The year 2000 could herald a change in the structure of the drycleaning sector. The core business of unit shops is to process shaped garments, restoring them as far as is possible to an as-new condition.

In the US and in Continental Europe, and to a lesser extent in the UK, there has been a move to establish textile care centres whereby cleaners have extended their core activity to embrace the laundering and finishing of shirts, domestic linen, household furnishings and so on. They believe this move will make their businesses attractive to households in which both partners are working.

These days, couples often prefer to rent accommodation rather than buy property so that they can be more mobile in the world of work. In households in which both partners are working, the tasks of washing and ironing are often regarded as highly undesirable chores. How much better for a couple to hand over their laundry to a textile care centre.

The number of textile care centres will grow over the next five to ten years as the number of “standard” drycleaning shops declines.

Textile care centres need bigger premises than drycleaning units—they house more equipment. In addition to the usual drycleaning equipment line-up, there will be washer-extractors, dryers, finishers for shirts and other shaped items, an ironer with feeding and folding attachments, and a stand-alone boiler.

The owner/manager of a centre will be in charge of a sophisticated and highly automated mini-production plant utilising the latest in management information and data collection methods.

Capital investment will obviously be much higher than that for a simple unit shop. Equipment and operators will have to be fully utilised during working shifts. Excessive equipment downtime, including that caused by a lack of maintenance; a poor working environment; and a lack of operator production time management would each effect a drain on profitability.

When considering the establishing of a textile care centre, the first step is to clearly define the market area. Don’t forget that the main operation will be customer “cash and carry”. A collection and delivery service would command premium rates.

Ideally, domestic linen throughput would be from one to three tonnes/day and eight to ten staff would be required.

Machinery has to be carefully chosen, with focus on equipment designed to reduce manual tasks to a minimum. Often, equipment needs to to be automated, computer-controlled, versatile and reliable.

Make sure that the equipment supplier has the means to assist in the planning of the production area. Equipment layout is extremely important and aimed for should be uni-directional work movement—back-tracking costs money.

It can be advisable to invest in a planned maintenance schedule such as is often offered by equipment suppliers.

Good housekeeping is essential. A short time, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes at the end of each shift, should be devoted to operators cleaning up their work areas. People should be employed, and industrial vacuum cleaners used, to complete the cleaning operation.

Attention must be given to pipework and other areas where dust and lint can accumulate. Using a vacuum cleaner on equipment can help to maintain the cleanliness and efficiency of machines.

If a minor component malfunction was temporarily remedied during the day, the problem should be thoroughly checked out at the end of the working time. A component or components might need replacing.

All steam traps should be checked at the beginning and end of each day. Malfunction and reduced condensate removal will reduce machines’ efficiency and this could go unnoticed for some time.

With the cost of water rising and the need to conserve the commodity, a process water reclamation unit should be installed. The rinse water from washer-extractors can be used in the next cycles of the machines. Heat from wash water can be recovered and used to raise the temperature of water to be fed to machines.

The establishment of textile care centres could be as revolutionary as was the move into unit shops more than 35 years ago. The centres could significantly increase the amount of domestic work which is professionally undertaken.

Tips for creating a ‘centre’

To ensure the maximum utilisation of equipment and staff, it is necessary to:
Choose the right equipment. Load modules in a small plant should not be more than 25 kg.
Arrange equipment for a uni-directional workflow.
Invest in a planned maintenance schedule.
Use the latest management information and data collection methods for instant data access at any time. Operator performance on a job-by-job basis, downtime and the reasons for it, the value of work processed, the revenue earnings per operator and so on, can be recorded.
Have a high standard of housekeeping with operators responsible for keeping their own work areas clean at all times.