The pandemic has focused minds on a problem that was already affecting commercial laundries – labour shortages. The shortfall is leading to increased costs as businesses struggle to attract workers but will this situation push laundries more speedily towards investing in more sophisticated operating systems? Integrated laundries with intelligent software and advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take the drudge work out of production work but are we any nearer to achieving total automation across all areas? These are questions we need to answer, but first let’s set the scene as it is now.

The UK Textile Services Association (TSA) wage survey of the commercial laundry sector, which it published in November 2021, found that labour costs had increased by a staggering 14.25% in the 12 months to October 2021. More than 86% of the TSA’s membership took part on the survey, underlining the alarm that the increases are causing throughout the industry.

TSA CEO David Stevens warned then that, without significant price increases, the industry is simply not viable. “Wages are the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have reports of energy prices going up 300%, insurance up 100%, textile costs up 50%. It’s not sustainable. The industry was already reeling from the aftermath of the lockdowns and the lack of government support, but these increases are unprecedented. We’ve jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

It is the same story in the USA as the North American textile services trade body for the linen rental sector, TRSA, also tells of labour shortages. Back in Spring 2021 as the country started to get back to work, there was talk then of employee and retention woes. The latest iteration of TRSA's Business Pulse Survey was conducted in May 2021, with a total of 57 respondents to the online questionnaire. The survey addressed topics ranging from a company's financial outlook to recruiting and retention of staff and Covid-19 vaccination rates among employees.

An overwhelming majority – 93% – said they were struggling to hire and retain employees. The following employees were the most difficult in this respect:

■ Production Staff, 89%

■ Route Drivers, 62%

■ Engineering/Maintenance, 45%

By late June, as TRSA was on its marathon national re-opening tour, speaking to operators face to face, most members continued to report new employee recruiting and retention woes. Some had mitigated these, however, by raising starting wages up to 20%.

In some US states businesses were expecting relief before September as those states were beginning to roll back unemployment compensation before the federal deadline. In addition to the rollbacks, others were considering providing incentives for workers to return to the workforce. Still, as the TRSA contingent continued across the US Midwest region, meeting with representatives of 27 member companies, only a few operators and supplier partners indicated they had returned to near full employment.

In November 2021, during the latter stages of the reopening tour, the TRSA reported that because of labour market pressures, all three tour legs included discussions of members’ employee recruiting and retention techniques. It found the California leg was a bit more upbeat on labour than the Southeast and Midwest segments, as members reported getting closer to hiring and retaining enough staff to meet customer demand, attracting higher-quality candidates and keeping more people on board longer.”

So, what are the available and future remedies? If Texcare had taken place last December, we were promised a cornucopia of information and new technology centred around the show’s advertised four pillars theme of hygiene, sustainability, AI and future-proofing. OK, so that has gone but the technology is out there so let's take a look specifically at the third and fourth pillars.

Last year the Jensen-Group told LCNi it had made significant progress in securing large, high-tech projects in partnership with Inwatec, Denmark. "Our joint effort extends our market offering and supports our strategy to be industry leaders and innovators in applying robotics and AI to laundry automation processes. In the near future, the Jensen-Group will invest in a 40% increase in the shareholding in Inwatec ApS, Denmark, after having purchased 30% in 2018. (Turn to Spotlight to find out more about Jensen-Group and Inwatec).

"Our new product developments are targeted at reducing energy and water consumption as well as increasing the throughput and up-time of our equipment. MetriQ, the new loading station for garments, is setting new benchmarks regarding ergonomics and productivity. It is the only system in the world that can load garments with the buttons-to-the-front, which is particularly interesting for patient gowns and scrubs.

"GeniusFlow is another example that gives proof how data can boost the efficiency in laundries. The interface allows a simpler management of garment batches and reduces the number of late garments to be processed manually. Robots, like the Evolution Spider for the automatic separation, feeding and placing of towels into the towel folder as well as the Thor series from Inwatec (both for garments and for linen) have gained in popularity."

Whether it is moving soiled intake into the tunnel washer or washer extractors, transferring to dryers or delivering to the sorting area, automated rails, shuttles and conveyor systems are essential for the smooth running of a commercial laundry.

In a Kannegiesser set up with a Power Trans tunnel washer, synchronisation is everything, and that includes the shuttle. A typical washing system designed for terry would have a cycle time of 120 seconds and a capacity of 1.5 t/h. Instead of the usual five dryers, only four PowerDry transfer dryers are required. The outstanding individual performance and the perfect interaction of washing line, press, lifting conveyor (between press and dryer) and dryer makes it possible. No machine is waiting for another. All processes are synchronised. With the self-optimising preliminary signal, the PowerTrans detects whether the PowerPress is ready to load too early or too late and adjusts the preliminary signal for the following batches accordingly. With the SynchronTransfer, the PowerTrans controls its pivoting movements so that the inner drum is in the exact start position for the transfer at the end of the wash cycle. Zero seconds is how long the PowerDry transfer dryer waits during loading by the LSC lifting shuttle conveyor system. The communication between the LSC and the PowerDry is realised by a preliminary signal from the PowerDry. The LSC brings the next batch to the next available dryer so that loading can take place immediately.

On top of that, there is also eVue by Kannegiesser which is the key to controlling a compete laundry from soil intake to goods out. eVue is a web-based single control interface for the entire laundry operation. The reliable and intuitive system, says Kannegiesser, offers full transparency and control over the production process. It ensures laundry operations at maximum capacity using high-developed diagnostic functions, optimised productions routing and tracking, and real time reports on production performance.

The process control software perfectly integrates the entire range of Kannegiesser equipment it was developed by Kannegiesser ETECH in Minneapolis, USA. Read more in this month's Cover Story.


Machines and systems should work together as a team. That is the opinion of Maarten Ploeg, director of system integrator WSP. “It’s not the individual performance that counts, but the team performance. Every order that is ready for dispatch is such a team effort. As natural as the mutual cooperation and coordination in a strong team is, it should also be natural between machines and systems. That’s an important design choice when setting up a laundry.”

Of course: for Maarten, a team of people is a metaphor here. But it is a comparison which he thinks reveals the essence of system integration. As a system integrator, WSP knows all about it.

Team with performance

“In a team you have many different people, who form a team thanks to common goals and mutual rules. They give and take. And that is exactly what the guiding principle should be in setting up the laundry. Maximum performance is not the sum of machines that each achieve their maximum utilisation. Maximum performance is the speed, smoothness and efficiency with which customer orders move through the laundry.”

Thinking in flows

Is there a difference? According to Ploeg, it’s actually a big difference. It requires ‘thinking in flows’, as he calls it. Creating flows of laundry without delays, bottlenecks, congestion, backlogs. “It requires a different planning principle to begin with. The question should no longer be what comes in, but what has to go out tomorrow. That is what you could see as the team purpose of machines and systems. Ensuring that complete customer orders are ready at the right time. By working with buffer systems, you allow laundry to enter the production flow at exactly the right time.”

The secret: the integration layer

The question then arises as to how to turn individual machines and systems into good team players. In practice, there are numerous manufactures and technologies in the laundry industry. Not to mention the sometimes large differences in year of manufacture. Does that limit the intended integration? “Certainly not,” Ploeg states. “You don’t expect the people on your team to look alike either, do you? Of course, standardisation can bring benefits in areas such as procurement and technical management. But optimal system integration leans on a different principle. An upper ‘integration layer’ must be created. A control technology and IT layer linked to all individual machines and systems. Only from such an integration layer can you achieve optimal internal logistics. In other words: a flow. We have developed powerful standard solutions f or that.”

Real-time data

As far as Ploeg is concerned, that would be system integration par excellence. Central logistics control based on a dizzying stream of real-time data. Even the most experienced laundry boss can’t compete with this intelligence. “The integrated system makes thousands of optimal decisions in day-to-day operations, which together provide significant productivity gains. By now, we are very experienced in that regard,” says Ploeg. “Both in new laundries and in existing laundries in which we realised such an integration layer. To stick with the metaphor: individual ‘talents’ of all ages are going to form a winning team together.”


UBI Solutions addresses the problems and solutions for the laundry sector which, it says, is undergoing major changes, particularly in terms of technology and the environment. Each year, it faces new challenges to remain competitive in the face of increased competition.


Companies in the sector face many challenges. They must provide their customers with a faultless level of cleanliness and quality. For this reason, they are equipped with numerous machines which, depending on the level of obsolescence, can consume a varying amount of energy and thus represent a significant expense. It is therefore necessary for a laundry to allocate a significant budget to purchase efficient equipment.

In addition, staff shortages become a problem because despite their high level of technology, these machines require human operators. Since the health crisis, labour is becoming increasingly scarce and finding qualified employees is a challenge for laundry managers.

Over and above the economic and social issues, they also have to deal with the environmental impact of cleaning a large volume of textiles every day. An industrial laundry uses a very large amount of water and electricity daily. This is a real problem that we must be able to remedy.

Investment inf efficient, innovative machines, and also the implementation of solutions to automate processes and thus increase productivity and quality, plus a considerable reduction in costs could allay these problems and RFID systems can also help..

The insertion of an RFID tag into into linen subject to industrial washing processes is a significant step forward for laundries, according to UBI.

It makes it possible to:

■ Reduce human intervention on time-consuming and repetitive tasks: this reduces human error and improves productivity by saving time on monotonous tasks, leaving staff to perform more rewarding tasks.

■ Obtain full stock visibility in real time: RFID offers complete traceability for the production chain, thus minimising the risk of stock-outs or overstocking.

■ Automate processes: by automating tasks, as is the case for inventories in particular, errors can be reduced considerably, and productivity can be increased.

■ Reduce losses and thefts: it is possible to have real time knowledge of the location of each article of linen thanks to the reliable information provided by the traceability system, which will record the data.

■ Reduce the environmental impact: due to the unique identification of laundry items via RFID tags and RFID chips, it is possible to mix linen from different customers and therefore reduce the consumption of water, gas, washing products, etc.

■ Improve customer relations: by reducing errors and having complete visibility of the entire production chain, the laundry has all the necessary information to offer a quality service and thus increase customer loyalty.

■ Reduce costs: the implementation of a traceability system makes it possible to optimise the life cycle of the linen, reduce losses and personnel costs.

All this is true for healthcare and hospitality laundries alike, says UBI. In the healthcare sector, for example, in Spain, Interhospitalia, Barcelona’s hospital laundry serves more than 22 hospitals and manages more than 20 tonnes of linen a day.

The laundry manager experienced a real problem with stock management, because he did not have a centralised linen service as each client managed their own linen. Significant losses and errors were identified which led him to search for a system to track all linen article by article in real time.

The RFID laundry traceability solution which was set up not only allowed the linen to be tracked within the laundry itself, but also enabled its customers to track it in their own hospitals. The company is now able to monitor stock for resupply and to provide hospitals with specific information so that they can improve their management and reduce waste.

UBI tells LCNi of another mega heathcare laundry that is seeing the advantages of RFID. A few years ago, the AP-HP experienced a real problem with linen shortages. In the laundry for these hospitals, 35 tonnes of linen were dealt with every day to be washed, dried, ironed and folded.

This was difficult to manage, particularly for operations involving inventories, meaning the segregation and washing plus the preparation of trolleys for hospital departments was generating significant losses of linen and money.

To overcome to the difficulties this situation created, Jean-Charles Grupeli, director of the AP-HP laundry, called on UBI Solutions to set up an RFID traceability system which made accurate monitoring of all outgoing and incoming sheets possible, thus reducing the duration of inventory operations and above all optimising stock management.

“We decided to make this investment because a lot of linen was disappearing,” explains Jean-Charles Grupeli, director of the AP-HP laundry. “Since then, annual purchases have halved.”