Greater flexibility in wash programs, bigger savings in energy costs and growing demand for support services are all driving change in the on premise laundry (OPL) market.

OPLs offer advantages for businesses and services with a laundry requirement but according to Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems’ director Tom Lowes, the market for OPL equipment defies generalisation.

“While the hospitality industry and the care market are the largest segments, the OPL sector includes several others, for example fitness clubs and sports clubs, vets and equestrian businesses. The size of the customers’ operations within each segment can cover an enormous range.

“The largest hotels can have laundries as big as those in some commercial operations while a small country house hotel may need just one washer-extractor and a dryer.”

While the state of the economy is an important influence on the market, price alone is not the main factor in the choice, says Lowes. “In mature markets, most customers are not buying for the first time and so value for money, lifetime operating costs are the first consideration,” he says.

Peter Marsh at Girbau UK says that OPL customers are looking for low initial capital outlay and minimal operating and maintenance costs. “We have to be competitive on machine price but customers are waking up to the fact that they can make much bigger savings in operational budgets by investing in washers that are highly energy- and water-efficient.”

Malcolm Martin, product manager at Miele Professional says that although price remains an important element, many customers are giving greater consideration to operational costs.

“A more expensive machine should not be rejected out of hand on the grounds of cost alone,” he says. “It may be more economic to run and the cost difference between that and a cheaper machine can easily be recovered in a matter of months,” says Martin.

For example, the combination of infinitely variable drive systems and sophisticated electronic control can allow further development of wash programs, he says.

“This in turn optimises utility use, resulting in lower running costs for the end-user,” he adds. Environmental concerns have influenced product development and one example of this is Miele’s recently introduced 8kg washer.The PW6080 is fitted with a third inlet valve for connecting to process water such as rainwater or another recycled source.

Selecting the right size

Correct machine sizing is fundamental to the laundry’s economics. Lowes at Armstrong says that oversized equipment is wasteful of energy, water and chemicals, whilst undersized machines will have a lower performance standard and require more servicing and spares.

In providing the right machine or combination of machines for every type and size of problem, Armstrong can supply three product ranges that encompass several dozen machines ranging from 5 – 300kg.

All customers appreciate the benefits of energy and water saving delivered by infinitely variable electronic programming and inverter drives. Although many OPL customers prefer high-spin, soft-mount washer-extractors, there are circumstances where rigid-mount machines are better for the job.

This would be the case where out-of-balance loads are unavoidable – such as a stable that has to process horse rugs.

When the Hamstead Growers Equestrian centre’s washing machine came to the end of its economic life, business owner Keith Webb looked at fixed price rental schemes and selected Armstrong, which installed a 22kg Primus washer. The machine’s thermal disinfection capabilities are particularly useful for the centre because it handles many types of horse rugs that require different treatment for varying degrees of soiling.

Product development

Armstrong’s product ranges benefit from continuous product development which, as Lowes explains, results in continuous product improvement. Additionally, the company monitors market requirements.

“For instance, it recently became apparent that the gap between our 10kg Primus high-spin washer-extractor and the 16kg model was too large, so we introduced a 13kg machine, the Primus FS13,” he adds. “Similarly we have just introduced an 18kg rigid mount machine.”

Efficiency is a key requirement in OPL washers, according to Marsh at Girbau UK. “Customers are looking for shorter wash cycles, lower water consumption and in some cases water recovery systems.”

He explains that hotels and other service sectors are increasingly being held to account for their environmental performance, so cutting their use of energy and water has marketing benefits as well as helping to cut operational costs.

Lowes at Armstrong agrees and points out that sustainability makes the optimisation of water and energy resources a priority for the up-to-date OPL.

Electrolux Laundry Systems, part of the Electrolux group, features washer-extractors in its Sustainable Development brochure. Its Generation 4000 professional laundry equipment line – including barrier washers, washer-extractors, tumble dryers and ironers – benefits from energy-efficient control systems.

The Generation 4000 range, provides the perfect balance between consumption of water, energy, and time, says the company, and makes it possible to obtain the best results when washing, drying, and ironing whilst being environmentally friendly.

The Compass Control programming system was developed and designed by Electrolux for its G4000 range. This allows operators to choose the program set-up that suits them best and achieves the best balance between low water and energy consumption and that achieves maximum results while shortening cycle time.

The company’s Wash Triangle Compass control, which can be used with program libraries, allows laundries to adapt the use of water, energy and time to meet their specific needs with three pre-set programs: economy, performance, and time.

The economy programs will help will help to reduce laundry running costs and Electrolux says they can reduce water consumption by as much as 40% and energy use by 30%.

If requirements change, then the operator can reconfigure the machine from the library so that the emphasis is on either performance or time.

Compass Control wash programs can be changed to meet specific needs – whether healthcare, restaurants, launderettes, leisure or indoor cleaning. Frequently used programs can be assigned to a quick start button.

Further savings can be made through options such as the Automatic Weighing System (AWS), a software program built into the wash cycle that guarantees the best level of water according to the size of the laundry load or the Integrated Weighing System (IWS), which ensures correct dosing of water and detergent.

Electrolux also provides special mop cleaning solutions in its Generation 4000 range.

The machines are suitable for professional cleaning companies that service hospitals, office buildings and schools and for all other institutions that operate in-house cleaning. The machines feature special stainless-steel covered heating elements that eliminate lint build-up. A lid in the inner drum allows the owner access for preventative maintenance and easy cleaning.

Drainage is often a problem as mop fibres tend to clog drainpipes, so Electrolux machines also feature an electric drain valve for quick drainage to help to avoid clogging.

Marsh at Girbau UK says that with the introduction of microprocessor controls, OPL customers can choose programs that precisely match their needs. Flexible programming can maximise efficiency and successful cleaning of a wide variety of fabrics, he says.

“In care homes where hygiene is paramount, a large proportion of the daily work will include high temperature washing but machines will also be used for shorter, lower temperatures washes of unsoiled clothing, so machines need to be flexible.” Girbau’s 6 Series washer range (except for the HS6008 model) incorporate Girbau’s advanced Inteli control system as an option with 20 pre-set programs.

Its virtually unlimited programming ensures water and energy-efficient operation for the widest range different requirements, says Marsh.

The programs available on Girbau’s 6 Series washers allows end-users an optimal combination of cycles for high quality laundering, high productivity and minimised energy consumption.

The Inteli system has been enhanced with IMT software, which allows programs to be adjusted on a laptop and simply transferred to one or more machines by inserting a card.

This makes it easy to adapt and copy programs for consistent control of quality and laundry costs.

The innovative Inteli part-load feature allows operators to easily select a proportional load program to adjust use of water, energy and detergent when the machine is only part full.

Girbau believes this works much better than alternatives that weigh the load and adjust the program automatically.

Such systems are unable to distinguish between machines overfilled with lightweight fabrics like polyester (that cannot achieve sufficient mechanical action for an effective wash) and washers part-filled with heavier materials like cotton.

Malcolm Martin at Miele Professional says the capacity of a washer-extractor for any application is best assessed by an experienced dealer. This may involve a site survey to evaluate site conditions and services and to determine which models are best suited to their needs.

Assessment will also depend on the application: for example, healthcare applications must conform to the strict standards introduced to combat contamination in hospitals and care homes for the elderly.

As Martin explains, any model proposed should be equipped with sluice and thermal disinfection wash programs and feature dump valve drainage.

“In the hospitality sector, the drainage type is less critical,” he adds. “Drain pump models can be used and this simplifies the installation process.

A wide range of specialist wash programs can be specifically tailored to suit the individual’s requirement.

“For example, the loads being processed at a gym will be predominately be large volumes of towels, so a high spin speed is necessary to reduce drying times.

“Load ratios are another important consideration. For example, a 1:10 calculation factor is typically used to determine the load for cottons but increasingly manufacturers are claiming capacities based on other, often unspecified, criteria.”

He continues: “When looking at a machine’s technical specifications a wise precaution is to refer to the drum volume and use this fixed element to compare load size.”

Miele Professional’s latest addition to its range of compact commercial laundry machines is Octoplus, an 8kg load capacity machine.

An important feature of the Octoplus washer is the customisable details that can be built-in to suit a particular industry. These settings include hotels, which groups programs for kitchen and table linen, bed linen and curtains; bedding, including programs for pillows, down or synthetic duvets and natural fibre blankets; beauty salon/health spas, which has special programs for towels and capes; bakers/butchers, which includes settings to tackle flour, grease and fat stains; and fire brigades, with programs for protective apparel and breathing masks.

The Octoplus washer-extractor has a spin speed of 1,300rpm in the final cycle giving residual moisture levels of less than 50% and shorter drying times.

The machine is also quiet in operation thanks to multistage imbalance monitoring in the spin cycle and a suds container suspended on four springs plus four shock absorbers.

Value of service support

Miele Professional’s Martin also notes the growing demand for added value, with customers seeking assurances on key areas like spare parts availability and rapid response times.

“Customers are looking for a total package that extends beyond the initial washing machine purchase to service support,” he says.

Miele works with a national network of professional specialist partners trained and backed up by Miele’s service organisation.

The company has a state-of-the-art service planning system with several proactive features including automatic customer recognition and text messaging to keep end-users aware of the call status.

At Girbau UK, Peter Marsh points out that it is vitally important that the level of support offered reduces downtime to an absolute minimum.

“We have found our same-day support service to be very popular and this has in fact been a strong catalyst for the growth of our service operation. Girbau UK’s 96% first-time fix rate also ensures customer downtime is kept to an absolute minimum,” he says.

He adds that in challenging economic times, many customers are choosing to opt for fixed price maintenance packages to allow them to predict their annual budgets more accurately.

Armstrong’s Lowes adds that reliability of laundry equipment and speed of support services is fundamental to both the smooth operation of the customer’s business and the lifetime costs’ calculation.

“Armstrong operates its own engineers and a national network of highly qualified approved dealers to ensure the fastest possible response,” he says.