You don’t just buy individual laundry equipment nowadays, you buy complete integrated laundry solutions. From intake of soiled textiles through all the processes to final dispatch of clean items, these systems are controlled by a central brain in the form of sophisticated software that enables machines to talk to one another to ensure maximum efficiencies.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly playing its part in these integrated solutions.

Commenting on the recent ExpoDetergo exhibition in Milan, Jordi Bosch, international sales director at Girbau, said: “Fairs should stop being just a shop window for machinery. Customers want solutions, not machines.” He has put his finger right on the nub of the matter. The machine itself has become just one, albeit important, component in a smart integrated line-up.

We are still going to be putting our heads inside stainless steel constructs and asking how reliable they are but we are now in the age of digitalisation, data management and AI that is not far from achieving the complete automated laundry. Truly remarkable advances have been made and plenty were to be seen at ExpoDetergo and other shows last year, including ‘own-label’ events by some of the major manufacturers.

Girbau supplies its TBS-50 Batch Washer – available in five to 12-modules, each with 50kg capacity to meet the needs of any mid- to high-volume laundry. At ExpoDetergo it showed off Girbau Sapphire, which is a remote connectivity solution to control laundry equipment remotely, as well as providing areas set aside for multimedia interaction.

Girbau Max, Girbau’s virtual reality platform, was another of the attractions, which allowed visitors to take a virtual reality tour though their future laundry projects. The main innovations in equipment on show were the TBS50 batch washer, the COMPACT+ ironing system, ST2700 dryer, DRBS feeder and FR+ sheet folder.

Jensen has been putting together integrated systems for some time. Martin Rauch, Jensen-Group CSO at the company’s open days in Majorca last May referenced the latest Senking Universal tunnel washer and the Jenfeed Logic Pro – describing it as “the fastest clamp feeder in the world” – as important component parts of any integrated system.

For healthcare operations, the Jensen Turnus separator that in combination with a Jenrail system automatically feeds the linen into the Jenfeed Logic Pro Automatic Ironer. CEO Preston McElheney of the American laundry services company Halifax Linen Service was one of the first customers to order the Jenrail system last year. “The Jenrail system allows us to consolidate the processes into a production line that is capable of handling all the textiles automatically. The flexibility is tremendous, and it allows us to feed different items like sheets, tablecloths and fitted sheets in one system,” McElheney explains.

Jensen has invested in Globe by Gotli labs across its integrated ranges for all sectors. The Globe laundry management system displays all information across the laundry on one screen in real time and is the first in the industry that offers full integration between a manufacturing execution system, (MES) and laundry ERP systems.

A truly striking example of intelligent pairing for the starting point in an integrated laundry solution, particularly in this instance for hospital and workwear applications, is Inwatec’s robot sorter Frigg and X-ray scanner Odin, which harness the power of AI to look for unwanted items in the pocket of soiled uniforms. It is so clever, and precise, it can identify and retrieve a hypodermic needle left in hospital scrubs. Inwatec stand designers created an infinite loop, where conveyors made sure that both the separator and the x-ray scanner were fully employed without staff help.

During the four days of ExpoDetergo, the system was running non-stop, and on average separated and scanned for unwanted items in the pockets of 1,600 garments per hour during the exhibition, resulting in an entirely automated production volume of 15.4 tons.

Either piece of kit on its own is ground-breaking and together they provide a system that is highly efficient. Although Jensen did not show at ExpoDetergo this year, the company has owned a 30% stake in Inwatec for a year now, and was swift to option the technology on its own integrated laundry solutions.

“For us, it is a great transaction. We can offer Inwatec an extensive distribution channel, and for us, it is a matter of how we can develop this industry to a much higher level and bring the industry into a new generation when it comes to automation,” said Jesper Munch Jensen, chief executive officer, Jensen-Group. (See Inwatec’s sorting solution here

Kannegiesser’s own Expo 2018 in its home town of Vlotho, Germany, and its subsequent showing at ExpoDetergo, allowed sight of its first steps in robotisation following substantial investment in robotics R&D – a move that it sees as a necessity for automation of laundry processes. Additionally, across washing extraction and drying, seamless integration of machines with its own advanced laundry management system enables the machines to communicate with one another and independently optimise the complete process from area to area.

Kannegiesser’s GripMaster robotic sorter with 3D camera loads the soiled textiles into the equipment; operators do not touch the items until they reach the conveyor bins ready for the washing process. The unit is capable of identifying items by colour, textile surface – it can tell whether the item is terry towel or linen and size and weight. Those pieces that are unidentifiable because of a profile the camera has not yet learned are transferred to an operator to be identified manually. The resulting information is then stored in a database. This ‘teach-in’ process increases the detection rate of the 3D camera. A chip reader can also be integrated which allows the unit to fully sort automatically even mixed batches of RFID-chipped and non- RFID-chipped items.

The PowerTransVario tunnel washer incorporates PowerSpin, which can cope with 30 batches an hour, according to Kannegeisser and has a self-optimisation option. The database control system constantly records loading, acceleration and linen distribution parameters that cause imbalances. The result is to produce more stable processes with fewer redistribution attempts, higher output and less strain on centrifuge components.

According to Kannegeisser, the Smart laundry coordinates technology for the needs of its customers and says the answer is growing productivity and efficiency of companies and implementation of holistic technologies. Connection of mechanical engineering and laundry logistics has become a basic company goal.

Krebe-Tippo has produced 516 Smart Laundry controllers for its own controller concept – 516 Classic for self-service, 516 Avant for front loaders and its smallest barrier washer models, and 516 Touch, an advanced option that enables all connections between the washer-extractor and smart laundry equipment using RFID technology, smart phones, tablets and watches.

Lapauw announced its entry into the tunnel washer market in 2017 with the acquisition of Transferon. Within a year it had developed and was marketing its own integrated laundry solution, including a tunnel washer with a compact footprint and impressive capacity. “Probably as important as the integration of the Transferon range into the Lapauw group, is the exclusive partnership that has been set up to enable us to offer material handling systems that often go together with a tunnel washer such as sorting systems, bag systems, conveyors, and so on,” says Lapauw’s Stephen Renders.

On show last year, a complete working set-up of Lapauw’s tunnel washer solution, including press (up to 56 bar pressure), shuttle, dryers, conveyor system and, also in the line-up, the C1206 top loading washer-extractor. Tying it all together, Lapauw’s software solution controls and streamlines the flow of linen through the laundry, from offloading until it is packed and loaded back on the lorry. The software also communicates with various dashboards including quality management and accounting systems.

An integrated laundry from Milnor would include PulseFlow technology tunnel washers and washer-extractor along with automated dryers, material handling systems and laundry computer networks. Milnor’s patented laundry management solution links serial microprocessor controls in its washer-extractors, tunnel washers, extractors, dryers and materials handling systems. Each machine linked to the network can receive a virtually unlimited number of processing formulas and report operating data on each process for each load.

Stahl, meanwhile, launched a new feature at ExpoDetergo that customers had been waiting for, according to sales director Sebastian Hatz. “Feedback from our customers was one inspiration for a new function on our Atoll and Divimat series. It is now possible to change different parameters flexibly during a running process. Specifically, this means, for example, that if it becomes clear during a laundry process that a longer holding time or more water is needed, these settings are adjustable with the new generation of machines. The new settings not only apply to the current cycle, but can be conveniently saved as a default for further washing cycles.” Stahl also showed its third generation of T352-T356 dryers, with improved recirculation. For customers who are looking for a new laundry-feed machine, says Hatz, an investment in the new Servant is worth it. With a clamping-feed secured by a light-grid and light control for a simplified laundry input, Servant can additionally be equipped with a stretch conveyor, brushing device and blower tube for loosening and spreading laundry. The laundry input is optional and possible for up to three stations.

At the start and finish of any integrated laundry operation, pick up and return of the correct number of items is of the utmost importance. Ensuring all is present and correct, ThermoTex UK distributor Tabish Aiman of TexID, told LCNi at ExpoDetergo, that the company’s new UHF Box offers the most accurate single container scanning as it can manage 500 RFID tagged items in 10 seconds. The UHF Box is available in one- or two-door pairs, with the option for an automatic door operation system.

Chipped textiles are efficiently logged and read error-free. The doors, which are designed with special glass that blockS external signals, lock during the scanning process and release when the scan has finished. A variant with self-opening/closing door is also available. “For 500 items, read 501,” he said, demonstrating the operation, “as the 501st tag is for the trolley itself”.