The choice of ironer for an on-premise laundry depends on the type of garments being processed and on the space available. The laundry’s requirements will vary considerably according to the sector in which the host business operates – healthcare, hospitality or commercial.

According to Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems, the UK-based distributor for manufacturers such as GMP and Lapauw/Laco, the OPL equipment market is primarily based on replacement sales in several sub-sectors.

In the medium– to long–term there will be more retirement accommodation and care homes, which will increase the demand for laundry services, says company director Tom Lowes. He adds that at present OPLs are understandably cautious and this is slowing the market but he expects that this slowdown will be balanced by the recession’s side effects such as the increase in UK holidays.

Requirements are market specific, according to Tom Spratt, special projects and laundry consultant for Electrolux Laundry Systems. Every customer is different, which is why the company works with laundries to determine their exact requirements before suggesting which equipment would best meet their needs.

“We would seek to find out what the customer requires in terms of quality,” says Spratt. “Other important factors to consider are volumes of work, space available, utilities, operators’ skills and access.”

Malcolm Martin, product manager at Miele Professional says there has been a decrease in sales of larger ironers to the hotel chains as they are using more easycare fabrics. “However within the care homes’ and independent hotels’ sectors, we have seen an increase in sales of smaller ironers.” Such establishments want to minimise costs and production time by replacing manual ironers with rotary machines.

Martin says that Miele’s entry-level models, such as the HM1680 and in HM1683, are popular with guesthouses and bed and breakfast operators, particularly the HM1680, which has a steam finish function.

Peter Marsh, managing director at Girbau UK says variations in customer requirements relate to production volumes, quality requirements and types of textiles rather than to sector.

He agrees that the laundry’s size will dictate the choice of ironer. “Some customers produce low volumes and might only be handling man-made materials while others need to be able to put several material types through various feeding, drying, folding and stacking options. Girbau UK has a model to suit every requirement. For example, the Girbau PS32 series ironers are easily operated by a single user, saving on labour, while the PS51 series, which is also designed for a single operator, includes a cross-fold function.

“The modular PSN80 range offers an affordable initial capital outlay with the potential to expand to almost any scenario with Girbau’s extensive range of feeders, folders and stackers, if required.”

Accurate machine control is important says Lowes at Armstrong but he adds that customers in the smaller OPLs may not necessarily understand or appreciate this adequately.

The required quality of finish will vary across the different levels of care homes and hotels, says Spratt at Electrolux. The care sector usually uses single bedding, often made of polycotton. In nursing environments, bedding will be changed more frequently than in a residential care home.

The hospitality sector mostly uses double bedding, adds Spratt. The laundry may also have to handle large tablecloths as well. Fabrics are likely to be cotton or linen. He points out that the control systems on Electrolux equipment come with a wide range of pre-set programs that can be tailored further to individual requirements. “Therefore if there is a change in the type of material used, it is simply a case of adjusting the settings. The customer does not need to buy another machine.”

According to Lowes at Armstrong, the introduction of lighter textiles may well affect the choice of machine as it may be possible to achieve satisfactory results by buying a smaller or lighter machine. Alternatively, if the operator is already using a high quality machine he can improve productivity by adjusting the speed or temperature.

Armstrong supplies the Lapauw range of heavy-duty ironers for commercial installations and larger OPLs. The Laco range was established to provide high quality output to smaller installations.

When St Joseph’s hospital laundry ran into flatwork quality problems, hospital engineer Eddie Miller researched the market and found that the answer was a Laco M500 ironer from Armstrong.

While the original laundry was generally successful in its finishing, sheets had increasingly become a problem. These had to be passed through the roller several times to achieve the required standard and there were still some rejects because of creasing. After comparing several manufacturers’ ironers and visiting several laundries Miller settled on the Laco machine.

Miller says the Laco ironer is a return-feed model so everything is done from one side. The work goes straight from the washers to the ironers, without a tumble dryer stage, so the laundry achieves significant energy savings. Equally important, the quality is excellent.

Malcolm Martin at Miele says that increasingly, customers are looking at operational costs. “That is not limited to running costs. Lifetime costs are also influencing purchasing decisions. Miele’s flatwork ironers are designed, built and tested to last 20 years.”

Spratt says that in the care sector, there is an increased trend towards a higher standard of finish that can only be obtained from ironing. Many customers in this sector also overlook the additional benefits of ironing as a method of further disinfection. Current regulations state that care homes must meet certain laundry standards with their equipment and processes to conform with BS/EN14065 Risk Analysis and Bio-Contamination Control (RABC) quality controls. Other sectors, although not always governed by this standard, should also consider the benefits of good laundry practice, he says.

Electrolux is experiencing greater interest in finishing equipment from nursing homes, which require high hygiene standards and hotels looking to contain costs and control both the quality and the reliability of the service.

“In this current economic climate, all service providers are trying to differentiate,” says Spratt. He explains that using an ironer to improve the finish can help with this.

The care sector tends to consist of smaller laundries that have evolved from the wash and dry concept, he adds. “The hospitality industry, on the other hand, has traditionally outsourced laundry.

In-house laundries tend to be used only for towels or valet laundry, neither of which require ironers.”

Spratt adds that any customer needing to iron in high volume would probably be looking for automation, whether that be with return-feed or multi-roll ironers.

The Electrolux range includes return/straight-feed, manual or automatic feeding and folding.

The latest FFS model only requires one person to feed sheets, duvet covers or table-cloths and then to collect the pile of fully-ironed, dried and folded work from the stacker.

The patented Dubixium cylinders avoid the loss of production that results from uneven temperatures as the patented thermal oil flow inside the cylinder ensures that heat is always evenly distributed throughout the length of the ironer.

This kind of machine can be used with both traditional fabrics and modern ones. The FFS range of return-feed ironers allow one person to feed, iron, dry, fold, cross-fold and stack sheets, duvet covers and tablecloths as well as processing standard small-piece work such as napkins and pillow cases. The FFS is fully programmable and user-friendly and can process various sizes and types of material.

Spratt adds: “It is important to note that an ironer is the end part of a laundry process. The quality of utilities can affect the performance of that process.”

Although high levels of automation can reduce laundry overheads by eliminating or reducing labour costs, the option will not suit everyone. Lowes at Armstrong says that greater automation may well be desirable for large OPLs in hotels and hospitals, which are comparable in size to a commercial laundry. However, he believes that automation with all the costs it involves is not a realistic option for the majority of OPLs.

Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems supplies GMP ironers. An important development in the GMP range has been the 1400ES model, which is designed for energy savings. This high performance ironer has lower energy consumption than similar products because of its special heating elements, roll padding and electronic thermo-regulation.

Peter Marsh says that customers’ desire to increase productivity and lower operating costs has been an important driver of OPL?ironer sales. If the establishment does not have an ironer, installing one can save labour and increase productivity virtually overnight,” says Marsh. OPLs with an older model will find that upgrading to a more automated and energy-efficient machine also offers great savings, he says.

“Customers require a high quality product, at lower cost of production. In the current economic climate they are also looking for equipment that saves energy so we have seen a greater take up of more energy-efficient gas-powered ironers.” Girbau UK provides a range of ironers and all models are energy efficient to reduce costs.”

Finishing on a flatwork ironer is up to 70% more energy efficient than relying on a conventional tumble dryer to finish the work, says Marsh. “Energy saving and increasing automation go hand-in-hand to maintain quality and provide a cost effective solution.

“At Girbau we seek to provide the best ironer to meet the individual requirements of each customer, rather than grouping all customers in a particular market together as though they are all the same,” says Marsh.

Two recent developments from Girbau UK are its patented Autospeed system and kinematic strap tensioning system. The Autospeed system adjusts ironing speed to suit material types and moisture levels, potentially reducing energy use and saving time. Girbau’s kinematic strap-tensioning system ensures increased pressure while still providing a gentle action.

Girbau’s high performance PSN80 gas flatwork ironer can be configured in 3, 3.3 or 3.5metre widths with one, two or three rolls. The PSN80 can be used with existing feeders and folders or with those from Girbau’s wide range, depending on the customer’s requirements, enabling considerable savings.