The buzzword is integration. To achieve the three goals of quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness, the design of finishing sections must relate to the rest of the plant.

Chris Ducker, chairman of Ducker UK observes that increasingly, in both flatwork and workwear, suppliers are being asked for complete systems. They must be able to handle not just equipment supply from unloading to the loading bay, but the broader aspects such as the supply of management information.

This integrated approach makes it easier to adjust machines to ensure productivity and quality.

However, it also places increased demands on the supplier. Mr Ducker explains that engineering support and back-up are essential and his company spends a lot of time training its engineers so that they have sufficient depth of knowledge.


John Furlong, business centre manager at Broadbent Laundry Systems, says that the management of flatwork finishing starts as the work enters the laundry. Balancing machine use and operator resources is vital in achieving smooth cost effective production, combined with the quality required by the customer. The Amko ironer line control system demonstrates how data collected right down the line can, with suitable software, be developed into a management tool.

Information collected from the feeder, folder and extra folder is stored in a central control box and then sent to a compatible PC. This PC, programmed with Amko software, communicates with several control boxes in the ironer line. Currently, the program collects data at the end of the day, but in a future development it will be possible to combine all the data and make histograms, graphs and lists that can be printed out and also stored for later studies.

Similar management principles are being applied in the area of garment finishing. As the high-care sector of the workwear market increases its demand for production data, tunnel finishers are being equipped with control systems.

BLS has recently signed an agreement with MD machines to work together on the sales and marketing of MD’s Kent tunnels. These allow a direct interface to remote terminals for a complete analysis of the production process.

Laundries also testify to the growing importance of planning and designing production lines.

Colin Rowe, joint managing director of the Cornish Linen Service Group, says that laundries are organised on a flowline and they have a responsibility to be cost effective, as well as producing quality.

Flatwork textile rental accounts for around 80 per cent of the group’s work.


The design of each of its three plants is matched to the customer’s needs. So the arrangement of the finishing and calendering line varies, but the aim is always to get high productivity, good and, above all, consistent quality with the least number of staff working in the best possible way.

For example, at Cambourne there are four ironer lines: small items; table linen; sheets; and the last dealing with a mixture of items such as aprons and duvet covers.

Emphasising the importance of the flow-line approach, Mr Rowe explains the relationship of the finishing line components and how this section relates to others. Feeders can operate at high speed but folder and feeder rate must be matched to ensure both the quality and consistency. Similarly, finishing line capacity must be matched to that of the washroom.

The logic of organising a flow-line works backwards from its weakest point and every aspect must be balanced right down to the packing.

Automation plays its part—the company has installed Weir AutoPrep equipment to make picking sheets easier for the operator.

The Torquay plant takes automation further. Sheets are produced through a dedicated continuous batch washer, then taken by conveyer to the picker. To control production peaks and troughs, the laundry has a built-in waiting area where batches can be held on a carousel.

The objective is to achieve a rate of 1000 sheets per hour with three staff at the front and one taking-off at the back. In this way, staffing levels have been reduced by 2-3 people per shift.

A project at Albany Laundries further illustrates the importance of management, planning and design.

Consultants Paul Aston and Carolyn Grant of Aston-Grant explain that their brief includes examining resources at both Westcliff and Colchester plants. Flatwork is the first stage.

This division handles approximately 200 000 articles per week from hotels and restaurants. Rationalisation must improve efficiency but it must work on the basis of a high quality operation that uses individually marked items for each customer.

Aston-Grant divided its task into three parts. The first was to identify and install the best techniques and methods to achieve an ideal balance of machine utilisation, staff productivity and energy usage. The second involved hands-on, one-to-one training to demonstrate the required standards of quality efficiency and productivity. Operators were then built into teams with trained leaders.

Thirdly, controls and performance indicators were installed to provide individual feedback and team performance data, which leaders could feed to management.

Finally, the consultants provided a product manual to help team leaders and management and this covered machine utilisation and maintaining equipment performance; staff resources and their performance; and product planning.

To date, staff productivity has been improved by 37 per cent, machine utilisation by 25 per cent and energy and utility use has been reduced by 33 per cent. Albany is now investing in key equipment to enhance performance.


Working virtually exclusively for the domestic market, Anton Laundry’s priorities differ from those of the textile rental sector, but in this highly specialised environment, management, design and planning are, perhaps even more to the fore. The laundry was recently granted a Royal Warrant and the quality has to be the best that is possible, within the constraints of running a commercial operation. Managing director Clive Brunswick says that his operation is much more akin to a domestic situation. The company does not use batch washers, the calenders operate at slower rate and with fewer and larger rolls to give the required quality. Much of the work is finished on a press and hand finishing plays a major part.

“We are incredibly labour intensive. We cannot go for automation, but there is certainly a market for this quality,” says Mr Brunswick.

The emphasis on management is even higher than in a laundry operating purely in the commercial sector. “You need a much heavier management team and much more feedback into the management side,” explains Mr Brunswick.

One crucial difference between such specialised operations and even upmarket textile rental operations is that the laundry has no control over the original quality of the items it handles.

Correct sorting is vital as the laundry deals with a much wider range of items and qualities. Sorters are highly trained as they must have in-depth knowledge of fabrics. Rare and delicate items may be sent—cashmere blankets or embroidered sheets—and sorters must know what treatment is appropriate.

The design of laundry lines must take account of ergonomics as well as considerations of quality, productivity and efficiency. Automating some of the heavier tasks may be one solution to ensuring operator comfort.

The Weir AutoPrep was designed to take the strain out of handling wet and tangled loads. It will separate and sort loads as they arrive from the tumbler and can also separate cakes or cheeses discharged by extraction presses.

Technical director, Wesley Jackett says that one of the purposes of the AutoPrep is to remove sheets in a controlled way and to improve the clipping rate of operators working on the flatwork feeder.

Depending on the degree of tangling, the module can have a production rate of up to 1000 pieces per hour.

H J Weir also points to the increasing integration on lines within the laundry. As a company it can control production from start to finish including, quality monitoring equipment.

As automation of production increases, operators are becoming less involved in quality control. The operators role is to clip the work into the feeder and the speed of work makes checking for tears or stains difficult. In an automated line, therefore, hands-off methods have to be devised.

Micro Industrial Control Electronics (MIC) has developed an auto-scanning system which is already being used in the US, Japan, UK and Europe.

This uses six high resolution cameras together with a purpose-designed computing system. The cameras continuously scan the linen and will reject stained or torn items. It has five inspection categories and the standards required within each can be programmed according to laundry requirements.

The system will automatically recognise the colour of items being checked and detect and compensate for any changes in ambient light to ensure that results are consistent.

Other features include the ability to separate stained and torn items into different reject stations, counting of rejected items.

Reducing risks

Redesigning a line provides an opportunity to improve all aspects of the surrounding environment, says Rachel Parkinson an inspector with the Health & Safety Executive. However she advises paying particular attention to two areas-manual handling and machine guarding.
Finishing line work can be repetitious and a layout that results in operators twisting, stooping or standing awkwardly puts employees at risk of strain injuries. This risk can be reduced by adjusting the height and position at which items are presented and then where they are placed. Presenting items on a tray beneath the calender feed or by conveyor may be more comfortable than taking them from a trolley at the side. Trolleys with a removable side or spring-loaded base will be easier to pack.
In the matter of machine guarding, management must look at the overall safety of the line as well as that of individual machines. For example, when teaming a calendar and folder, the “tunnel” area between them must be guarded to prevent access while the machinery is in motion. This will have to be arranged once the machines have been installed.