An army of robots holding the line20 September 2023
Feeders and folders are developing at light-speed and AI is in the vanguard on this march to the future
EXPODetergo 2022 at Milan’s Fiera Milano exhibition centre last November was a welcome opportunity to really catch up with all the developments in feeders and folders since we were ambushed by Covid. The organisers had styled the event to be built around three main goals: sustainability, digitalisation and sanitisation. It certainly didn’t disappoint in the feeders and folders part of the mix where robotics was very much to the fore.
Today’s latest generation machines are increasingly connected, able to reduce or eliminate the possibility of human error, to plan the management of an item from its arrival to delivery, to manage maintenance even remotely. Digitisation will characterise a large part of the proposals, ensuring ever more efficient operations and the possibility to keep the personnel costs reasonable while increasing productivity.
At the show, LCNi caught up with Philip Ghosh, sales manager for Biko UK, which had just been been appointed distributor for Laundry Robotics in the UK and Ireland and Simtech Automation as the new agency will be managed as a partnership between the two companies. Ghosh said: “The current difficulties with finding staff has driven the need for laundries to look more closely at ways to automate processes within the plant. With the success that Laundry Robotics has already achieved in Europe, we believed that this was a company that we would want to work with. However, we were also realistic that we needed to bring in a partner that would help us develop and support this particular range of equipment and Simtech were an obvious choice.”
Domus, meanwhile, has developed an ingenious piece of kit – a flatwork ironer which it says comes with a long list of benefits and features for small laundries. The Compact Flatwork Ironer SP is a laundry ironer folder, that belongs to the Domus high production calenders. These compact machines enable high production, up to 290 kg/hour (more details in the datasheet for each model).
SP models incorporate a precise longitudinal folder, that allows up to two longitudinal folds to be made in two completely independent working lines. These folds are made using a system of photocells and compressed air, ensuring a perfect folding of the garments. This is one of the most advanced industrial ironing machines in Domius’ entire catalogue. The machiones are availble in oll sizes: 2.600 and 3.300 mm wide and Ø 600, 800 and 1.000 mm; one or two working lanes: one lane for bedsheets and two lanes for tablecloths and small pieces; length fold with 1 or 2 folds in two independent lanes.
Folding is facilitated by photocells and compressed air and touch-screen controls can create programmes with speed control (between 3 and 18 m/min), temperature and folding parameters.
Elsewhere, Kannegiesser has a drywork line which automatically feeds, folds and sorts 600 items per hour of a typical hotel mix with four different articles in one batch. The drywork line measures the length and width of every article and sorts the towels accordingly on the 4 speed stackers of the folding machine.
The drywork line consists of the newly developed and field-approved feeding robot Robofeed and the folding machine Speedline XFM. The Robofeed is equipped with state-of-the-art camera technology that enables a servo-driven gripper to recognise, separate and feed each item into the folding machine at maximum speed.
Essentially, it allows textile services to automate the entire laundry process between soiled linen sorting and dispatch. A post wash sorting and storage system delivers the towels to the Robofeed line to feed, sort and stack every single piece autonomously. Finally, the Vectura stack management system transports stacks on a belt conveyor system to a central pickup station where displays indicate the customer that the specific stack belongs to.
In order to take full advantage of the automatic drywork line, the laundry operation requires database driven logistics and a monorail sorting and storage system. However, it is also possible to load the drywork line manually if logistics automation is still in development.
Another innovation is the new SynchroPro Remote which with its Swiftcare feeding principle directs the feeding process piece by piece.
For Jensen the new BLIZZ towel feeding robot, built by its partner Inwatec, feeds towels of various sizes into a Jensen Butterfly towel folder – at constantly high speed. Sorting, feeding, folding and stacking of towels can now be done completely hands-free. BLIZZ is new, but the gripper is a proven system, printed in 3D and applied to the THOR robot for a gentle handling of the textiles.
Nicolas Gostony, newly appointed head of marketing at Jensen-Group takes up the story, saying: “Our fast cornerless Jenrail Express Compact feeding system for sheets in one lane operation is now available as a remote version. This plug’n‘play solution incorporates two or three remote feeding stations for feeding of sheets into prespecified bufferlines.
Cornerless feeding means ‘one grip - no corners’, allowing each operator to double production per hour compared to conventionally feeding corners into clamps.
Thanks to the buffer of sheets hanging ready for feeding, a continuous flow with a minimum gap between the sheets can be obtained ensuring that the overall production is increased compared to conventional feeding.
The high feeding capacity of the Jensen remote feeding systems calls for ironers with an evaporation capacity to match the speed. For more than 20 years Jensen has produced the flex chest ironers allowing to meet the capacity of the feeders. With the introduction of the direct heated gap piece, the evaporation capacity has been further increased. As an option, a large diameter direct heated gap piece is available, to reach the highest evaporation capacity.
“Laundries operating our Classic folders can select models for one lane or combined 1&2 lanes with the possibility to run small pieces as well. A special 3-lane model has been developed on request from several customers. The Classic folder range offers the largest selection of cross fold sections to meet various demands in terms of folding patterns and finishing qualities.
“If sorting on multiple stackers on limited floor space is required, our compact folder range Kando and Katana incorporate multiple inline stackers. All Jensen folders have a new generation operator panel with user-friendly touch screen, intuitive and user-friendly graphics and more data capacity for production history and statistics,” says Gostony.
Girbau’s DRC Feeder ensures the corners of the sheets are no longer a problem for the operaotrs fto find. “Solving this problem was key, and why we developed Girbau’s DRC Cornerless Feeder,” says Girbau. Designed for the rapid insertion of single bed sheets, with particular attention to optimising production, this feeder combines superior speed with Girbau’s exclusive technology for feeding without corners. Now operators don’t have to find the two corners of a sheet before inserting it. So by solving a problem, we have doubled operator feeding productivity.”
The last word on feeding and folding comes from Yves Dabrowiecki: “With references in Belgium and in Germany, more and more laundries are going for Texprofin’s Servo Xtreme folder. Soon the installation of the first feeder robot Servo Vision will hapen in Belgium. Texprofin moved to a larger facility to boost production and cope with the higher demand for its folders and, in a later stage, the robot.” Watch this space.
Small Laundry, Big Decision
A Kannegiesser ironer line - nothing for small laundries? Michael Thomas sees it differently: “Even my peers said,: ‘With the size of your operation, you’re bound to get in over your head!’ But it has paid off.”
Together with his son Manuel, Michael Thomas owns and operates Gajewski Laundry in Hartmannsdorf near Chemnitz in east Germany. Despite the resistance, even from their own family, the two opted for an ironer line from Kannegiesser. The system consists of the EMV feeding machine, the HPM heating band ironer, and the RFL-J folding machine. “Based on what I know today, I would do it all over again,” says Michael Thomas today with full conviction.
Gajewski Laundry is a classic family business with 10 employees. Michael Thomas was new to the laundry business when he joined his father-in-law’s company in 1989. In 1999, he took over until he and his son Manuel started running the business together in 2016. The laundry’s customers include many small hotels, restaurants, retirement homes, garages and workshops, hospitals and private homes.
A well thought-out decision
“If you choose a Kannegiesser product, it’s usually a more expensive investment,” says Manuel Thomas with a cheeky smile on his face. “Small companies then look for cheaper alternatives. Usually they are punished for this later on. I always say that quality has its price.” One of the decisive factors in making the right choice is honest and competent advice. “The guidance from Kannegiesser and Mr. Oltscher was very important to us. He talked us through it very calmly and met with us several times until I made this decision,” acknowledges Michael Thomas.
Productive despite diversity
A large variety of customer laundry can quickly be overwhelming. For Michael Thomas, however, this is no longer a problem: “The ironer heats up and also cools down again very quickly.” And that is also necessary at Gajewski Laundry: “Compared to some large laundries, which may only have 2-3 processing programs, we run 49 different programs here,” says Manuel Thomas. . The flexible heating band quickly adjusts the temperature to the specific needs of different articles, ensuring the ideal ironing temperature for each article protecting the textiles.
“We had two ironers and didn’t get the job done because they were too small. We had to get that into our heads first,” recalls Michael Thomas. This was one of the reasons why a new ironer from Kannegiesser was chosen. Previously, six employees were working on two ironers, but now only three employees are needed on one. “The machine produces three times what I managed before. That’s a good number.”