Penn Healthcare in Camden, southern New Jersey can wash, extract and dry a hotel casino sheet in less than 27 seconds, and it does this using a rebuilt continuous processing system (CPS) that is the first of its kind in the industry.

Even more astonishing, this unique system is far from new. The original machine was manufactured in 1971 by Stone, Pratt and Crawley, UK manufacturers of turbine engines. Completely rebuilt, it had already laundered over 30 million sheets by the time Penn purchased it from Consolidated Laundries a couple of years ago.

Penn’s CPS is linked with an ironing system in a configuration which enables the laundry to process soiled sheets into clean, dry and finished work in less than one minute, from start to finish. Moreover, as the CPS uses less than a gallon of water per pound of linen, it also provides the laundry with substantial savings in labour costs and water consumption.

At least one national commercial laundry group is now interested in the potential for commercial development of the system. This company is currently holding discussions with Penn.

The CPS is housed in a new building adjacent to Penn’s commercial laundry, and has been operating for nearly four years. Currently it processes an average of 750 king-sized sheets per hour during two shifts per day, five-and-a-half days a week.

Roger Cocivera, executive vice president of Penn Healthcare said: “We’ve not only reduced the labour element, but enhanced the quality of the work. The goods go in soiled and come out washed, extracted and dried, without handling. That’s where we achieve labour savings.” The team of employees who operate the CPS produce 261 pounds of work per operator hour, or an average of 110 sheets per payroll hour.

An inspection of the finished goods reveals that the CPS produces a uniformly excellent quality of work. The finished sheets had a fresh smell, crisp feel and appeared to be visually bright. What’s more, they retain twice the tensile strength of sheets processed in a conventional washing machine.

“It doesn’t wear them out,” said Mr Cocivera.

The only labour used with the CPS occurs at the front end of the system: two operators feed soiled sheets into a Sager spreader and, after the sheets are spread, two more operators catch them and feed them into the CPS.

The key difference between the CPS and a conventional washing system is that the CPS subjects the work to a jet spray under pressure rather than the time-honoured element of mechanical agitation. After initial wet-down, the sheets are given a suds treatment of enzyme detergent at 150° – 160°F. They are then bleached, rinsed and extracted on a hydraulically-driven extraction roll.

Economical in its water consumption, fully 65% of the water used by the CPS is later reused. Rinse water is captured in a holding tank and used in the wet down of incoming soiled sheets.

A series of monofilament lines – or traverse guides – made of 41lb test fishing line function like the ribbons on a flatwork ironer to maintain an even, straight lay-out of the sheets in the CPS. The CPS then wraps the sheets around drying drums heated to a temperature of 325°F.

Partially-dry sheets are overlapped and spread in preparation for feeding into an eight-roll steam-heated Super Sylon ironer, made by American Laundry Machinery and adapted for use in this system. The sheets then travel through a Lavatec folder/cross-folder and two Lavatec stackers in the finished area, under supervision from one member of staff.

Metered separately

The pH of the CPS is closely monitored, and all utilities are metered separately so costs can be carefully controlled.

“The CPS achieves tremendous savings in materials handling,” said Mark Brim, president of Brim Laundry Machinery, the firm which totally rebuilt the system.

In addition, three separate laboratories have conducted tests on sheets produced by the CPS for tensile strength, whiteness and hygienic cleanliness. In addition, three different consultants came in to test the product.

“We did not want any problems with our work,” said Mr Cocivera, who is very pleased with its quality.

He is now keen to diversify the production of the CPS, for example into hospital work.

“I wish I had three more like it.

The CPS is built like a battleship,” he added.

Penn Healthcare’s CPS is one of a kind. Only three CPSs were ever built of which one, the system currently in use at Penn, was exported to the US as complete junk.

A second system was destroyed in a fire, while a third was dismantled, scrapped and eventually turned into razor blades.

In 1995, Penn passed what Mr Cocivera described as ‘three trailers of junk, oil and grease’ to Henry Brim – the late founder of Brim Laundry Machinery Co Inc, Dallas – whose company spent three months dismantling parts and then reassembling the system. Brim Laundry Machinery steam-cleaned the CPS, added new controls, and restored the system to working order.

“Brim put it back together and tested it. I flew down to Dallas on weekends to work with them and to exchange ideas,” Mr Cocivera remembers.

Mr Cocivera also credited Mike Brezack, general production manager of Penn Linen, for his work on the system.

Over a period of six months, Mr Brezack often spent periods of 24 to 36 hours working on the machine to get the bugs out, Mr Cocivera said.

Mr Cocivera is excited about the potential for manufacture of the CPS in the not-so-distant future.

The next system will be amazing, he predicts.