company with wide experience in the market from institutional to luxury hotel sectors, managing director David Hayes, reinforces the value of training: “To a large degree, any OPL is only as good as the quality of the staff you are using.”

He regrets that establishments often fail to realise this. They will invest heavily in equipping an OPL, but will not gain the full benefits because they are not investing in training.

Electrolux would like to see more customers taking advantage of its training, both on-site and at its headquarters.

Establishing an OPL is a partnership between supplier and customer, says laundry systems specialist Warner Howard. The company points out that OPL site managers are unlikely to have the necessary expertise to specify and install equipment and rely on the supplier. Sourcing equipment from a variety of equipment manufacturers, Warner Howard offers a package from initial advice on space and layout, through choosing the equipment to overseeing the installation and final commissioning.

The company’s role also includes training and servicing and it can also offer a variety of finance plans.

Tom Lowes, marketing manager at Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems, explains that the decision as to whether to go down the OPL route must be made carefully. He stresses that OPLs are not just a cheap option. There are pros and cons both to establishing an OPL, and to contracting out.

OPLs give direct control over quality and may allow you to survive with less stock, but contracting allows more time for the core business.

German manufacturer Stahl caters both for the OPL and commercial laundry markets, and marketing manager Rainer Leddin believes that for the hotel market an OPL has advantages both of economy and flexibility and he sees demand for OPLs growing.

The requirements of this market are wide ranging. David Hayes at Electrolux outlines the main reasons for setting up an OPL—economy in all its aspects, including running costs, labour and time; achieving better hygiene standards; and improving the quality of finish. However, these factors can take on any order of priority, and the supplier must establish the particular requirements.

As manufacturers seek to address all the potential issues, the equipment is becoming increasingly sophisticated, allowing different priorities to be met.

Miele Professional’s product manager, Malcolm Martin, notes increased concern with running costs. So his company uses electronics to maximise efficiency and refine both washing and drying processes. The Profitronic washers allow up to 89 different programming positions.

This sophistication is being matched in the dryers where Miele’s Troctronic control allows similar fine tuning. Sensor-controlled programmes dry precisely to preset levels. Timed options are also available and these will suit applications such as duvets, where the different moisture retention between cover and filling makes sensor drying inappropriate.

This complementary use of electronics is a growing trend. Electrolux customises wash programming via its Clarus processor. Addressing the question of running costs, it has introduced an auto-weigh system to adjust water intake to load.

Again this efficiency is being matched with sensor drying. Mr Hayes explains the advantages. Staff often set timed dryers randomly. This wastes energy and risks overdrying thus making finishing more difficult. So sensors cut costs and improve quality.

However, the way sensor controls are used affects their precision. Sensors have been used to monitor the exhaust air, but it is the air within the drum that counts. Electrolux dryers measure the temperature in the drum 100 times/sec and energy cuts out when the load is dry.

Airflow is another factor that is crucial to drying efficiency. At Armstrong, Mr Lowes points out that the new Loadstar dryers use an axial airflow which forces the airstream through the load from the rear of the drum. As a result, the dryers claim savings of 21% to 27% over their predecessors with a vertical airflow.

Miele’s Malcolm Martin says his company promotes drying efficiency in two ways, by the use of reverse action—again a growing trend—and by use of a cross-axial flow which draws air both through the drum and through its contents.

Further energy savings are possible on larger machines (10kg upwards) where 60% of the air is recycled.

While electronic dryers are a growing trend, there is still room for a different approach. Ken Wood, director of UK-based manufacturer Warwick Dryers, part of Heartland Industries, conveys another perspective. The company deals largely with companies providing an OPL package.

Capital concern

Mr Wood sees the main requirements of OPLs as reliability, price, ease of use and efficiency—although, in reality, capital outlay is often the prime concern.

He stresses the practicalities—machines must be robust, should be able to take some degree of overload, and should have large openings for easy loading.

The concerns of quality and efficiency also apply in the ironer sector, but there may be more of a balancing act.

At JLA Mr Cardis says that while there is a demand for quality, few OPLs have sufficient throughput to justify installing large ironers.

In care homes, a major source of OPL business, the main requirement is for small to medium size models.

Matching size of ironer to throughput is crucial, says Mr Lowes at Armstrong. For the OPL market, his company supplies Laco ironers, a scaled-down version of those available from Laco’s parent, Lapauw, but still offering high efficiency. For example the bed is heated via a heat exchange roller rather than directly and this ensures an even temperature.

There is an argument that the combination of a high extract washer and the heat from an ironer may lessen the dryer requirement by allowing a reduction in use.

Mr Lowes says this is possible, but stresses that to do so the ironer must be correctly sized, and the reduction must be calculated from the start.

Rainer Leddin at Stahl says that high extract washers can achieve a residual moisture level of 40% but attempting to go beyond this results in too much creasing. Dryers loosen the linen and reduce residual humidity, so contributing to a quality finish.

Quality may well be the starting point for the whole operation—the relationship between washing, drying and finishing processes has to be planned.

David Hayes at Electrolux says an OPL starts and finishes with the ironer. “You determine the quality and then run backwards to set the procedures.”

The materials being processed will affect finishing methods. For polycottons, a wash-dry-fold operation may be sufficient. A luxury hotel processing Egyptian cotton will want a very different quality and need a full finishing operation.

One problem for an OPL is that ironers are labour intensive. So Mr Hayes sees the feed-fold-stack machine, where only one operator is needed, as a significant development for the industry.

Even where a full OPL with ironer cannot be justified, a dedicated towel laundry, equipped with the right washers and dryers, can be cost effective. This is a growing trend, particularly for the hotel and leisure sectors. In a large hotel, towels can account for up to 40% of the linen costs says JLA.

The savings that a towel laundry can produce could even justify losing the revenue from a room.