The OPL market is governed by two main customer sectors, hospitality and care/residential homes. Equipment sales in both sectors have tended to be replacement, and over the past few years a slow economy has meant that many OPLs have postponed upgrading equipment as far as possible.
However some suppliers believe this may be changing. Washers and dryers are still the core products for on-site laundries while ironers, although necessary for the highest standard of finish, are sometimes seen as a niche sector. This applies particularly in the care market and OPLs in some smaller businesses are making other arrangements for finishing or using fabrics that do not need ironing.
At Miele Professional, sales and marketing director Les Marshall says that while the care sector is expanding rapidly to meet the needs of a growing ageing population, this positive trend has only a limited impact on ironer sales as many care homes will use polycotton sheets that do not need ironing.
In contrast he says that the hospitality sector represents a significant growth area for his company.
Quality and appearance are important here so there is a willingness to pay attention to details such as perfectly pressed bed and table linen.
Marshall also notes that there is a swing away from outsourcing requirements and hotels are once more beginning to invest in an on-site service that gives them full control over the quality and appearance of their linens.
Peter Marsh, managing director of Girbau UK, takes a similar view saying that with less government funding available, care homes are looking to reduce costs.
Hospitality seems to be faring better but energy efficiency is becoming important, as are controlled costs.
At Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems, director Tom Lowes agrees that hospitality and care/residential homes continue to be significant customers sectors for OPL equipment suppliers, but at present neither are particularly buoyant as far as sales of smaller ironers are concerned.
He says that ironers are very much a niche product as many OPLs try to avoid any type of finishing. For example they may concentrate on towel laundering and contract out flatwork.
A focus on ironer innovation is the answer to this somewhat mixed state of affairs according to Mick Christian, regional training and demonstration manager for laundry at Electrolux Professional. He says that the hospitality market has suffered slightly from the economic downturn but his company has addressed this by taking a sector specific approach.
For example, it emphasises the safety features to be found in its C-Flex ironers and stresses that these comply with the most stringent European standards.
In addition, he says that the company’s customer care programme, which includes staff training, provides crucial support for OPL businesses as staff need to be comfortable with the equipment to achieve the best results.
He is less optimistic about demand for ironers in the care sector. Although operators may be showing greater interest in barrier washers, there are perhaps fewer businesses that require sheets to be ironed so there is no corresponding interest in finishing equipment.
However some healthcare businesses want to install a complete OPL, including an ironer, and the company has a wide portfolio so can find products to suit.
Given that, in hospitality at least, there may be some return to investing in equipment after several years of reluctance to do so, what are manufacturers/suppliers doing to encourage this?
Some address this in financial terms. For example, Armstrong offers a wide range of finance options from conventional purchase to simple three- and five-year lease packages.
The company also offers fixed-price, monthly hire agreements, which include all parts and labour cover throughout the agreed hire term.
Girbau’s Marsh says that the company is seeing increasing demand for feasibility studies as customers require more supplier input to help them through their purchasing decisions. So 3D simulations and detailed running costs are becoming part of the sales process and a free design service is also proving attractive to customers.
Electrolux provides tailored product packages to suit different businesses and also three-, five- or seven- year leasing options. These work on a monthly rental cost.
Christian says that customers investing in ironing equipment want a quick payback so factors such as low running costs, ease of use, low maintenance and reliability are important in product terms while they also want the supplier to be quick to respond should any problems occur.

Developing the product
While the ironer may be a niche product as far as many smaller OPLs are concerned, equipment companies still highlight developments in their ranges, which may also encourage some OPLs to invest, if not now. then in the near future.
Miele Professional’s Marshall says the PM12 series, introduced last year, was Miele’s first rotary ironer range for 25 years. The company believes it is important to have the latest technology available so it is ready when OPLs do decide they want to upgrade. Marshall says that this latest generation has "a pioneering design" and a number features exclusive to the Miele Professional brand. Ergonomics are the best to date as machines can adjust to suit each operator’s build and preferred ironing position (seated or standing).
The ironers are also easy to use. Operators control the machine via a large touchscreen and the redesigned controls now allow speed and temperature to be adjusted in stages. They also allow favourite programs to be stored and offer a cleaning and waxing program. The Flexcontrol foot switch is adjustable and the operator can quickly and simply stop the roll, if needed. A pause function lets the user stop the roll and disengage the trough at any point.
The top model in this range, PM17, can be quickly be switched between return feed and through feed modes.
As well as being ergonomic and simple to use the PM12 ironers also optimise ironing results via an air-suspended ironing trough that ensures uniform roll-to-bed pressure.
Girbau’s PB ironers are tried and trusted says Marsh and have much to offer OPLs. They cover cylinder sizes from 325 – 500mm and ironing widths from 1.6 – 3.2m.
The mid-range PB3221 has a 325mm diameter cylinder with a usable length of 2.12m. Ironing speeds from 1 – 5m/min will suit most applications but a high speed option of 11m/min provides greater productivity when needed.
This model uses Girbau’s icon based LOGI control and the autospeed function adjusts ironing speed in response to the type of material and humidity.
Mick Christian says that Electrolux’s wide range of ironers allows it to offer models that suit specific requirements with controls that allow different finish standards. Programs can be modified and then recalled at the touch of a button.
Options include a choice of return or straight feed, with manual or automatic operation. The FFS return feed ironers include built-in folder and stacker and allow one operator to handle all functions. Electronic controls include a large display with
step-by-step guidance and an alert when residual moisture after ironing exceeds 8%.
The range also includes patented technologies such as the DIAMMS moisture management system with automatic speed adjustment to suit fabric type and the Dubixium cylinders with a thermal oil flow that ensures even heat distribution throughout the ironer length,
Armstrong supplies the E-Line range from Italian ironer specialist GMP to meet the needs of smaller OPLs that do require an ironer. Tom Lowes says this company works constantly to add innovatory features and recent developments include: multi-voltage (1 or 3PH) models, roll removal in less than an hour to permit easy access for cleaning and inspecting the ironer chest, double temperature sensors for accurate control right across the ironer surface and a "sleep mode" that automatically switches
the machine off if it has not been used for a set time, thus conserving energy.

EASY AND COMFORTABLE OPERATION: Miele’s PM12 ironers have "the best ergonomics to date" and several features that make them easy to use. The top model PM17 is shown