Encouraging investment in an on-site service

16 March 2017

OPL equipment suppliers talk to Tony Vince about trends in the ironer sector of this market

The selection of an ironer by a modern on-premise laundry depends upon the type of garments being processed, and on the space available. Customer requirements will vary considerably from sector to sector – healthcare, hospitality and commercial.

The OPL market is made up of two main customer sectors, hospitality and care/residential homes. Equipment sales in both sectors have tended to be replacement and, over the past few years, a slow economy has meant that many OPLs have postponed upgrading equipment as far as possible.

However, some suppliers believe this may be changing.

There is a tendency for larger, premium hotels to bring the processing of their laundry in-house and this is where the main interest is coming from, as these ironers are ideal for such businesses, according to Les Marshall at Miele Professional. In 2017, Miele’s focus will be on satisfying the demand for its flatwork ironers and providing customers with an industry-leading aftercare package, he said.

The general state of the UK market is good. “We have seen growing numbers of businesses turn to us for on-premise laundry solutions; for example, in more remote areas such as the Highlands, where the availability of outsourcing is low, on-premise laundries make a lot of sense,” says Marshall.

“We’ve also seen business continue to grow within the luxury hotel sector. Over the last year, several installations have been conducted at five star boutique hotels and B&Bs across the UK. This is due to the growing desire among hospitality business owners to retain control of the quality of the linens being supplied to their customers, as part of the luxury experience.”

He expects to see these trends continue in 2017 and Miele already has large installations planned at a number of premium properties. “In times of economic uncertainty, our customers tell us that high-quality, reliable, durable machines become even more important because standards are upheld, downtime is minimised and staff productivity is maximised. These are the benefits that Miele Professional machines achieve.”

Aside from energy efficiency and high standards of quality, business owners tell us that they’re looking for ironers that are designed for everyday use and are simple to operate, keeping the time and effort it requires for staff to complete a task to a minimum. Some businesses have a number of different individuals operating the machines, so ironers should be straightforward for users to understand.

The latest generation of Miele Professional PM12 flatwork ironers have been engineered with customer feedback in mind and boast the best ergonomics and user convenience in the category. The controls are also designed to be user-friendly, with large touch screens, and the display enables simple, clear programme selection.

The Miele Professional PM12 ironers set new standards of user convenience. Not only can people choose between seated and standing operation, they can change the working height of the machine thanks to adjustable machine feet and optional plinth – something that is exclusive to Miele Professional. This capacity for flexible working heights is hugely beneficial for any organisation with more than one laundry operator.

At Girbau UK, Peter Marsh says the market for OPL ironers in the UK is more buoyant today than it has been for some time. Girbau has been very successful in selling its towel laundry concept into the hotel and hospitality sector, and in the premium and boutique end of the market, where high quality finishing is essential, we are also seeing hotel OPL growth translate into demand for dryer ironers.

“The other main market for OPL ironers remain the healthcare sector and care and nursing homes, where a small ironer can boost OPL laundry productivity. Funding remains tight in the care sector, a factor that is acting to suppress demand,” he adds.

At Electrolux, the view is slightly more cautious. Mick Christian, training and demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional UK says that people were being quite cautious after the Brexit vote and understandably waiting to see what would happen with the economy, “but I think everybody has realised they just have to get on with it.”

“It means that we’ve begun 2017 quite positively and the OPL market, especially on the hospitality side, has started brightly,” says Christian. “Projects that may have been on hold because of last year’s uncertainty are now moving forward. We’re being approached to talk about not just laundries in general, but we’re even taking enquiries around greener alternatives such as wet-cleaning, which is very encouraging and shows just how far the industry has come.”

According to Tom Lowes, director of Armstrong Commercial Laundry Systems, the current state of the OPL ironer market is “fairly flat, as businesses sit on their hands, conserving cash and waiting to see if the recovery continues.”

The market is very largely a replacement one, and in the case of ironers, as opposed to washers and dryers, quite limited in scale, he says. Those who do decide to re-equip now are still looking for energy efficiency, reliability and high quality finish from the products they select and the take-up of new models in the range this year has been encouraging.

Armstrong supplies a comprehensive range of ironing machines suitable for all types and sizes of OPL operation. At the smaller end of the market, the range from Italian manufacturer GMP has gas and electric heated machines with rollers from 1m-3. 2m widths and 250-500mm diameter.  These machines are designed to be both extremely easy to use and simple and inexpensive to maintain.  Electronic temperature control ensures the right ironing temperature for every fabric and minimises energy costs.  Simple foot pedal operation leaves hands free to feed the linen.

At the top end of the market, Belgian manufacturer Lapauw offer a large range of ironers from single roll to large multi-roll ironers which can provide a superb standard of finish in, for instance, large hotels.

While a perfect finish to linen is vitally important in the hospitality sector, drying and ironing, according to Tom Lowes, are always going to be secondary to washing.  “Clean, stain free is always going to be the most important factor, whatever the outlet.”


Focus on quantity

Christian at Electrolux says that as much as quality is still a key factor for people deciding what they want out of an ironer, he is also seeing much more of a focus on quantity and how much linen can be processed per hour.

“This is a complete turnaround from previous market conditions, where people were saving on space and funds with smaller machines that perhaps weren’t adequate for their needs, and has seen us take a number of enquiries about our bigger machines, such as the C-Flex,” he says. The reason for this is that those undersized machines are being run up to 16 hours per day to cope with the amount of linen being processed, which has ultimately cost more. Now, people are looking to up their capacity to get both quantity and quality, which gives them the flexibility to not only process their own items, but, if they’re part of a group, means they can take on work from others too.

He adds that while there are no major developments to report, Electrolux is looking into other areas and the next year or two will probably see the next generation of machines, and that may have an effect on the size of the ironer going forward.


Quality of finish

Marsh at Girbau UK says that in the hotel sector, quality of finish is often the biggest consideration, as it can be so fundamental to guests’ perception of quality, luxury and comfort. “This is often why hotels are increasingly choosing the on-premise laundry option, to give them 100% control of quality of finish,” he says.

An increasing number of Girbau’s OPL customers are using the drying function of its PB Series dryer ironers to increase the speed and productivity of flatwork processing, reducing or even eliminating in some cases the need to use a dryer between the washing and ironing phases.

Designed for consistent, high quality results, crisply ironed sheets, duvet covers, pillow cases, table cloths and napkins, the PB Series comes in five model sizes ranging from the smallest PB-3125 with a 1.5 metre ironing width and 325mm diameter cylinder to the largest PB-5132 with a 3.2 metre ironing width and 510mm diameter cylinder.

Of many Hilton Hotels in the UK recently equipped with Girbau laundry equipment Hilton Cobham, Hilton St George’s Park and Hilton London Croydon each has a new Girbau PBP-5132 model installed. These feature a 3.2 metre wide cylinder and the PBP automatic folding facility, which uses photocell sensors to detect when linen enters and exits the ironer for greater accuracy, reliability and durability.

With significant quantities of high quality linens to finish on a daily basis, the on-premise laundry of the Cuillin Hills Hotel in Portree, Skye, uses one of Girbau’s latest dryer ironers, a PB-3221 model, which is capable of operating at up to 11 metres per minute with the highest quality finish.




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