The appearance of a finished garment is one of the most important elements of the drycleaning process. This is what customers see and the way in which they judge the cleaner’s business.

Professional cleaners have several options for this task from specialist equipment designed for a specific task such as shirt finishing to machines that can be used for a variety of garments.

Men’s jackets and trousers still form a large part of the cleaner’s workload and equipment suppliers have different views on how these should be approached.

Steve Tolley is technical advisor at Alex Reid, which handles equipment from manufacturers such as Firbimatic, Camptel and Barbanti. He says that the rotary cabinet is one of the most useful pieces of equipment as it can be used to form both jackets and trousers. The body of the cabinet fills with steam to relax the fibres. Sleeve formers and clamps on the jacket vents can be used to provide tension and this is useful for removing wrinkles prior to pressing. Trousers are held under tension by springs at the waistband and with clamps placed at the hemline.

For pressing, Tolley says that the two main types are the scissor press, the traditional choice of drycleaners and the flat bed ironing table, which has become a popular alternative over the past decade.

Both scissor press and table need to be adjusted correctly. In the scissor press, the pressure on the top buck when locked is crucial and on both types the padding and covers must be checked regularly to maintain a good working surface. Operator skills are also essential. The garments must be laid carefully and correctly on either the buck of the press or on the table. The scissor press operator must be skilled in the application of top and/or bottom steam and also vacuum.

At Parrisianne Drycleaning Solutions, managing director James Holt says that achieving a good quality finish is becoming harder to achieve. This is partly through a decline in traditional craft skills and lack of operator training, and partly because garment design is becoming more complex.

To overcome these difficulties, businesses are turning to more automated finishing where machines do most of the work and staff are mainly responsible for the final touch-up of the garment. As an example, he quotes the Sankosha rotary body former, which his company distributes in the UK. As well as providing steam and blowing systems, this former tensions the garment at different stages during finishing, so more skilled operators are only needed in the final stages of the process. The former also rotates automatically, thus helping productivity.

For trousers, the Sankosha range includes a trouser topper which can be partnered by the company’s double legger press which presses both legs on a single setting, again helping to maintain high productivity.

A further option is Sankosha’s fast back utility press. The third generation of this machine was introduced at last month’s Texcare and features Sankosha’s “straight down” action for a shorter cycle. Steam and vacuum can be pre-set or controlled manually and the top buck can be quickly moved to the rear allowing the lower buck to be used for ironing.

At Renzacci UK, managing director Jason Alexander says that there have been considerable advances in the equipment for finishing jackets and coats. The Pony Formplus jacket and coat former now uses super-heated steam to improve the end result. The former’s chest adjusts automatically to jacket and coat size. Program control can be fully or partly automatic or set manually. Steam flow, air flow, time and temperature can all be adjusted to suit the garment’s style and type of fabric.

Alexander says that trouser finishing has also seen considerable advances. Cleaners now have a wide choice of equipment type. Pony provides both a trouser topper and a machine for finishing the legs. This includes tensioning with clamps designed to avoid fabric marks and front paddles for pleats and pockets. This degree of automation allows high productivity – up to 80 pairs per hour.

For skirts and dresses, the company still believes that traditional cabinets are a good option.

Discussing the skills needed for such equipment, Alexander agrees that the equipment now does most of the work. Although operators will need training when they start, this will usually be sufficient. However, the company does run week-long training workshops for start-up businesses and bespoke or general refresher courses can also be arranged.

Stephen Pick at Sermac, the company that distributes Veit finishing equipment, sees the introduction of tensioning during finishing as one the main advances of recent years as this has reduced the need for touching-up the garment.

In Pick’s opinion dedicated machines such as Veit’s multiform and topper are the best choice. Multiform finishers can process jackets, coats up to 1.5m long and even polo shirts and knitwear.

Pick says the multiform has other advantages. It allows garments to be adjusted or smoothed during the cycle. It can finish both washed or drycleaned garments and the automatic cycle ensures repeatable consistent results without the need for highly skilled operators as the machines do most of the work.

The Veit trouser topper brings similar advantages. It too can process several types of garment – trousers, jeans, shorts and skirts – and can be used for washed or drycleaned garments. It is said to be effective on difficult fabrics such as linen or denim and also has anti-stretch features that allow it to handle stretch materials. Other features include a powerful tensioning system, automatic cycle for consistent and repeatable results.

At Dane Realstar, which distributes equipment by Sidi and by Fimas, Sheila Higgs says that many types of equipment are available to assist drycleaners in finishing. She says form finishers are an obvious choice for jackets and coats, combining air and steam functions to assist in removing creases. The Sidi range includes simple machines with 9 or 20 litre boiler and also more automated versions.

Dane Realstar has recently introduced Sidi’s Easyform range, which can be used for shirts, jackets and coats. The machines are economically priced but, says Higgs, can produce high quality results. The machines are available with either manual stretching or pneumatic stretching.

With regard to training, Higgs says that the company works closely with a highly skilled trainer to cover all aspects from basic processes to updating the operator on care and maintenance

Balancing technology and skills

Technical advances in finishing equipment, in particular the degree of automation have brought considerable benefits, but have also to some extent reduced the need for traditional finishing skills. Many machines are designed to be operated with high productivity by semi-skilled operators. But still traditional craft skills have an important role in the industry.

Ian Battle, head of technical support at Johnson Cleaners, says that the skill and application of the operator is by far the most important aspect. In his opinion it [the process) is 70% operational and 30% equipment.

“For over two decades, Johnson Cleaners has used finishing tables and rotor cabinets in the majority of its stores to deliver a high quality finish to over one million customers a year.”

He adds that the traditional scissor press is still used at some stores at the specific request of staff and when used by a highly skilled and experienced presser, this traditional equipment can produce great quality results.

Battle says that the company invests heavily in training so that staff are fully competent and experienced in the technology they use. It is also important that equipment is maintained well and serviced on a regular basis.

Understanding the process

Cleaner Shaun Mason also stresses the importance of operator skills. Mason McClean was established in 2010 as a specialist cleaner using a range of solvents but since December 2011 the business has been operating solely with the specialist wetcleaning process, using the Electrolux Lagoon system.

Shaun Mason says that says that finishing cannot be seen in isolation. It is essential to understand the types of fabric and the moisture levels required to achieve optimum results after drying.

He does not believe that wetcleaning makes a significant difference but says he adopted this system because it offered a single solution to quality throughout the process with minimal environmental impact.

The best results are achieved by finishing garments as quickly as possible after drying. The business uses the Lagoon system’s multiform finisher for a variety of items including dresses, silks in particular.

Talking about the balance between skills and equipment, he says that wetcleaning system does not remove the need for skilled finishers.

However, Mason says that the Lagoon’s multi-form finisher is essential as is a top quality ironing table. The RMC dryer’s ability to control the moisture level ensures that garments are in the right condition for optimum results when they are finished.

He says that training staff to use equipment is relatively easy and the whole system is flexible enough to allow the use of different techniques.