For laundry finishing in the UK, quality is paramount. Whether the laundry is a big commercial operation or a small OPL, having the right equipment for the mix of linens and knowing how to use it to achieve the best finish is key. But it is particularly true at the five-star hospitality end of the market where Girbau UK targets its finishing equipment.

One of the main challenges in this sector is the weight of the linen. “A cheaper feeder might cost half the price but it can’t deal with heavy linen as the claws won’t hold the linen and if it falls to the floor, it will have to be washed again,” says Richard Brown, industrial division sales manager at Girbau UK. Girbau’s DR line of feeders can adapt to the type of linen and the individual operator, ensuring the fabric is taut and ready for ironing.

The quality of the linen and the range of different fabrics in the laundry can also provide a challenge to getting the perfect finish. “The quality now is variable. Some hold water, they vary in size – the machinery needs to understand the measure of each piece,” according to Andy Marsh, a consultant with a history of experience in the industry and who has been working with HJ Weir on some of its larger installation projects. In addition, he says, laundries are demanding wider feeding and ironing equipment to handle large pieces of linen, such as king size sheets. “When I started, it was 3m finishing lines, then it moved to 3.3m and now some want 3.5m,” he comments. Accordingly, HJ Weir partnered with Laco Machinery to supply Laco flexible chest ironers with working widths of 2.5m to 3.5m. 

Commercial laundries in particular want equipment that can cope with high demand, high usage and different fabric types in order to deal with the high volume of linen that comes from a range of customers.

Jensen’s Express Plus feeder promises to be able to process up to 1,800 single sheets or 1,200 king size sheets an hour with three operators. “The machine still maintains high quality,” says Ian Stubbs, general manager of Jensen UK.

First prototype

The first prototype in the UK was installed at Fishers Laundry in 2016 and more are now being installed at other laundries. The incorporation of a Jensen Quality Unit between the feeder and the ironer ensures that the sheet enters the first chest of the ironer fully spread.

Of course, if the feeder’s capacity is high, the ironer also needs to be able to cope with a high volume. Jensen’s new Jenroll Hybrid Ironer promises to deliver both high quality and high throughput. The flexible chest ironer features a carbon steel surface to optimise heat transfer and reduce friction on wet linen. Stubbs says that because it irons both sides, it delivers the perfect finish, leaving no tape marks on the linen – and its footprint is small. It can work at 3m, 3.3m or 3.5m.

Equipment that helps to increase productivity is also important, Stubbs says, because it helps to reduce the cost of labour whose cost has increased for many laundries as a result of the introduction of the national living wage. “It adds a burden to a laundry, so anything that can give them a win is good.”

Len Hazell, commercial sales manager at Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems agrees: “Customers are looking for ways to reduce labour costs. They want innovative ideas that require fewer people to feed the linen and they are asking for higher and higher speeds on the machines.” However, he warns: “You can try to speed up the machine, but it can only go as fast as the operators can feed it.”

Armstrong is the distributor for Lapauw feeders, folders and ironers. Its latest ironer is the Ironmax, a gas-heated flexible chest ironer with an updated design, including a larger surface area (up to 3.3m).

The first one is due to be installed in the UK shortly. The ironer features a new thin chest design that aims to increase flexibility and a parallel flow thermal oil circuit that promises to produce a constant and uniform ironing temperature.

Efficiency and consistency

Flexible chest ironers predominate among those on the market. However, Girbau has chosen to go in a different direction. Its PSN-80 ironer uses rigid chest design to ensure consistent flow passages and even heat circulation.

“A lot of our competitors have moved to flexible chest technology but Girbau has not,” Richard Brown says. “We believe that a heavy chest holds heat better – as the oil passes round, there are no cold spots. It can put pressure on the linen and won’t damage it.”

Brown also believes the move toward gas ironers is a good one, as it not only avoids the need for a main steam boiler, which if it breaks down can halt production throughout the plant, but it also is more energy efficient. Girbau’s PC-120 Flatwork Ironer features an integrated boiler that heats the thermal fluid and promises to cut energy consumption by up to 15%.

“Of chief priority to commercial laundries is that their equipment and processes culminate in the highest quality of finish possible, because that is what their customers will judge them on,” says Les Marshall, sales and marketing director for Miele Professional UK. “Our flatwork ironers ensure uniform contact pressure across the entire roller length due to air suspension in the heater plate. The design also means cooler air is drawn in to replace the heat, allowing the textiles to cool down while still on the table, and so keeping the high-quality laundry finish in place. To enable a greater variety of items to be processed in a short space of time, our ironers have variable speed controls and let users adjust temperatures at 1° intervals.”

Steam driven

For laundries operating on steam, one of the main challenges is to ensure a good and consistent quality of steam. “Some laundries have old boilers which don’t produce the capacity they need,” suggests Mick Christian, training and demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional UK. “We look at what they already have, whether the processes are correct and whether they need a new boiler,” he says. What Christian then may recommend is a self-sufficient steam boiler that is attached to one or two machines. “The boiler fits neatly into a corner, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space.”

Selwyn Burchhardt, sales manager for Kannegiesser UK, says laundries are looking for both stronger ironers and energy efficiency. Kannegiesser offers an ironer equipped with a special steam valve that adjusts the temperature to the linen being processed. The operator programs in what is to be ironed and the temperature automatically adjusts, extending the life of the linen. Kannegiesser’s HPM ironers also feature stainless steel heating band technology that promise a high heat transfer and a high-quality finish. They can be adapted for use with either steam or gas and, Burchhardt says, are also able to process high volumes of linen.

“More and more duvets are being processed in hospitality,” he explains. “Kannegiesser offers a powerful ironer that has greatly increased the output of duvets: in the past you could do 300-400 an hour; now you can do 700-750 an hour, still with four people feeding.”

Ergonomic adjustments

Another key issue for laundries is ergonomics. Kannegiesser’s new SynchroRemote not only ergonomically positions the feeding clamps for individual operators but its integrated article buffer compensates for operator feeding fluctuations to help make the finishing process more efficient. The SynchroRemote can be equipped with three or four feeding stations and, for smaller items, it can be adjusted for manual feeding.

HJ Weir has also developed a monitoring system to help make the finishing process more efficient and ergonomic – Evolution MMXV1. When the operator logs into the system, the machine is adjusted for height and then begins to monitor output, enabling management to assess not only how the operator is performing but also monitors the machine, so that any problems can be detected and dealt with.

Training and maintenance

On-premise laundries have a special set of issues to consider when selecting finishing equipment. Flexibility is key as space is usually an issue and they will need to move from one sort of linen to another throughout the day. “On the commercial side, a lot of managers know what they want, but OPLs need to be led,” Len Hazell says, adding that choosing a machine with built-in longevity to deal with required capacity for years to come is important.

For the OPL sector, Armstrong offers Laco machines that are essentially scaled-down versions of commercial machines, delivering the same level of quality, as well as a range of GMP rotary ironers.

Training and maintenance are also key but can be even more of a challenge in OPLs. “We go out and show staff how to use the machines, as well as going into the maintenance side but organising training in the OPL sector, especially with maintenance departments which often get called away to deal with emergencies, is one of the hardest tasks in the industry,” comments Christian.

Richard Brown agrees. “OPLs often don’t understand what’s needed. For example, if they put the ironer on for two hours a day but wash all day, the different items will need a different drying time and different finish. Or the spin on the wash may not be enough for that item or it may not have been rinsed properly, so the finish will have to be different,” he explains. “They need to understand the full wash process. Getting the proper training will save money in the long run.”